Meet Todd Nordgren, Wellesley’s New Director of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services
Wellesley is excited to introduce the community to Todd Nordgren, director of LGBTQ+ programs and services.
Nordgren comes to Wellesley from Dickinson College, where he led the Office of LGBTQ Services and taught in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Previously, he served as the field director for the United Council of University of Wisconsin Students, advocating on issues of access and equity. Nordgren holds a B.A. in English and linguistics with comprehensive honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Ph.D. in English literature from Northwestern University.
(This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
E.B. Bartels: Where can students find you on campus?
Todd Nordgren: My office is in the fourth floor penthouse of Billings. You can enter Billings through the door by WZLY or through Schneider. An elevator goes right up into the penthouse.
EB: How did find your way to Wellesley?
TN: After I graduated from college, I worked for a nonprofit for a long time in higher education policy, and then I decided to get a Ph.D. in English literature. Those two things combined really are what led me to the work that I’m doing now, which is advocating for students and thinking about representation. I wanted to find a position that let me think about both those things at the same time.
EB: What was the focus of your Ph.D. research?
TN: I care about LGBTQ+ representation in the media, and my research is on really old stuff, like the early 20th century. It was really interesting to look at material from the Victorian period because it’s similar to the one we’re in now. A lot of things were in contest … lots of questions about gender, in science and in politics, and lots of laws being passed. And I was really interested in how people were responding to that in poetry and novels and plays.
Right now, the categories for gender identity and sexual orientation are also changing, and there is a lot of political conflict over those things, so the same thing is happening. I feel like people growing up today have this abundance of representation available to them: movies, TV shows, books, films that have lots of representation in them that I didn’t have when I was growing up. I had to look far for those things when I was young, which is why I got interested in the early 20th century.
EB: What current movies or shows or books would you recommend that have particularly well done LGBTQ+ representation?
TN: I love Heartstopper. I was just watching the second season. There are lots of ways into it—a graphic novel version online, the Netflix show, a print version. I like that it is thinking about what it would be like to live in a world where you can feel safe and comfortable being queer/trans.
EB: What do you do as director of LGBTQ+ programs and services?
TN: A lot of different things! It changes day to day. I make sure that there’s a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ students, which looks like so many different things—doing programs and events for them, but also trainings or workshops for faculty and staff and other students. It might mean interfacing with a whole bunch of different parts of the campus to think about their policies or the practices, to make sure that people are asking for pronouns and respecting people’s identities, or working directly with students and our Q-Connectors. Students also can drop in to talk with me or to ask for advice.
EB: Besides chatting with you, how can students find more information on Wellesley’s LGBTQ+ resources?
TN: We offer both co-curricular and educational programs, about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement or screening and discussing a film. But we also have social events, on a large scale with hundreds of people and also smaller support groups, so that people can connect with each other. All students should feel free to come to any and all of our events. Some things coming up I am particularly excited about are a program in the Archives on October 19, where we will explore the history of queer and trans life at Wellesley, and a visit by young adult author Aiden Thomas that we are coordinating at the end of October with the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities.
I also think a lot of people don’t know that the penthouse exists, and that you can come up here and just hang out. It’s available for students to study in and reserve for meetings. I want students to feel like they can make this space their own.
Plus, on the LGBTQ+ programs and services page there is a great resource guide. It’s really comprehensive, and it has local and national resources based on people’s identities and the kinds of things they’re looking for—medical care, clothing, support groups. And we are always updating it.
EB: What are your long-term goals at Wellesley?
TN: I’m really interested in thinking about how I’m giving students a platform to share the things that matter to them, and building their skills around how they’re thinking about their identity and the ways they can share that information and build community among themselves. I want students to go out into the world after graduation being able to do that comfortably.
EB: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
TN: That I grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin. Sometimes it can feel like all queer and trans people are in cities, but that’s not really true. The town I grew up in has 900 people, and it is the biggest town in the area. I think I have a unique perspective because my formative years were in this weird little town in the forests of Wisconsin.
EB: Now for some rapid-fire questions! If you could have dinner with any person living or dead, who would it be?
TN: Oscar Wilde! His literature is great, and he has the experience of being persecuted for being queer at the time, but also he was really witty and fun.
EB: What’s your favorite food?
TN: I have a huge sweet tooth so any candy, cakes, ice cream. I’m always on the lookout for a great place for a pastry.
EB: Do you have a favorite spot yet in the Boston area?
TN: I’m living in Jamaica Plain, and there is a lovely pond there that I like to walk around in the evening or morning. It’s very calm and serene.
EB: Besides Heartstopper, what are you watching these days?
TN: I just finished the second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The second to last episode was a musical, which is, like, everything that I needed.
EB: Finally, who makes up your family?
TN: My partner, Elly. They design websites and do web development, so I’m lucky they can work from anywhere since I’ve moved several different times being in academia. And we have a cat, Sebastian. He is adorable and annoying all at once.