by Jessica Carreras
MT. PLEASANT — The Office of Gay and Lesbian Programs at Central Michigan University has switched hands again – and new director Shannon Jolliff says things are about to change.
“The position has just gone to full time this year,” Jolliff said. “With that, I will have the opportunity to start new programs which will have a focus on inclusion and campus climate.”
Previous director Ana Guerriero, who was profiled by Between The Lines in June for her work at CMU, ran the office from 2005 until recently, when she moved to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside to run the school’s LGBTQ Resource Center.
Jolliff, who just filled the position, is not only a bastion of the LGBT community, but also a CMU alumna.
A Michigan native, Jolliff grew up in a small town called Breckenridge. She received her Bachelors degree from CMU in family studies and is currently working toward her Masters in marriage and family therapy.
A competitive athlete, Jolliff played two years of college basketball and recently began competing in triathlons, which she said, “keeps me active.” She’s a dog lover and the proud owner of a pit bull mix named Bella and a hyper boxer named Duke.
But besides dogs and sports, Jolliff’s main passion is LGBT issues, sparked by an experience during her time at CMU. “I worked in a juvenile home for youth who had been removed from their homes due to abuse, lack of supervision, or parole violation,” she explained. “In that time, I had the opportunity to work with various youth who identified as LGB. I supported them through their coming out process, which was a very rewarding experience.”
That, combined with major projects completed while in college that focused on the coming out process, sealed the deal. “One was geared towards lesbianism and the other was geared towards youth,” Jolliff said. “Both provided me with a wealth of information on supporting others through the coming out process.”
She is zealous about LGBT rights, and describes herself as vocal on all gay issues, from same-sex marriage and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and transgender equality. “These are issues which for me personally show the greatest inequality,” she explained. “While there are various policies which need to be changed, my hope is with our new President-elect, we will begin to see changes sooner than later on these particular LGBT rights.”
Jolliff, for one, plans to do her part to help.
When she heard that the position at the Office of Gay and Lesbian Programs was opening, she was encouraged by professors to apply and saw the job as a good fit. ” I have always been passionate about equality and human rights,” she said. “I knew this position would allow me to be creative and support LGBTQA students on the CMU campus through education, inclusion and programs.”
Unlike previous directors, Jolliff was hired in as a full-time employee – and she plans to make the most of her time. Currently, she is working on starting Safe Zone, which is set to be launched at the beginning of next semester. Plans are also in the works with CMU’s Gay-Straight Alliance for Pride Week in April. “I have a lot of new ideas for programs to put in place,” she promised, “so in the next few years, expect to see some changes here at CMU.”
One thing that won’t change, however, is Jolliff’s office door. It will stay open to anyone looking for advice, resources or just someone to talk to. “I hope that everyone feels welcome and supported by our office whether they are transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, or an ally,” Jolliff insisted. “My door is open to everyone.”