by Tara Cavanaugh
Shannon Dettore directs the Office of LGBTQ Services at Central Michigan University.
1. Can you tell us about your job at CMU?
We actually just changed our name, so finally it’s more inclusive. It was the Office of Gay and Lesbian Programs; now it’s the Office of LGBTQ Services – which is very exciting, something I’ve been fighting for in my three years of being here.
Really the big mission of our office is to provide a safe and inclusive environment. And that’s one of the big things that I push for in making all of our students feel safe. The other side of what I really push for is equal treatment on our campus and making sure that our queer students feel as if they have a voice and that there’s someone here fighting for them.
While I’m trying to make sure our campus is safe and inclusive, I also want to make sure the students realize they really have someone on their side.
2. Tell us about the student groups you lead.
We have two student groups and we’re in the process of starting Queer People of Color as well. So we have Spectrum, which is our gay-straight alliance, and then we have Transcend, which is our transgender student group. I’m the advisor for our transgender student group, which was new last year. We have seven members, which is small, but on our campus that’s a pretty good representation of the transgender community. It’s open to allies as well, but the majority of folks that attend do identify as transgender or gender queer.
3. So Queer People of Color will begin this fall?
That is in the process of getting started. We did hold one meeting last school year. And we had about 50 students show up, which was a phenomenal representation. I really have this big push for recognizing race and sexuality, how they intertwine and how they’re different.
Really the basis is to have those conversations and go there.
4. What else are you working on for the fall?
I am teaming up with our Student Ombuds Officer to teach an LGBTQ First Year Experience class. We have First Year Experience class on our campus already, which is for freshmen coming in, so that they get the feel of what campus is and get studying techniques. We are going to still focus on those issues but also focus on bringing strong leadership for our student groups, on activism and social justice.
We’re also in the process of feeling out what the follow up to this class should be. I’m having conversations with folks from our women’s studies department and family studies department, talking about possibly having a minor for these students that are interested in doing activism.
My partner’s a teacher, so I see what she’s gone through in being a teacher and being queer in the teaching system. And we have a very predominant teaching program on our campus. So we wanted to make sure that we had something so that other teachers going out into the teaching field are able to connect with teachers that are already out there working and that are queer. With this mentoring program, before students are in the teacher education program, we’ll be able to connect them with teachers that are out in the teaching field and have that mentor to talk to.
The way that our state is with our (lack of) nondiscrimination policy, we want to make sure that our students feel like they do have support prior to going out into the teaching field.
We definitely have a lot of exciting things going on. I’m the first full time director to be in this position, so it’s nice to be able to take on that role and show our campus that it was vital for us to have a full time director here.
5. You have a really positive attitude. How do you encourage students to have that kind of attitude as well?
When I speak with students, I always try and meet them where they are. I know what it feels like to come out in a religious household and how scary that can be. And I know those fears that come with holding your significant other’s hand as they’re walking down the street.
I think it’s important to always say OK, these are the realities of things, and these are the things that can happen. But if we allow ourselves to be sucked in by what we don’t have and what we can’t do, then you’re going to live a very miserable life. Because the reality of it is, we don’t live in the best state to be queer. And it’s hard sometimes.
I think that instead of always being reactive or down on things, I try to be as proactive as I can in stepping up and making sure that our students see that these are the things we need – and while we don’t have these protections, we’re still OK and still able to live our lives and not be sucked in by the negativity.