Transgender activist to speak at SUNY Oneonta

ContributedAuthor and television host Janet Mock, the speaker for this year's Mills Distinguished Lecture at SUNY Oneonta, is seen in this undated photograph.

The speaker at SUNY Oneonta's Mills Distinguished Lecture this year will be a transgender rights activist, which will be a breath of fresh air, according to students.

Author, television host and transgender woman Janet Mock will present the lecture at 7 p.m. on Sept. 21 at the college's Alumni Field House, officials said. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. 

Best known for her work as a journalist and media advocate for transgender people, Mock writes in her memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More” about her journey of transitioning "to her truest self as a high school and college student."

“Redefining Realness” is SUNY Oneonta’s 2016 Common Read selection, an initiative that asks all incoming freshmen to read the same diversity-related book, which is then discussed in fall courses across several disciplines, according to officials.

"Each year we try to pick a different area of diversity," said Theresa Russo, Common Read Committee co-chair and professor of child and family studies. "We put out an online survey for students to make suggestions of topics, books or authors. Then we go through the suggestions, read the books and talk to students. We hadn't covered diversity of sexual orientation yet, so we thought this would be great."

Mock, whose memoir is a New York Times bestseller, has been featured on Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report and Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday. Mock has been named one of the "30 Most Influential People on the Internet" and one of the "12 News Faces of Black Leadership" by Time magazine. She has also been recognized by the Ms. Foundation for Women, Planned Parenthood and The Feminist Press, according to her website.

The Mills Distinguished Lectureship is named to honor the memory of Professor Albert Mills and his wife, Helena, according to college officials. Their monetary gifts to the College at Oneonta Foundation led to the establishment in 1988 of a fund to bring prominent speakers to the SUNY Oneonta campus.

The Common Read, in its fourth year, "advances diversity by encouraging students to examine and better understand topics such as equity, inclusion, and personal history through many lenses," according to the school's website. It aims to infuse cultural literacy into the academic program.

This year's program will be more of a conversation than a lecture, Russo said. There will be opportunities to ask questions, and there will also be a smaller student session with Mock for those enrolled in courses that are incorporating the book into curriculum, she said.

Olivia Dodson, a freshman at the college, said she is looking forward to hearing what Mock has to say.

"I think it's a good idea to have her speak," Dodson said. "A lot more college kids need to be exposed to this type of thing."

Rowan Fitzgibbons, a sophomore at SUNY Oneonta, said Mock will be an important speaker.

"There is a really large trans community here," Fitzgibbons said Wednesday night. "But there's still a lot of work to be done to make them feel comfortable here. I think this is a good step toward that."

Community members can RSVP for the lecture online at www.oneonta.edu/commonread, or pick up a ticket at the Hunt Union Information Desk during the day from 1 to 10 p.m. 

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