Diversity, Equity and Inclusion|

Gender and Sexuality Center

icon of a calendarJune 22, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Joan Carleton

Defining One's Identity

The impact of OU's status as the most LGBTQ+ friendly campus in Michigan

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Robert Hall

As a first-year student, Blake Bonkowski, CAS ’14, was feeling lost as he questioned his gender identity and sexual orientation. Then, a class assignment on the OU Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) changed the entire trajectory of his life.

“At the GSC, they asked me the simple question of ‘would you like to stay a while?’ after I had gathered my information,” explains Bonkowski. “I then came back nearly every day of my undergraduate career. Everything in my entire life now gets rooted back to that moment.”

Bonkowski was quickly elected as vice president of the university student group, Gay, Straight Alliance (GSA). He learned the range of gender labels and met a fellow trans student, reinforcing his understanding of his FTM (female to male) trans identity. By his junior year, Bonkowski was GSA president and using his new name and he/him/his pronouns.

“That was the experience of many students with the GSC,” Bonkowski says. “We knew that we were a part of the community in some way, so we came in and found the support we needed and ultimately, our forever friends.”

Bonkowski committed himself wholeheartedly to the GSC, working closely with Grace Wojcik, GSC coordinator, to facilitate inclusivity trainings for the OU community. His passion led to community engagements and educational trainings with community colleges, local businesses and churches, which he still facilitates today.

“Blake was one of the most committed GSC volunteers when I first arrived at OU,” Wojcik recalls. “It has been a privilege to watch him grow as a speaker, educator and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Moreover, it has been the privilege of my life to work alongside him as a colleague and fellow higher-education professional.”

Now, as an academic adviser for the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Bonkowski’s passion is helping transgender and nonbinary students. His master’s degree in college counseling gives him the necessary skills to develop relationships and support students beyond their academic courses. Beyond the students, he has a deep appreciation for the OU sense of community — nearly every employer he worked for as a student is still at OU.

“OU has quickly moved from 2.5 to 4.5 stars on the Campus Pride Index,” Bonkowski states. “We are the number one most LGBTQ+ friendly campus in Michigan, and are leaders in having the policies, procedures and space to provide support to students.”

“The campus community genuinely cares about continual progress. That being said, there’s always work to be done.”

Community members can support OU’s LGBTQ+ students through the Cody Petzold Rainbow Endowed Scholarship, created in the memory of Bonkowski’s friend and fellow former OU student through OU Giving.

Learn more about the Gender and Sexuality Center.

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