New GSP coordinator seeks to stoke conversation on campus
By Ilana Goldstein ‘19
With a passion for students and higher education, Cristina Usino plunged into her first days as Lafayette’s Gender and Sexuality Programs Coordinator on Tuesday.
“I have a visual in my mind where I’m diving into this pool of wonderful students, causes, and events,” she said. “I want to get started.”
Usino’s position will support students who might be exploring their identity as it relates to gender and sexuality through advocacy, advising, events and trips.
The GSP Coordinator is meant to ensure that students can meet in a private space and be able to have someone who has the knowledge and skillsets to help them with identity exploration, according to Dean of Intercultural Development John McKnight, who helped create the position three years ago. The coordinator position was first held by Gene Kelly, who left the college over the summer.
Usino serves as the formal adviser to student organizations that advocate various forms of social justice, including the Association of Lafayette Feminists and Questioning Established Sexual Taboos.
She became involved with intercultural development and women’s leadership while studying for her master’s degree in clinical psychology and counseling, when she worked in the residence life office of her alma mater, Cedar Crest College.
“It’s when my love of social justice began,” she said. “I fell in love with higher education, working with RAs, helping [students] figure out who they are.”
Usino learned of Lafayette through a colleague, Ashley Gray ‘09, then met McKnight at a social justice conference at Muhlenberg College.
“I was just so excited about the work [McKnight] was doing in the [Lafayette] office and that there was such a thing as a Dean of Intercultural Development,” she said. That’s when the sparks started.”
When asked what plans she has for GSP, she remarked on her desire to learn about the development of the GSP program in the past three years.
“When you come into a position that’s really taken off…I really want to come in first as a learner,” she said. “It may be the counselor in me, but I really want to come in and observe and learn because I feel like until I understand the story, I can’t add another chapter.”
For Usino, speaking openly on campus is key to her new role, because it starts meaningful conversations.
“The more important piece is that I want to encourage people to say things offensively so that you can have a conversation about ‘Where did that come from?’, ‘Can you tell me why you have that view?’” she said. “Because that’s the only way we’re actually going to make social justice not a construct but an actual thing that we’re doing on this campus.”
McKnight, who chaired the committee that searched for and selected the candidate for the position, believed that Usino stood out among the thirty applicants.
“She has the ability to combine really wonderful one-on-one advising of students with campus-wide programming and advising of student organizations and to tend to both the gender and sexuality part of her portfolio,” McKnight said. “To put two major topics in this way is a challenge but we feel that Cristina is going to do a dynamic job attending to both of those areas.”
Women’s and Gender Studies professor Susan Basow, College Chaplain Alex Hendrickson, Title IX Coordinator Amy O’Neill and student and GSP worker Kathryn Schwacha ‘16 were also in the search committee.