After more than 19 years working at a local university’s LGBT center, Dr. Erin Cross will take the reins of the organization next week.
Cross will assume the role of director at the University of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Center Sept. 13 upon the retirement of inaugural director Bob Schoenberg, who served in the position since 1982.
Throughout her work as associate director and later senior associate director, Cross introduced several initiatives to the center. Among those was lobbying to add the “T” to the center’s name. It was initially called the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Center until spring 1999, when “Transgender” was added to the name.
Cross noted that upon her hiring, the center’s leadership asked her what she was passionate about.
“I said ‘trans issues’ because I had a very close friend who transitioned and I saw the struggles that person had,” Cross said. “From there, I spearheaded getting gender identity added into the nondiscrimination policy at Penn in 2003. And I worked on trans-health benefits for students, staff, faculty, what they call gender-neutral housing here as well as single-use restrooms.”
Additionally, Cross created mentorship programs, training initiatives and worked with faculty on introducing more LGBT issues into their coursework.
Penn was recently recognized on Campus Pride’s 2017 Best of the Best Top-25 LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges & Universities list. While Cross said the LGBT center’s current efforts and this particular recognition were “amazing,” the work to move forward isn’t finished.
“It’s always great to be recognized for the work we have done, but also [we should] not rest on our laurels and realize there is more work to be done,” Cross said. “We want to make sure Penn is a wonderful place for people of all gender identities and all sexual orientations.”
Cross said she has loved working with students and student groups on campus during her tenure.
“That’s what keeps me here and keeps me motivated — just how wonderful they are and how much I learn from them,” Cross said.
When asked what she has learned from students in the past, Cross said, “I can’t put my finger on one thing. I’ve learned more about myself and having conversations as I listen and hear their experiences. I’ve learned more about intersectional identities and the joys and the struggles that come from those who have different identities than I have. I’ve learned about language; students teach me so much about language and about the world as they see it. They also just teach me to be a better human on a daily basis and they keep me up to date and current. Also, I encourage them to really call me on things. If I’m not woke to things, please call me on it. Let’s have these discussions. It’s really important.”
Upon her promotion, Cross will have more responsibilities relating to the center’s budget and will be held more accountable to higher-ups. She said she is most looking forward to continue working with the community.
“In the end, I am most happy to continue my work with students and really broaden the portfolio of the students we work with, and I’m looking forward also to make more bridges to the Philadelphia community.”
Cross also noted the work of her soon-to-be predecessor, Schoenberg.
“He has built this strong foundation that has really built respect for the LGBTQ community on campus and I want to continue that respect and broaden the relationships I built, as well as the ones he built, across campus to make sure we’re reaching students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members,” Cross said. “I only can go up because Bob has built such a good foundation.”
Schoenberg said the LGBT Center is in good hands.
“I’m very optimistic that Erin will do an amazing job as the director of the LGBT Center,” he said. “She has demonstrated her considerable abilities for nearly 20 years in the associate director then senior associate director positions. I know she has great ideas and some aspirations that she will be able to implement in her new position.”