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Affirmation, education and advocacy: a new year for LGBTQ+ initiatives

<p>April Callis, Miami’s new associate director for LGBTQ+ initiatives is ready to take on the school year with plans to advocate for LGBTQ+ students on campus.</p>

April Callis, Miami’s new associate director for LGBTQ+ initiatives is ready to take on the school year with plans to advocate for LGBTQ+ students on campus.

In May, April Callis began working at Miami University as its new associate director of LGBTQ+ Initiatives in the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI). 

Callis said her responsibilities lie in three different categories: programming, education and advocacy.

The first category – programming – entails planning events to build community and raise awareness. Callis is currently planning CSDI’s Rainbow Reception, an annual event that welcomes new and returning LGBTQ+ students back to campus.

The second category – education – is one Callis has experience in. From 2012 to 2017, she worked as a faculty member at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) teaching classes in gender and sexuality.

At Miami, Callis is focused on creating training around LGBTQ+ topics. One of her goals is to revamp Safe Zone, a program that already exists at Miami but has not been active for the past few years.

“What it’s going to be is a three-hour initial training for people to learn about the language around the LGBTQ community and go through scenarios to talk about what it means to be an ally,” Callis said. “Because being an ally is something that’s active. It’s not just going to this training; the training should be the start.”

She also wants to set up continued education trainings to talk about particular identities in the LGBTQ+ community, such as asexuality and nonbinary identities.

Previously, Callis received her masters from the University of Kentucky in 2004 and her PhD from Purdue University in 2011. Both degrees are in cultural anthropology with a focus on gender and sexuality.

While teaching at NKU, Callis also worked part-time for GLSEN, visiting middle and high schools in Kentucky and Ohio to facilitate training. She also worked with an LGBTQ+ youth group, and decided she wanted to do LGBTQ+ work full time. In 2017, she became the associate director of the LGBTQ+ Center at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC).

“What I found when I was at NKU, I was really gravitating toward supporting queer students, toward teaching classes around gender and sexuality. This was my passion,” Callis said. “And I decided to look for a job that was really specifically focused around LGBTQ students.”

At UNC, her job focused primarily on programming and education

“This policy piece, this advocacy piece I wasn’t working on as much,” she said. “It’s something I was really interested in. So, … I saw this job open up at Miami, and I was really excited.”

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The advocacy portion of her job is Callis’s favorite. To her, advocacy can mean having one-on-one meetings with students or looking at Miami policies to see how they can be improved.

“Yes, we need affirming events very much. And yes, there needs to be an educational program … but there also needs to be affirming policies in place,” she said. “Nobody is going to feel like they can be who they are if they are somewhere where there are not policies that affirm them.”

Another one of Callis’s goals she’d like to accomplish this year is to get Miami ranked on the Campus Pride Index, a website that rates universities on how welcoming and affirming they are to LGBTQ+ students. Miami is currently not listed on the website, but Callis is working on getting answers to the questionnaire. 

“[It’s] going to allow us to see where Miami ranks, but also it’s going to give me a really great idea of where are the places Miami is doing really well right now and then where are the places of potential future growth,” Callis said. “So that will kind of allow me to see where I need to put some of my energy in the next few years.”

Once she began working at Miami, she started by talking to different people to get to know the university.

“I didn’t want to come in and assume, ‘This is what I should do here,’” she said. “I really wanted to organically figure that out from talking to people.”

One group Callis has started to build a relationship with is Spectrum, a student-led LGBTQ+ organization on campus.

Megan Jordan Kridli, a junior computer science major and co-president of Spectrum, said she thinks Callis is a perfect fit for the job.

“It is very good to have someone like April who is sociable as well,” Kridli said. “I think that she's a lot more sociable than she lets on which is very good for her interaction with students in the sense that she's somebody we can actually get to know, get to understand and work alongside when we have something we want to do.”

Callis’s position has had a high turnover rate in the past, and Kridli’s biggest hope is that Callis continues to build relationships with students and do meaningful work.

“I think that having somebody who knows the ins and outs of Miami and can consistently interact with students and have things ongoing, for a very long time, have a long term project, or keep pushing for something to get done in a certain way, is very useful,” Kridli said.

Callis is excited to be on campus this fall and work with students.

“The thing I’m looking forward to is getting to meet students here and getting to be the affirming presence in their life,” Callis said. “Getting to create these educational and social and cultural programs that are going to make them feel seen and valued.”