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Pushing boundaries

Michelle Ludwin, For The Miami Student

( Hannah Miller)

The noise of a windbreaker causes heads around the Miami University Women's Center to look up. Confused, a young college student walks in the doorway and asks at the reception desk if anyone has found something she lost. While the student helper looks around the desk, shuffling papers and opening desk drawers, a conversation strikes up between two individuals. It is not between the student helper and the student who came in, but between the student and a man sitting on the beige sofa with a white Apple computer on his lap.

The man is dressed in crisp tan slacks, an argyle sweater and thick black glasses. While the student is talking to him, little does she know that he sits in the same spot on the beige couch almost every day. He is also one of two men who work in the Women's Center.

Mathew Hall is a senior political science and history major at Miami. Upon graduating in the spring, Hall plans on continuing his education with a Ph.D. in history. He eventually wants to teach in higher education and write a history book.

For now, he is just finishing up classes, working at the Women's Center, the Culinary Support Center and Spectrum.

Hall is one of the newest additions to the family at the Women's Center. Had a student walked into the center six years ago, he or she would have seen a staff completely made up of women. However, five years ago, Directors Rhonda Jackson and Jane Geottsch made a decision. They were going to hire their first male employee in an all-female environment.

Who was the lucky man? Josh Kurz, a graduate student who began working in 2006.

Jackson admitted she and Geottsch were nervous about this transition in the center.

"We started thinking, ‘Will women be less likely to open up to a man about things like sexuality, body image and sexual assault?'" Jackson said.

Geottsch and Jackson's worries were quickly put at ease. Kurz brought a new dynamic to the staff and to people who walked into the center.

Jackson said Kurz was raised in a household of same-sex parents and brought the ideals of Jackson Katz, a leading anti-sexist male advocate, to the center. Jackson said when Kurz brought ideas from Katz and things he had personally learned, it brought a change to the center.

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"Men had positive experiences when they came to the center," Jackson said. "The men on our staff could outreach to other men about things women couldn't, (such as) masculinity, articulating their feelings and issues to others and working with women."

Kurz stayed on the staff for two years and is currently completing a master's degree. Geottsch and Jackson have since hired Tommy Marzella and Mathew Hall.

Before Hall joined the staff at the Women's Center, he was a first-year almost ready to transfer to another school after his first semester at Miami.

"Before I grew comfortable with Spectrum and saw it was a family, I was ready to leave," Hall said. "I had not found my pocket of friends, I felt trapped and I had not realized the diversity programs on campus and how to get involved."

According to Hall, Spectrum is an organization for students of any sexual orientation to be a part of, and the organization promotes diversity programs on campus.

After joining Spectrum, Hall's process of becoming a leader began. He took on more and more responsibilities in the student organization. Jackson, the adviser to Spectrum at the time, took notice.

"Mat took on leadership positions quietly," Jackson said. "When something needed to be done, he would do it. He always had the time even though his academic schedule was hectic and he had another job. He was also always willing to give back to the members of Spectrum."

Hall first became secretary of Spectrum, and currently serves as co-president of the organization. Hall admitted he probably would not have stayed at Miami if Spectrum did not exist. Being a part of Spectrum led to Hall joining the staff at the Women's Center. Jackson saw something in Hall and encouraged him to apply to be a student ambassador his senior year.

"Sometimes there are those students when you meet them you sort of know they come to the table with a lot of skills," Jackson said. "Mat has those skills. He has those professional and social skills of a leader."

Hall was also not a stranger to the center. He said he spent a lot of time in and out because the GLTBQ Services Office is within the Women's Center, and he wanted to be part of a change.

"At my other job I basically sit in a room with no windows and no one to talk to, and as a senior I wanted a job with more interactions and more to do," Hall said.

Once Hall got the job as a student ambassador at the center, he chose the Femellectual as his area of leadership. According to the Women's Center's website, the Femellectual is a publication printed once a semester by students. It includes main programming points of the semester for the center, as well as personal articles and information about resources. Hall puts a lot of effort into the publication.

"To work on something like the Femellectual that is lasting is personally and intellectually rewarding," Hall said. "To make friends and do projects that are long term and are tangible are more gratifying."

Between classes, work with Spectrum and work with the Women's Center, Hall's co-workers have taken notice.

Marlen Perez, a student ambassador in the Women's Center, said Hall pushes agendas forward at meetings and works to get things accomplished. She also said Hall embodies the fact that the center is open to anyone, not just women.

Carolina Renfro, a student ambassador in the Women's Center, said Hall knows how to do work and play at the same time. Renfro said Hall is engaging with students who walk into the center and makes it a welcoming environment for everyone.

Hall's presence has led to a changing dynamic at the center. Jackson said since there have been males in the center more men have come to use its resources.

"The Women's Center is a resource available to everyone regardless of gender that not enough know about and not enough people take advantage of," Hall said. "People are here to bring a welcoming, safe environment, especially if you are new to campus and need that environment."