Lydia Weiss: From Student to Staff

Story by: Caitlin Taylor 

After the horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the LGBTQ+ community was in mourning of the 49 queer siblings who lost their lives in the attack. While some used social media, community building or art to heal, Michigan State University alumnae, Lydia Weiss, took to writing.

“After the Orlando shooting, I felt a lot of things – fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness,” she said. “But one of the things that I felt I could actually write about was that I was scared of the media response to the massacre.”

Weiss connected Orlando media responses with responses from other tragedies involving people of Color and queer populations. After pitching the story to the online magazine, Everyday Feminism, her piece “5 Lessons We Can Learn From the Orlando Media Coverage,” was published in early July.

“My hope is just that people will think critically about how they read the media and what action they want to take to hold mass media outlets responsible for their reporting habits,” she said.

Weiss’ goal of social awareness is not a singular one; since her time as an undergraduate student, she has been a committed activist for gender justice work. Between involvement in Women’s Council, TransAction, and the Alliance of Queer and Ally Students, Michigan State solidified Weiss’ dedication to activism and engagement.

“I think as a student, you have an opportunity, and in my experience, an obligation, to use your voice for what you believe in,” she said.

Perhaps the most memorable of her experiences with activism as an undergrad was her participation as an ally in “bathroom crawls” with the student organization, TransAction. Weiss remembers that during her time as a student, gender neutral and trans-inclusive policies and spaces were beginning to receive traction. The bathroom crawls were held to make a statement on campus about the the importance of trans-inclusive restrooms.

In addition to bathroom crawls and other events through student involvement, Weiss’ experiences allowed her identity to grow and transform.

“Campuses can be a unique space to find yourself,” she said. “This was when I truly accepted myself as a queer feminist and dove into identity politics, intersectionality, gender diversity and gender justice. I used all of this to really form my activist identity.”

After graduating from MSU in 2008, with a B.A. in Sociology, Weiss earned a position as the Assistant Director of Grassroots Campaigns in Philadelphia, following a path in social justice. In this position, she was responsible for team management of dozens of canvassers, primarily raising membership and funds for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Later, she earned an M.A. in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of Cincinnati in 2013. Currently, she is the Educational Program Coordinator for Michigan State University’s WorkLife Office, which assumed responsibility for staff and faculty services formerly provided by the Women’s Resource Center.

“One of my proudest accomplishments during my time at the Women’s Resource Center was the creation of the Women’s Networking Association on campus to help empower and connect professional women,” she said.

Throughout her journey, Weiss has discovered the importance of community, both personally and professionally. She has made connections with and received support from friends and colleagues that have had a lasting impact on her identity and self-understanding – ones that she remains eternally grateful for.

“It is so important to create and maintain spaces where people can connect,” she said. “Staying connected to people who have supported you is important (too). You never know when these relationships will literally change your life in the future.”

Above all, Weiss values community and spaces because, sometimes, it can be really hard to be yourself in this world, she said.

“When you don’t feel safe – know that you have an entire community of people who love and support you,” she said. “When you do feel safe – let your pride and identity shine brighter than the sun.”