Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently hosted a free public screening of an episode of the Golden Globe Award-winning television program "Transparent," followed by an interactive Q&A panel discussion focused on exploring transgender identity and social issues. The discussion included the program’s coproducers Rhys Ernst and Zackery Drucker, along with Rensselaer and State University of New York at Albany faculty, staff and student members. The program was held April 9 on the Rensselaer Troy campus in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Theater.
“Stigma and discrimination toward trans individuals are still very problematic in our society today,” said Tara Schuster, coordinator of health promotion in the Rensselaer Student Health Center. “By hosting this event and providing a platform from which to discuss issues of gender identity, it is the hope of the RPI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Task Force to raise awareness about this topic and continue to improve the campus climate for our trans students. Trans is an umbrella term that refers to all the identities within the gender identity spectrum. Our goal is to assure all campus community members that their personal identity and expression of that identity is respected.”
The RPI LGBTQ Task Force — composed of Rensselaer students, staff and faculty — was created and charged in the spring of 2012 with supporting and improving the campus climate for the LGBTQ community. Since its inception, members have been focused on supporting the mission of the LGBTQ Task Force to ensure that all students at Rensselaer have the right to safety and the expectation of safety in their personal identity and the expression of that identity, whatever it may be, within the bounds of both the law and mutual respect for the differences of all members of the institute.
Chris VerWys, a lecturer in the Rensselaer Department of Cognitive Science, will serve as the event emcee. VerWys has been part of the Rensselaer campus community since 1998, and has regularly discussed LGBT issues within the contexts of personality theory and social psychology courses. In addition, he served in the United States military during the period when the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was in effect, and saw firsthand the damage caused to people forced to live part of their lives in secrecy.
The panelists are detailed below:
Zackary Drucker is a producer on "Transparent." An artist and cultural producer, she creates work that breaks down the way people think about gender, sexuality and methods of seeing. She has performed and exhibited her work internationally in numerous museums, galleries and film festivals including Art Gallery of Ontario, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Hammer Museum, 54th Venice Biennale, MOMA PS, and Outfest Platinum Showcase, among others. In the Platinum Showcase, she was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Outstanding Experimental Film.
Rhys Ernst is a producer on "Transparent" and created the title sequence for the series. He is a filmmaker and artist who works across various forms and modalities to investigate transgender identity, masculinity, and the intersection of gender and narrative construction. He has shown work at the Sundance Film Festival, the Whitney Biennial, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, MIX Brazil, the New Museum, Brooklyn Museum and the Hammer Museum, among others.
Sami Schalk serves as an assistant professor of English at the University at Albany. She earned her Ph.D. in gender studies at Indiana University and her MFA in creative writing at University of Notre Dame. Schalk’s research focuses on race, gender and disability in contemporary literature.
Courtney D’Allaird is currently the assistant director of the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement at the University at Albany. She is the founding coordinator of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at UAlbany, and has done extensive work with college campuses across New York state to expand initiatives for LGBTQ student inclusion. She works with college students in transitioning to campus life and provides interactive training, programs and class lectures across campus. D’Allaird is a nationally certified peer educator and trainer for National Coalition Building Institute, Dignity for All Students Act and Safe Space/Zone development. She also currently serves on the board of the Northeast LGBT College Conference and as the Northeast regional rep for the Consortium of LGBT Higher Education Professionals. D’Allaird’s expertise is cross-curricular, stemming from a background in sociology, women’s gender and sexuality studies, and business administration. D’Allaird also serves as faculty advisor to UAlbany Pride Alliance, Trans* Action and Gamma Rho Lambda, and is a member of the UAlbany LGBTQ Concerns Committee.
Jackson Harmon is a fourth-year industrial engineer and sustainability major at Rensselaer. He is a passionate inventor, as well as an outspoken trans rights activist, founding TRANS, a group for assistance and networking with other trans and questioning individuals at Rensselaer. He works toward breaking down gender stereotypes and giving a voice to gender minorities. Harmon is also an avid and eclectic piano player, playing everything from Metallica to Taylor Swift in his free time.
The Rensselaer Union Speakers Forum will present “Performing Your Life: An Evening With Jeffrey Tambor” April 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.
Jeffrey Tambor is an actor who has appeared in many television shows and movies, including Arrested Development and The Hangover, and he recently won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in the television series "Transparent."
Members of the campus and the general public can pick up any remaining tickets at the EMPAC Box Office. For more information, contact the Rensselaer Union Administration Office at (518) 276-6505.
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