Life on the west coast in the 1960s through 70s is worlds away from life in Slippery Rock, PA today. On two opposite sides of the country, the two areas differ greatly when it comes to social issues, atmosphere and opportunities.
Cindy Lacom, who uses they/them pronouns, can recall the freedom they had where they grew up in the west coastal region of the country. Coming from a middle-class family, they had numerous opportunities to travel and do things.
They reminisce on a time they traveled to Berkley just to go to a small, local bookstore. They were surrounded by transportation and an endless bound of experiences.
“Growing up in the East Bay was pretty profound, even if I didn’t know it at the time,” Lacom said. “Especially in terms of diversity.”
In high school, in the early to mid-70s, Lacom talks about they knew many LGBTQ+ individuals that were openly out. They explained there was occasional harassment, but it was still relatively safe.
Their parents even had friends who were a part of the LGBTQ+ community. All of this to say, where they grew up is very different from living in Slippery Rock over 30 years later.
Long-term passion for social justice and advocacy
A feminist since the age of 12, Lacom has been deeply passionate about intersectionality and social issues for the majority of their life. This was a part of daily life and beliefs, and also can be seen in their academic career.
During their time in undergrad at California State University Chico, Lacom was involved in various social justice movements. They continued this advocacy through their graduate program and decided to make a commitment.
Lacom’s PhD dissertation focused on women writers, using feminist theory in their research. The dissertation also had focus on intersections of disability, infirmity, sexuality and maternity. More specifically they looked at disabled embodiments, sexuality and compulsory maternity in the 19th century.
Their thesis was female sexuality is often seen as monstrous and disabling. They see this as one of the many things that prepared them to ultimately come where they are now, as the director of gender studies.
Lacom received two bachelor’s degrees in English and philosophy, with a minor in creative writing. They joked that, “some people [may] say the most useless degrees possible.”
They went on to receive a master’s degree in English, before heading to University of Oregon to earn a PhD in English, Victorian literature and culture.
They have made a commitment to National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) early in their graduate school career. This took them down a path of leadership where they became the president of the local NARAL chapter.
They also were the vice president of the union for teaching fellows and graduate students during graduate school. Working closely with the union, and their mother being in a union, it was something that had appeal when looking for a job post-grad.
Slippery Rock wasn’t even on the map to the West Coast native.
“Pennsylvania wasn’t even a real state when I applied, I wondered if it actually existed,” Lacom said with a laugh. “When I interviewed and did my research, [SRU’s] campus reminds me a little bit of my undergrad campus.”
Lacom expressed their undying love for the Ski Lodge on campus.
After graduation, they called SRU (and the beloved Ski Lodge) home. They didn’t know this would be home for the next 30 years.
Defining passions at SRU
Lacom began at SRU in the English department, but quickly found their home within the faculty of women’s studies. When they first interviewed, they met three people who became important mentors.
“I had met [who] was director of women’s studies at the time,” Lacom said. “They took me out for lunch and I was [thinking] ‘who is this white haired, hippie woman at lunch. [She introduced herself] and said ‘if you get this job, you need to join [this] committee.
I wanted to be in a place where feminism was supported, so I knew this was the job for me [in that moment].”
They began teaching college writing, British literature and literature theory classes at The Rock. All of these classes had different sets of challenges that Lacom adored.
They have always been one that sees a challenge as an opportunity, and they’ll see it through.
In the gender studies department, Lacom has taught a lot variety of classes, such as introduction to gender studies, gender studies in porn culture, disability and social justice courses, as well as various independent studies.
Some topics they’ve explored with students in independent studies are trans masculinities, veteran status and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as various different internships that cover a broad range of work.
Working with students and having discussions that may not happen in other classes has always been what Cindy loves about their job. Both students and faculty recognize and love Lacom for all of the hard work and hard conversations they welcome.
“I feel like what I hoped for was that on my last day, I was going to work as hard as I [did] on my first day here,” Lacom said. “I’m teaching full time for the first time in a long time because I’ve had administrative leave to direct the [gender studies] program.
“I really am here to be in the classroom. That’s where I am the happiest.”
Beyond The Rock
In these last few months leading up to their retirement, Lacom has been working hard to make sure they stay busy even in retirement. Recently, they co-founded a consulting company that already has three clients.
They are also serving on the Western PA Continuum of Care Board (CoC), and they are a member of the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging committee.
If that’s not enough, Lacom was selected to be on a youth homeless development project and they are on a committee for Voices for Juvenile Justice. They also hope to spend time with their partner.
“I have a partner of 32 years that I’d like to hang out with… ” they said. “We have way too many dogs and cats, and I have a huge garden. So that’s what I’m gonna do when I retire. And hike.”
Believe it or not, with all of those activities, Lacom is hoping to bring their 60 hour work week down to 30 hours.
At the moment, there is not a tenured track faculty member lined up to direct the gender studies department.
“I have real concerns about the future of the gender studies program,” Lacom said. “Both the major, and we’re one of only two interdisciplinary minors on campus.
That’s taken a lot of work to protect it and not let it be adopted by a particular department.”
Lacom worries about students who find the gender studies department to be a safe space for them.
“There aren’t very many classes where [students] see themselves reflected in the curriculum, and that will be a loss if gender studies courses disappear over the years.”
The Rock says goodbye to Lacom
After 30 years, different departments, changes in administration and changes in the culture at The Rock, Lacom only has a few weeks left before they say goodbye to SRU.
Their impact has been felt across campus by both faculty and students, near and far.
“I love being at Slippery Rock,” they said. “I love the students here and I have some really awesome colleagues. I will retire with a sensitive of gratitude [and] I feel like I’ve been a part of a positive community on this campus and in my classrooms. I’m grateful.”
Annabelle Chipps assisted with the research and interviewing of this article.