Michael Shutt is the Senior Director for Community at Emory University. He previously served as the Assistant Dean for Campus Life and Director of the Office of LGBT Life at Emory, and holds a position as adjunct faculty at the University of Georgia.
Paige Crowl sits on the Communications Committee of GALA and recently interviewed Michael for this newsletter.
PC: Could you start by telling me a little bit about your background and how you ended up at Emory?
MS: I grew up in a tiny town in Indiana and attended Michigan State University for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. While I was there, I came out and became very involved on campus. I also began working in several roles in student affairs working in residence life, conduct, study abroad, and alcohol and other drug education. After graduation, I served as the Pedro Zamora Fellow at AIDS Action in Washington DC. I then moved to Georgia with my husband-to-be and began my professional career in student affairs at the University of Georgia as a health educator. After my arrival on campus, I began getting involved with the queer community at UGA. I worked with students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues. To make a very long story short, this journey led me to be the founding director of the UGA LGBT Resource Center. In my third year in that role, I received a call from a colleague at Emory suggesting that I apply for the position of Director of the Office of LGBT Life. I was hired for the position in 2008.
PC: Tell me about your time leading the Office of LGBT Life. What were your greatest accomplishments during your time leading the Office?
MS: There were so many amazing things that I accomplished with our alumni, students, staff, and faculty. Maybe my greatest accomplishment was bringing people together to do great things. This started with the appointment of an advisory committee that helped develop a new mission and strategic plan for the Office. This work led to greater efforts to support queer students of color and transgender students through programs and policy changes. The policies included trans-inclusive health insurance for staff and students, gender-inclusive housing, and a preferred name policy. Another amazing moment/accomplishment was the Office’s 20th anniversary celebration year. With the support of our fabulous alumni, we pulled off a year of extraordinary programming, fundraising, and celebrations. The year was capped off with the celebration of 20 change agents who changed Emory over the last 20 years at the Pride Awards. There are so many more things I would note, but we would be here all day!
PC: How has your experience been being ‘Out on Campus’ from a staff member’s perspective?
MS: As a person doing queer work on campus, you don’t have a choice to be IN. LOL. I started the “Out on Campus” webpage during the 2009-10 school year. We did it because students in our focus groups said again and again that they did not know out staff and faculty, particularly staff and faculty of color. We therefore decided to change that. I was nervous at first because I didn’t think people would sign up. I decided I would not make the page live until we had 50 people. It only took 2 weeks! I think it is still critical to raise awareness of our community. I love it!
PC: What are the biggest hurdles facing LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff at Emory today? How do you hope to address them?
MS: We are in a very different place than we were 25 years ago. At that time, we were deficit oriented. That is, we had to focus on issues of coming out, losing support (financial support from parents), discrimination and bias, etc. Today, these things are still true for some, especially for individuals with identities (e.g. asexual, demisexual, genderqueer) that get much less visibility in and out of our community. For others, queer students experience life at and beyond Emory with great ease. There is no one queer experience.
Organizationally, there are far fewer barriers related to policies and procedures than in the past. If there are, Emory’s leaders immediately begin work to deal with the challenge. That being said, there can be technical barriers that make changes difficult such as organizational software that manages data for 30,000 employees and 14,000 students.
There continue to be issues that come up in the classroom and around campus related to harassment and bias. For example, individuals continue to be questioned and harassed in bathrooms because of their perceived gender identities.
Finally, there are many issues impacting the community, not because of their queer identities, but because of other challenges that are not often discussed. There are queer students, for example, who are experiencing food insecurity, homelessness, and a variety of mental and physical health concerns. As a community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, we all have to be engaged in finding solutions for these challenges.
PC: Are you involved with LGBTQ organizations outside Emory? If so, could you highlight some?
MS: I am the chair of the board of the Equality Foundation of Georgia (aka Georgia Equality). This is my fourth year on the board and I am grateful for the work of the staff who are making positive changes in the State of Georgia for queer and transgender people as well as those living with HIV. I am also on the National Center for Civil and Human Rights LGBT Institute Advisory Board. Next month the results of our 14 state LGBTQ southern survey will be released. Our work is impacting the state, region, and the nation.
I teach at the University of Georgia, including courses on Multicultural Practices in Students Affairs, LGBT Support Services in Higher Education, and Open Expression. I also serve as a consultant on LGBT issues for other universities, including Princeton, New York University, Spelman College, Agnes Scott College, Kennesaw State University, Wesleyan College, and Georgia Institute of Technology.
My past work includes Co-Chairing the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, Co-Chairing the LGBTQ Task Force National Conference on LGBT Equality in Atlanta, and serving on the host committee for the World Professional Association of Transgender Health conference at Emory University.
PC: Is there any advice you have to share with current Emory students, faculty, and/or staff who identify as LGBTQ on being ‘Out on Campus’?
MS: Our work is NOT DONE! Please share your time, talent, and treasure to make sure we have an accessible, inclusive, and equitable community on and off campus. Give to local organizations. I truly believe that so goes Georgia, so goes the rest of the country. This means we start HERE! Finally, get involved in elections and VOTE VOTE VOTE!