Holding a uniquely rounded ceramic mug, hand-painted with strokes of brown hues, Tynishia Walker reflects on spending a great deal of time at the Portland Saturday Market during her undergraduate experience. She compares it to the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, but on a much grander scale with many artisanal crafts for sale.
It was at that Oregon market that Walker began collecting handmade artisanal ceramic mugs. The one she is holding was the first in her collection of several unique, hand-selected mugs inspired by her time in Portland. Showing how this particular mug has a hole in the handle for her thumb, she emphasizes how each mug, a hand-crafted work of art, fits her hand perfectly.
The collection reminds Walker of her Oregon experience now that she has returned to Michigan.
Walker, a Detroit native, is the Spectrum Center’s education and leadership program manager. The Spectrum Center’s mission is to provide an inclusive environment on campus. With a focus on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, the center uses outreach, student-centered education, support and advocacy to help develop students’ understanding of their own identity and the identities of others, and create a community based on social justice.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Portland in social work, and her master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan.
During her graduate studies, Walker’s field placement was at the Spectrum Center. After graduating in August 2014, Walker was offered the opportunity to join the team full time.
“I really wanted to be doing education around social justice,” Walker says.
As a program manager, Walker manages the center’s education and training portfolio and professional development. This includes coordinating, facilitating and evaluating workshops on sexual orientation, gender identity and ally development, in addition to working on panels and the office’s internal professional development.
The My Voice panel provides speakers, whom Walker trains, to talk about their own stories as it relates to their LGBTQ identity. They often talk about how they navigate different topics, such as coming out in a religious community, or how their mental health was affected by their identity.
One of Walker’s favorite experiences at the Spectrum Center was partnering with a local high school for its Diversity Day. Representatives from the center visited with the students to talk about gender, gender identity and gender expression.
“That was really re-energizing to see how our youth are thinking and conceptualizing gender,” Walker says.
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Walker also has been involved in a number of the center’s partnerships with outside institutions, including Wayne State University. Since the WSU campus lacks an LGBTQ center (a goal the university is working toward), the Spectrum Center has been training some of its faculty and staff in building inclusive communities.
“It’s been really interesting to see and be outside of U-M, and really think about how others are thinking about this.”
Walker sees the Spectrum Center as the perfect placement for her out of school. It combined her passions of education and social justice, and opened her eyes to an opportunity she didn’t have herself. Walker notes that she’s enjoyed having the opportunity to build relationships with students through her work.
“During my own college experience, we didn’t have a Spectrum Center or any sort of gender and sexuality office,” Walker said. “So I really enjoy the opportunity to not only provide that for students, but also to educate around what we could be doing better. It gives me the opportunity to provide for others what I wasn’t afforded.”