First full-time LGBTQ director makes voice heard outside of campus
Tucked away behind closed doors in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Shannon Jolliff-Dettore can be found shuffling through emails between meeting one-on-one with students.
But that’s not all she’s doing as the first full-time director of the office of LGBTQ services.
Before the Central Michigan University alum was hired, there was next to nothing offered to students through what was formally called the Office of Gay and Lesbian Programs, Jolliff-Dettore said.
“When I came in five years ago, I just was laying the foundation,” she said. “(The previous part-time director) had classroom panels, but there weren’t really any set programs.”
Since then, Jolliff-Dettore has launched seven more programs, including Go There! Conversations, queer monologue performances, safe zone trainings, gender identity 101, a mentoring program, Coming Out Week and Pride Week.
“Program development is painful,” she laughed, leaning back in her chair.
In her first year, Jolliff-Dettore reported 937 students attending classroom panels or utilizing the LGBTQ office’s services, but last year, her fourth year in this position, she reported these numbers at more than 5,000.
But Jolliff-Dettore said it’s difficult to quantify her complete campus impact through numbers, she said.
Rather, an effective way to gauge her impact on CMU’s campus climate has been through classroom panels, she said.
Five years ago, people were asking basic questions, inquiring about the coming out process, but, now, questions have delved deeper, approaching policy and even spiritual concerns.
“I think our campus is hungry for some deeper conversation,” Jolliff-Dettore said.
The most rewarding part of her job is speaking with alums and seniors whom she has helped through the coming out process, she said.
Recently, Jolliff-Dettore has also worked closely with other portions of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to create authentic spaces, aiming to make students who walk into the office feel comfortable.
To accommodate this interest, Jolliff-Dettore said she is planning more LGBTQ-focused programs including social justice dialogues and My Story: My Experience.
But her outreach efforts don’t come to a halt when she steps off campus.
Community organizations have recently asked Jolliff-Dettore to speak to their employees, educating them on best practices to make members of the LGBTQ community feel welcome. Some of these places include, but are not limited to, Listening Ear, 107 E. Illinois St., a local church, the local department of human services and a local high school.
As the only full-time staff in the LGBTQ office, Jolliff-Dettore also relies heavily on interns to help educate the community.
Lake Orion senior Lauren Kellogg has been instrumental at recent conferences and developing programs aiming to educate on campus, Jolliff-Dettore said.
For the first two weeks, Kellogg spent six hours in the office, but quickly found herself volunteering for more than 30 hours per week.
“She's given me a lot of freedom and responsibility, and I was really able to step into her shoes and see what a director does,” Kellogg said. “We've spent a lot of time focused on social justice, which has led to my own personal growth and understanding of my own identities.”
And since this summer, Kellogg has been taking full advantage of her responsibilities.
“Working in the office has completely changed my life,” Kellogg said. “Shannon has given me such a wonderful opportunity, and the experiences that I've had in my office have definitely shaped my ideas of who I want to be as a future director. It's inspiring to work with someone who's so insanely passionate about their job and what she's accomplishing.”
The two have been working closely since the summer, developing programs to help make campus more inclusive, as well rigorous research aiming to educate others at conferences such as "Creating Change."
Kellogg said she facilitates various panels and helps with various programs such as Go There! Conversations, which provide an open space for people to discuss topics that are not necessarily everyday topics.
Kellogg and Jolliff-Dettore attended Creating Change Jan. 25 to 29, a national conference focusing on LGBT equality in Atlanta, Ga., where they led a discussion about intersecting queer identities to more than 80 people.
They told us to prepare for 50, and we were only expecting about 20, Jolliff-Dettore said.
“We talked about intersectionality and what it looked like on their campus,” she said. “This was an opportunity to realize how far ahead we are.”
The session detailed ways those in LGBTQ higher education programs could serve queer students while looking at intersectionality, she said.
“It was a really amazing experience to be in this area where people were all working towards equality, regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation or other identities,” Kellogg said. “I mean, people asked about my preferred pronouns! It's just not something you experience on a daily basis.”
The conference season is not over for these two.
In April, Jolliff-Dettore, a regional Great Lakes Bay repsentative, will travel to Chicago to co-chair a community-focused conference where she will speak about implementing inclusion in a small rural area like Mount Pleasant.