Celebrating Diversity - Jen Skidmore

  • Jen and partner, Luke (he/him), posing with their orange tabby named Mango. She’s pictured here not wanting to pose for a holiday photo.

Celebrating Diversity

June: PRIDE Month

In the College of Engineering, all are welcome. To better share the stories of how our faculty, staff, students and alumni are diverse in their many varying forms, we are celebrating various heritage and other nationally recognized months. This recognition will include stories about those in our greater engineering community, as well as sharing events and other opportunities.

Jen Skidmore standing in front of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Jen Skidmore

Director of Student Development, Engineering Student Services

Name, Hometown, Pronouns, and any Identity/-ies you wish to share that are relevant to Pride Month.

I’m Jen Skidmore, I use they/them and she/her pronouns, and I’m originally from Corpus Christi, TX. I came out as queer as a teenager while living in a suburb outside of Houston, TX, and had a difficult time finding support and community. I saw going to college as a way to find more acceptance and community, and that’s why I work in higher education now – to create communities and support for students who maybe don’t have that elsewhere. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came to understand my gender identity as a trans nonbinary person. I live in Omaha with my partner, Luke (he/him), and our cat, Mango.

Q: What is your role in the College of Engineering – and what do you enjoy (love!) about what you are doing? This can include groups you are involved in.

A: I am director of student development in Engineering Student Services. This means that across both our campuses I oversee Engineering Career Services, founded and direct the Multicultural Engineering Program and Women in Engineering Program, lead some of the seminars a lot of our students take first and second year, and put on a lot of programs to welcome and orient students to the college. I love coaching students around their goals and challenging them to work toward developing the Complete Engineer competencies.

I also love advising oSTEM @ Nebraska, for queer and trans students in STEM fields at UNL! It was founded by an Engineering student in 2017, Lindsay Jarema, who asked me to be their advisor. It’s one of my favorite communities on campus. They’re fantastic advocates for inclusion and help support each other a great deal in their personal and professional pursuits. I’m part of a few other groups at UNO and UNL that work to support more inclusive policies and provide training and education around gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s a very fulfilling use of my time and teaches me a lot along the way, too.

Q: What does Pride mean to you, especially as a member of the College of Engineering community?

A: Pride, to me, is a complicated word. I think a lot about who has the freedom and privileges to be out and visible, and what standards of queer and trans identities are uplifted and celebrated most publicly. I think about folks who don’t feel safe being out in many communities. I believe that pride is a movement and a protest for more freedoms for queer and trans folks everywhere, and an act of solidarity with those who are not able to be out for any reason. It’s a rally against fear and invisibility. It’s a call to action for anyone on the sidelines to help make spaces more inclusive for queer and trans people, so that we can be safe, celebrated, and proud to be who we are.

Within the College of Engineering, I’m proud to be out and visible because of the ways my visibility has created space for and will continue to create space for more LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff to join in making this community better. It’s not always easy. Being out is hard, coming out is hard. Not everyone has a workplace or even a home where they can be out about their gender identity and sexual orientation. I’m very lucky I have support from many people in the college to show up as my authentic self (shout out to Emily Griffin Overocker, Bonnie Martin, Jayde McWilliams, and Emili Jones especially!). Students we serve say it makes an impact. I’ll never forget the students who have told me that my pronouns on my courses’ syllabi have made them feel so empowered and valid, helped them feel like they do belong here. I feel that if my visibility, even if it’s hard sometimes, can help pave the way for others with less privilege than myself to have fewer barriers, then I can be proud of the impact I’ve had.

Q: How can others in the engineering community (on and off campus) be allies to you and others in the LGBTQIA+ community?

A: There are so many actions everyone can take to make our spaces in the college better for queer and trans folks.
  • First, use your pronouns everywhere, and never assume someone’s identities and pronouns. Make it a habit. It goes a long way, I promise.
  • Second, if you teach, tell your students in advance of class how you take roll, and welcome anyone who uses a name or pronouns different than what’s on your roster to contact you.
  • Third, remove binary gender from all forms, surveys, course materials and websites (like male/female options or using he/she). We have a Nebraska University system-wide policy around this now.
  • Fourth, go to a training – UNL’s LGBTQA+ Center and UNO’S Gender and Sexuality Resource Center both have great offerings.
  • And fifth, be open to continued learning, but put compassion first. Even if you don’t fully understand an identity doesn’t mean you can’t engage respectfully with someone who holds that identity. We’re all going to mess up. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about trying your best and correcting yourself when you do mess up. And in the meantime, keep learning with the resources above! We can all do better.