Empowering campus leaders at Creating Change
By Michael Shutt, director of Emory University’s Office of LGBT Life. He also serves as Co-Chair of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals and Co-Chair of the 25th National Conference on Equality: Creating Change in Atlanta.
The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change has a special place in my heart personally and professionally. My first Creating Change conference was in Oakland, California in 2005. It provided me with an opportunity to learn, to grow and be challenged. It was also the conference that I met other professionals doing LGBT work in higher education through the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals’ pre-conference institute. These colleagues are now some of my dearest friends in the world.
The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals formally founded itself at the Creating Change Conference in 1997. Since that time, professionals in higher education have attended the conference to learn from colleagues in higher education as well as queer leaders and organizers from around the world. The Consortium now hosts its annual business meeting at Creating Change and sponsors a pre-conference institute, academy sessions and other opportunities for individuals in and out of higher education to connect.
The Consortium not only utilizes the conference for professional development and personal growth, but its members also bring students to the conference from their home campuses. Many students are organizing on college campuses to change policies and increase resources for LGBT students, but are not always given the tools to do so. In addition, there are few spaces where students can experience a diverse, liberated, and inclusive environment. Creating Change provides all of these things.
Because of the measurable impact that the conference has on our students, many Consortium members are seeking funding to bring more and more students each year. They are doing this through departmental funding, student activities funding, fundraisers, and solicitation of financial gifts from alumni. You can now see the impact of these efforts through the increase in youth participation at the conference.
I often share stories about the conference with our alumni so they better understand its impact. One story I tell is from the Creating Change Conference in Dallas. One of my students was usually quiet in the shuttle back to the airport after the conference. I asked him what was on his mind. He said quietly, “I don’t want to go back.” Knowing that the experience was not supposed to impact his desire and motivation to return to the university, I asked him to elaborate. He said, “I don’t know where I have been for the last 20 years.” Until Creating Change, this first generation American, first generation college student had never experienced a space where he could be his full self. This and other stories have motivated our alumni to generously create two funds to support student leadership development through conference such as Creating Change.
It is important to note two things. First, Creating Change can be a very scary place because you actually have the opportunity to be who you really are in the world. There are few other places where we can do this. Luckily, there are many ways to get support during the conference as you have life-changing experiences and epiphanies. Second, Creating Change blows up relativism. We often look back and/or at others when we are organizing for change. As long as we are “doing better” than we were doing or better than others are currently doing, we are comfortable with our progress. Creating Change forces us to throw out relativism for liberation. There is a realization that what others are doing does not change the fact that liberation is the goal.
To say that the Creating Change Conference saves people is not an overstatement. Creating Change connects and educates people and allows participants to experience liberation in so many beautiful ways. When it comes time to travel to Creating Change each year, I feel like I am traveling to an annual family reunion. I look forward to this year’s reunion more than ever!