UT Austin alum Michelle Ramirez (BSW, MSSW, School of Social Work ’15, ’19) has recently joined the Gender & Sexuality Center (GSC)—bringing years of student advocacy experience and expertise in social work to their new role as educator coordinator. We caught up with the El Paso, Texas native to learn more about their good work in social justice, their undergraduate experiences and how they strive to make the university a more inclusive, welcoming place for all Longhorns.
Why did you choose to enroll at UT Austin, and are you happy with that decision?
At first, I was apprehensive about coming to UT because of how big it is and because of the big focus on sports. The biggest draw was that my scholarship would allow for my housing to be covered for two years, so it was hard to pass that opportunity up. Those feelings changed when I attended orientation and immediately fell in love with this place. I remember watching some students giving monologues in the Hogg Auditorium, where they talked about being a part of different communities, their lived experiences and what it was like to be discriminated against. For the first time, I was able to see representation and it felt great. I felt so connected to everyone in that room and knew I wanted to be a part of the university because this is what it stands for. I later became an orientation advisor because I really wanted to be a part of that show, and I wanted to pass on that feeling of visibility.
How did you find your path to social work?
During my freshman year, I failed precalculus twice—and I had never failed a class in my life. When my advisor asked me what I really wanted to do, I told her that I wanted to help people. Back when my grandma was dying from cancer, I remember how amazing all her doctors were—inspiring me to become a doctor myself. But it turned out math was a huge roadblock, and it really wasn’t the right path for me. I never heard of social work until I came to UT, and once I took my first class I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do.
Could you share a bit about the Allies in Action trainings offered by the GSC?
The trainings are designed to make sure people have the skills and language to support people who are gender diverse. One of the biggest workshops we offer at the GSC are the Ally Toolkit Series, which are two-part trainings that give people a deeper understanding of the LGBTQ+ experience. You also learn the importance of using affirming language, pronouns and making sure we’re being thoughtful in our actions. These interactive workshops help people learn and understand why it’s important to be respectful and inclusive.
What do you enjoy most about working with students at the GSC?
My favorite thing about working at the GSC is being able to witness growth in conversations, connections and relationships. The GSC is really conducive to building community, which is a significant part of survival for queer and femme people in the world, so I believe it’s really unique and special that students have an entire space to be able to do that here. Building community looks different every day, but the knowledge and story sharing has to be the best because our students are filled with experience and wisdom already!
What advice would you give to students who are looking to get involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy work?
Visiting the GSC is a great place to start looking for communities or organizations that gather based on a shared interest, and to figure out what exactly you’re passionate about advocating for. Finding an organization will help you start conversations with likeminded people who can help you understand what you are wanting to focus your advocacy work on.
What are you looking forward to most this fall?
I’m excited to meet students, learn where they are coming from and hear about how they can relate to other students after living in cities they may not have felt safe to be themselves. Young people just bring so much culture to the space, helping us learn about new trends and information!
Just for fun, what do enjoy doing outside of work? Any fun hobbies or interests?
I enjoy hiking trails in Austin that have plenty of shade and waterfalls, and walking with my Boston terrier pup, Benji. I enjoy arts of all kinds including crochet, painting and woodwork. Other hobbies include cooking and baking, weightlifting and playing flag football with the ATX Gay Football League.
More About the Gender & Sexuality Center
Located on the second floor of the William C. Powers, Jr. Building (suite 2.112), the Gender and Sexuality Center is an inclusive space on campus that’s dedicated to women and LGBTQIA+ communities. Home to several student advocacy groups, the center works to serve and support the university community through education, outreach and advocacy.