By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor
LGBTQ coordinators, and diversity coordinators in general, are seen on a number of college campuses around the nation. The University of Missouri–St. Louis hired their first ever Diversity & LGBTQ+ Program and Project Support Coordinator Harry Hawkins in July.
Hawkins is housed in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 127 Woods Hall as well as the Gender Studies office in 494 Lucas Hall. He spends his mornings usually in Woods Hall and his afternoons in Lucas Hall. Hawkins smiled, “No two days are the same.”
Hawkins sits on a number of committees and works with several offices and student groups to make UMSL a more inclusive environment. Hawkin’s attention to providing hospitality to the students, faculty, and staff on campus is attributed to his southern background.
Hawkins is a native from Mississippi where he attended Mississippi State University and received master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. After completing his degree, he went to work for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC is the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. He worked in the Mississippi office as a Field Director for three and a half years. His job entailed advocating on LGBTQ issues and rights in Mississippi and in Washington, D.C. Hawkins is proud that he was there for two seminal moments in LGBTQ history: marriage decision and and the Pulse nightclub shooting.
“It was kind of the closing of one chapter and a big opening of another because there are so many other issues we need to work on….Opening our office that Sunday [after the Pulse shooting] just to let people come in. It was crushing…I remember it was a very rough day and it was during Pride Month. It was very damaging on many levels.”
Hawkins has student leadership experience from his time at Mississippi State University and has been working with student groups like Prizm since he has been on campus. He travels between his office in Lucas Hall and the Office of Student Involvement to offer any help. “At the end of the day, I serve you, the students,” Hawkins said. “I want to be accessible.”
“I’m happy to be on board here at UMSL and coming back to really where I got a lot of my experience before going to the big kid world.” Hawkins did advocacy in higher education while at his college in Mississippi. When he started as a student there were not a lot of LGBTQ resources.
What pushed him to advocacy was after his freshman experience after joining the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and Spectrum, the university’s gay-straight alliance. “When I started as a freshman, I wasn’t fully out,” Hawkins said. “I remember thinking ‘oh jeez, most of them are out, and we have other advocacy groups… I could just sit back and be an armchair activist.’ But that’s very selfish.”
Hawkins had a life-changing moment when he received a phone call over his spring break about a great student leader he had met while in GSA, “I got a call from someone saying that he was dead. He was a victim of a hate crime. He had been beaten to death. That was a real changing moment for me. You can’t just sit back any more. I think you need to get involved, people are dying for being who they are. We really need to make our campus a safe place but also what we could do in our community.”
After that, students, faculty, and staff worked together to put together a Safe Zone advisory board. On top of the national program, they advocated for sexual orientation and gender identity added to our non-discrimination policy, partner benefits for faculty and staff, and even a endowment fund for LGBT students.
While at UMSL, he hopes to bring some of his previous experience with policy change to enhance the Safe Zone Project like more continuing education courses at UMSL and boost the overall Campus Pride Index rating. Hawkins hopes to work with the LGBTQ Advisory Board to help improve the index rating within the next year. He said, “The Campus Pride Index provides us the road map, just like our campus climate survey, for things we are doing well, but there are specific things in there that we need to look at this.”
Hawkins has hit the ground running by gathering First Year students responses indicating if they would like more LGBTQ resources. He hopes to work on gathering marketing materials over this next year to build an information base to easily disseminate information to LGBTQ students in the future. It is not just LGBTQ resources on campus but also gathering and passing along information about resources in St. Louis.
Starting his third month at UMSL, Hawkins said he is starting to gather information on changing policy for pronouns, saying it is the little things that can make a big difference. He pointed to email signatures as a beginning step, “Maybe we want to entertain the idea of asking all faculty and staff to have that in your email signature along with your contact information. Having a pronoun statement on a syllabus. It’s no different than if we had a student who had a name change.” Adding another box to a student’s registration form to indicate preferred pronouns was also suggested.
“Diversity as a whole is a journey. It is not a destination. You don’t get to a point where you are now fully versed in diversity,” Hawkins said.
For a long term project, Hawkins hopes to work with alumni engagement on a scholarship program seen at other schools to help LGBTQ students with housing issues. “We do have a problem with students who get kicked out when they come out. Some of them are starting school. They lose their parents and their home and now they don’t have a financial support system unless they have financial aid or have a scholarship.”
HRC website: https://www.hrc.org/
Safe Zone Project: http://thesafezoneproject.com/
Campus Pride Index: https://www.campusprideindex.org/