History in the making: SHSU faculty hosts first LGBTQI social

Something new is happening at Sam Houston State University; Four faculty and staff members will be hosting the first formal LGBTQI* Community Network Social tomorrow from 5-7 p.m. at the Eclectic Café.

The four co- coordinators, Ching-In Chen, visiting professor of creative writing, Paul Eaton, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Ervin Malakaj, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, and Drew Miller, assistant Vice President of Student Services and Executive Director of Counseling and Health Services.

Chen discussed what the group hopes to accomplish by establishing this organization.

“First, we’d like the meetings to be a way that those who identify as LGBTQI* can develop a supportive social and professional network,” Chen said. “Personally, I’d love to see a space where faculty members who work in this field can share their academic research and creative work relating to LGBTQI* studies.”

Three of the co-coordinators, Eaton, Malakaj, and Chen met during new faculty orientation last August. Shortly thereafter, they discussed the importance of a LGBTQI* professional network and started development.

“We all attended the President’s Roundtable on Diversity, and followed up with an idea for the LGBTQI* network,” Chen said. “President Dana Hoyt was very supportive of the idea and also suggested that we incorporate staff voices within the network and suggested that we reach out to Dr. Drew Miller because of his leadership role with Haven and as the faculty advisor for GSK [Gamma Sigma Kappa].”

Malakaj understands why SHSU is just now establishing an organization that incorporates different gender identities. Malakaj said starting a professional network requires extra work on behalf of those involved on top of their daily agendas.

“The time commitment and challenges imposed rigorous work schedules on campus and did not permit extra workloads for faculty and staff to form such a network in the past,” Malakaj said. “Importantly, LGBTQI* groups traditionally have faced challenges finding institutional support, which served as a major obstacle to form them. Professionals feared consequences beyond their control in outing themselves and refrained from formally establishing such groups.”

Malakaj and Chen had a LGBTQI* community experience at previous universities. Motivation to start this organization came from both personal and professional reasons, Chen said.

“Much of my academic, creative and community work is tied into amplifying voices which aren’t as widely heard — and it was important for me to connect with other colleagues at Sam who are part of this community,” Chen said.

Miller, who co-founded Haven, a counseling program for the LGBTQI*, spoke about how this is an opportune time to start this network.

“There have been so many advances in rights for the LGBT community over the past few years, that this is the perfect time to have an organization like this start,” Miller said. “It’s an opportunity for community members to come together for support and encouragement.”

The organization plans on meeting once a month and possibly one day working with the LGBTQI* student led group.

“We seek to reach out to the LGBTQI* student group on campus and work on collaborative projects, offering a robust program that signals a vibrant LGBTQI* community on our campus,” Malakaj said. “This will explicitly serve as a means to communicate to potential future professionals that Sam is welcoming and supportive of their diverse backgrounds.”

Eaton talked about the response from the campus when learning about this first formal meeting.

“There has been overwhelmingly positive support,” Eaton said. “Speaking only for myself, I can say that faculty and staff with whom I have interacted over the past few months have been enthusiastic about the potential for such a group.”

There has been a strong outreach from the Allies of the LGBTQI* community, according to Eaton.

“What I also find to be a positive sign is the numerous contacts I’ve received from LGBTQIA* allies who want to get involved and support the community on campus,” Eaton said.

RSVP with Chen at ching-in@shsu.edu, Eaton at pweaton@shsu.edu or Malakaj at emalakaj@shsu.edu if you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning, Intersex and other alternative sexual and gender identities and are interested in attending.

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