Young Alumni Spotlight: Gabby Kindig

June 23, 2021 - Liz Schondelmayer

This Pride month, the College of Social Science is celebrating our LGBTQ+ alumni who are working to make positive changes within their communities. June's Young Alumni Spotlight, Gabby Kindig, graduated from the College of Social Science in 2021 with degrees in both Political Science and Psychology. Now a Press Assistant for the Executive Office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Gabby shares how she found a community at Michigan State University that allowed to be true to herself while she found the career path right for her.

Disclaimer: The views Gabby shares in this interview are solely hers, and not necessarily shared by or representative of her employer.

Where did you grow up, and why did you choose MSU?

I grew up in Lansing, and both of my older brothers went to MSU, so as a kid, I got the inside scoop on what living on campus was like; I even ended up living in Snyder-Phillips, just like they had ten years before me. Once I got to high school, I toured a few different colleges, but none of them felt quite right. In the end, I had narrowed it down to two universities, and honestly it came down to feelings alone. MSU simply felt more comfortable, more welcoming, more like a place where I could build my life for the next few years.


Why did you choose your majors? What made you want to study those fields?

I pursued a dual degree with psychology and political science, with a minor in women's and gender studies. I initially chose psychology because of my own struggles with mental health; I wanted to learn more about the mind, and different ways to help people. I additionally chose political science in response to the 2016 election; I saw alarming trends in our national political scene, and decided that I ought to educate myself in the field so I could better understand how we got to this point in political history, and learn how to make effective changes. Lastly, I chose women's and gender studies, because as a queer feminist, I wanted to learn more about issues of gender. I also really loved that many of the classes within this program came to the field from an intersectional feminist viewpoint, with an emphasis on social justice and making change within our communities. 

Tell us about how you found your community on MSU’s campus. What organizations allowed you to do so, and did the friendships you made impact your experience?

There were two organizations that really helped me find community at MSU. First, was the Social Science Scholars program, led by Dr. John Waller and Jenn Arbogast. Not only was this an amazing academic program that provided me with skills and unique opportunities, but it also functioned as a really phenomenal social support network of friends and mentors. I met one of my best friends through this program, and I was able to connect with other students in the cohorts above and below me. This program makes a very intentional effort to connect students to each other, to our MSU and East Lansing communities, and to resources and opportunities all around the world.

The other organization that was very dear to me was the MSU Ballroom Dance Team. I joined right at the beginning of my freshman year, and this is where I made many of my friends, as well as learned to feel more comfortable in my body, and of course, where I learned how to ballroom dance. I also met my partner through this team; first we were friends, then dance partners, then romantic partners, and we've been together for three and a half years now. 

Outside of formal organizations, one thing that also really helped me find community was simply coming into things as my full self. I had only come out as queer to four people in high school, but when I got to college, I really wanted to be an active part of the LGBTQ+ community, and decided that going forward I would just be out to all the new people that I met. Shortly after starting to date my partner, I also came out to my parents, and later, my extended family. Now that I've been out and openly queer for a few years, every relationship in my life has improved. I can come to relationships more openly and genuinely, and I've been able to connect with other amazing people in the LGBTQ+ community and make friends that I think are going to be lifelong. The community I have found is caring, supportive, resilient, creative, and fun. 

I know that coming out is not a safe or viable route for many people still, and of course your safety and wellbeing should be the first priority. For those who are able to come out though, you will find a very large, thriving LGBTQ+ community at MSU. We are everywhere, in every neighborhood, every academic program, every career field. 


How did MSU/your degree help shape your career path?

Aside from helping me figure out my actual career field, MSU has helped in the way I approach work, as well. As a State of Michigan employee, I'm privileged to have workplace protections as a person in the LGBTQ+ community, under one of Governor Whitmer's earliest executive orders. Unfortunately though, these protections do not apply to Michigan as a whole, and to expand these protections to everyone, the Michigan legislature will have to pass a law to expand the Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act. Because of this, I know it's not safe for everyone to be out at work, but since I do have these protections, it's important to me to be visibly queer where I can. Increased visibility shows people that the LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith. Being open in the workplace also allows people to develop personal relationships with LGBTQ+ people, which changes hearts and minds by challenging stereotypes and misconceptions. When discussing expanding the Elliot-Larson Act in 2019, Senator Jeremy Moss said, “Just by being our authentic selves, we have moved the conversation. Nobody in the legislature can say, ‘I don’t know somebody who is part of the LGBT community,’ because we’re there. We work with them.” That has stuck with me. I'm just one person, I'm not representative of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but just by being fully myself wherever I go, I'm helping to show all the different ways that LGBTQ+ folks can exist and live and be like. Furthermore, I can also help amplify the voices of other people in the community who are also showing different ways LGBTQ+ folks can exist and live and be like. 


What is your favorite part about your current job? What is the most challenging part?

I currently work as a press assistant for the Executive Office of Governor Whitmer. One of my favorite parts is the people that I work with, and all the people I get to meet. We have a really amazing team full of very talented, hard-working, and kind people, and when I work with people in Michigan communities, the press, and other elected officials, I meet even more interesting people. I know it's very easy to be disillusioned with politics, but there are a lot of folks in it for the right reasons, genuinely trying to make a positive difference in our state and in their communities. More than anything, seeing good people in action is what inspires me to stay in politics.

I also really love staffing events like press conferences and community roundtables. It's really exciting to be part of the team that is making the news and making history. Staffing events also involves traveling around Michigan, so I get to see a lot of really beautiful and interesting places around the state. 

The most challenging part has been adjusting to the hours and amount of work. I've never worked full-time before, because I've always been balancing school and a part-time job, and I'm not a morning person at all. Now though, I start my workdays at 7:30 am. During college, the only times I was awake by 7:30 were if I had a ballroom competition, or if I was hanging out with friends and hadn't gone to bed yet.


What advice do you have for current students about how to build a network of friends / connect with others while at MSU?

Networking is so important. I know everyone dreads it because it can be really awkward and uncomfortable, but more than anything, networking is about building relationships with people. At best, the people you meet can help you find jobs and opportunities later in life, or perhaps they'll turn out to be great personal friends. At worst, you practiced your social skills. 

My advice for connecting with people is to pursue your interests, even if you don't think they'll translate to skills relevant to employment. By joining clubs and attending events for things you care about, you'll meet cool people, build community, and probably find other opportunities along the way, because no one is strictly defined by one thing. 

My other bit of advice is to tell people when they make a positive impact on you. Tell people you appreciate their friendship. If your internship ends and you had a great time, write a letter to everyone on the team thanking them for their kindness, their mentorship, whatever was helpful to you. If you go out to dinner somewhere, write a nice note on the receipt. I'm not here for toxic positivity, if something is bad you should not pretend that things are actually fine. However, I am here for genuine positivity, honest positivity, grateful positivity. There are a lot of wonderful people in the world, and I think it's important to let these people know they're appreciated. At best, it helps you develop a relationship further. At worst, you put a little bit of good into the world, even if you never see that person again.