Kolia Kroeger 15C is President of Emory Pride, Vice President of the Slavic Club at Emory, and the 2013-2014 recipient of the GALA Leadership Award. Kolia’s preferred pronouns are: they, them, their. Since coming out as genderqueer, Kolia became involved with various groups that question the social construction of a gender/sex binary. They are pursuing a double major in Russian Language, Literature, and Culture and History.
Lilly Correa 73C, Co-Chair of GALA, recently interviewed Kolia for this newsletter.
LC: Your home town is in Texas (Thorndale). What was your experience growing up as gender non-conforming in a small town?
KK: The concept of gender variance didn’t really exist in rural Texas. I imagine that my experience was very different than in urban or suburban settings.
KK: Originally, I came here to be a chemistry major, and to get out of Texas.
LC: What do you see as the intersectionalities, or lack thereof, of your background, including your race, color, class, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression? How has your time at Emory helped promote the intersectionality of these different backgrounds for you or other students?
KK: I had not heard the word until I came to Emory. My strongest first impression was the crossover between my non-normative sexual orientation (at this point I was not even aware of “gender identity”) and class. The people I knew were like “let’s go eat or let’s go out,” and I always just left quietly because I couldn’t afford it.
Only later did intersectionality become a word with real meaning to me. After finding supportive people (only in the last two years), I was able to confront what my gender, race, and economic status mean in a broader context.
I think the college is on the right step by implementing the “Creating Emory” program, but it could be more comprehensive and on-going. The current system introduces new students to words and ideas, but doesn’t help them to understand why this matters to them or how to incorporate “diversity” or “intersectionality” into their world view.
I feel like the people in the know are working to make things better, but the larger communities of privilege feel little need to be involved.
KK: While I was deeply interested and worked to advocate for gender neutral housing, it was really Michael Shutt, Interim Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Campus Life, and the residential offices that made that happen.
LC: What needs are you responding to, and what kinds of community-building, programming, and advocacy work are you engaged in on campus?
KK: I feel there is a stronger need around education in general on campus. There is currently Safe Space Training (directed toward faculty and staff). However, several students, including myself are working to launch a new program, Queer-Tips. This program, coordinated by the Office of LGBT Life, is basically a mobile, student/group-oriented program constructed from the basic structure of Safe Space.
LC: So tell me a little bit about your involvement with Emory Pride. Are you a facilitator in a special group?
KK: As President of Emory Pride, my primary focus is implementing the strategic vision for this year (and future years). A lot of my time is spent either guiding other members of our executive board, looking for funding for our various events and programs, or just doing general outreach.
LC: What kinds of issues are important to Emory Pride?
KK: For me, making spaces queer and trans* friendly is a big part of my work. I hope that this is accomplished through Emory Pride.
LC: Are there other spaces where you think LGBT students are finding voice on campus?
KK: Frankly, many LGB students seem as though they don’t need “LGBT Spaces.” I do know of LGB students who hang out in the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services, the Emory Black Student Union and the Center for Women.
LC: What kind of support or involvement, if any, would you like to see from GALA and other alums of Emory? If you could ask for anything from the administration, what—if anything—would it be?
KK: Currently, I am asking for reviews on architectural policy regarding gender neutral restrooms.