Erin Cross might be new to the job of director at the LGBT Center at Penn, but she is certainly not new to the work of the Center.
Cross has worked for nearly 20 years at the Center, first as a staff member and then as associate director. She is also a 2010 graduate of the Graduate School of Education where she studied gender and sexuality. Starting this Wednesday she will serve in the role of director, replacing Bob Schoenberg who held the position for 35 years.
Cross said her academic background in gender and sexuality studies will help her as she adapts to her new position as director, and especially as she works to focus on issues surrounding intersectionality.
Cross also said she wants to reframe the Center's approach to include more initiatives that celebrate the LGTBQ community at Penn.
“A lot of people think of the Center as the place to go to if you have problems,” Cross said. “That’s still really important, but we want to celebrate. Celebrate who we are, all the different identities in our community.”
Cross plans on addressing the needs of students by facilitating more direct relationships between undergraduate and graduate students and between undergraduates and alumni.
The main representative organization for LGBTQ alumni, PennGALA, is launching a mentor program this year for Penn students, and Cross said she hopes to collaborate with them to showcase the diversity of Penn alumni while providing a resource for LGBTQ students.
“We keep our alum really close and involved,” Cross said. “I think a large part of Penn, whether you’re an administrator or student, are the connections you can make to really best support folks no matter their role.”
Cross also said she plans on connecting LGBTQ students and professors by engaging the LGBTQ Faculty Diversity Working Group, a group founded in 2011 to improve the recruitment of LGBTQ faculty.
Cross is also working with a focus team at Pennant — the system that will replace Penn InTouch by the end of 2020 — and with the University Registrar and the Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Karu Kozuma to allow students to insert preferred names and pronouns into Penn’s system.
Students are excited about Cross assuming her new role.
“Erin is someone I look up to as a leader, as a mentor and as a friend,” said College senior Kai Kornegay, who has worked closely with Cross as a work-study student at the LGBT Center. “She has that forward-thinking ability to be able to see what a student is capable of and help them get to that point.”
Kornegay also said she appreciated that Cross granted her a large degree of responsibility over the four years that Kornegay has worked at the Center. Among various other events, Kornegay has been able to work with Cross on the upcoming 35th anniversary celebration of the LGBT Center.
Schoenberg, who has worked closely with Cross for close to two decades, said Cross balances an array of tasks for the Center and is optimistic that she will succeed in her new role.
“I know she’ll do an amazing job," Schoenberg said. “She has been the backbone of the operation. She’s been the most on-the-ground staff member we’ve ever had.”