Dr. Virginia Hardy
East Carolina University
August 7, 2018
At the Spilman Building
East Carolina University
ZD: It is Tuesday, August 7th at 10:30 a.m. Zachary Dale conducting this interview and we are at East Carolina University in the Spilman building, and I will turn it over to my interviewee to introduce herself.
VH: I am Virginia Hardy, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs here at East Carolina University.
ZD: Wonderful. Do I have verbal consent to conduct this interview?
VH: Yes Zach you do.
ZD: Wonderful, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I am so very excited. Why don't we begin; you can tell me a little bit about yourself, where you're from, just sort of a little introduction. (0:33)
VH: Sure. Born and bred right here in good old Greenville, Pitt County, and my parents were farmers and raised eight children, sent them all to college. It's been a great experience. I've been 25, 26 years here at East Carolina, but I was only 12 when I started. Thank you very much. And so, I've been eight years in this position of Vice Chancellor, and then I spent about 16 years or so at the Brody School of Medicine. And when I left the school of medicine I was the Academic Dean there. I have been very much interested in this whole notion of identity, psychosocial identity development, and this whole notion of cultural competence and how the two things kind of meld together.
ZD: Wonderful. So, how are you involved with the LGBT resource office? (1:31)
VH: The LGBT resource office actually falls within my division. It came under the division in 2012 or 2013, and prior to that it'd been an academic affairs with Summer Wisdom. What the office was doing with Summer, which is mainly working with students we thought that it would be better served in the division of student affairs, and that we could get more students and more resources to the center. And so, I talked with then provost Marilyn Sheerer and we were able to make that transition, and provide the office with a lot more resources than it had at that moment. And it has been growing ever since. I consider it while I didn't "birth it" I feel like I came along in its formative years, in the office's formative years and now helping into adolescents so to speak. So it's been a wonderful journey, and to see the growth, and to see the commitment of everybody has been fabulous actually, fabulous.
ZD: Tell me about the resources that you as an administrator were providing for the resource office. (2:46)
VH: Sure. At the time Summer Wisdom was part-time I believe, and so we felt like it needed to be a full-time position. We felt like there needed to be some more operating dollars and some programing dollars in there. And so, was able to get it as a full-time position and get the salary up of course, with full benefits 'cause at half time there were no benefits. And we were able to get program dollars for the office as well. I was also successful in being able to get, secure some state dollars for the office to operate. And what we've been able to do since then is grow that pot, or those pots of money to where it is today. Then of course we were able to recruit and hire Mark to come in when Summer left for the mountains, and he hasn't stopped. It's just been amazing, I get tired listening to him sometime like, oh my gosh where do you get that energy, man? (3:53)
VH: Even today I think with going into a new building, but even prior to that from the office I called it a little closet in Brewster and now having a lot more space in Brewster I was real happy to be able to secure that additional space and the furnishings for that space. And now for it to be able to go into brand new state-of-the-art space I am so excited. We talked a lot back in the day about location and if the office should stay in Brewster, and there were lots of comments about should it move and why should it move, and should it stay? And what it boiled down to is staying in Brewster was what I was getting from the office was yes, 'cause at that particular time we weren't ready. The campus wasn't ready. You got us tucked away in this corner and nobody sees us or knows we're here and all of that. And at the time I said, if you want to move and you want to be in a central location let me know and I'll figure out how to find it. (5:11)
VH: After a lot of conversation it was at that time probably safer to stay there. Since then, I think we've been able to educate this community, the campus community tremendously and now for the resource office to be in prime real estate in a central part of campus that everybody's going to go through, every student on campus is going to walk through that building I feel comfortable with about it. So I'm quite excited about that. And we're going to have our flag up. I'm excited. So yes. So, I'm real excited about that. I think the resources are continuing to grow. When we move over into the new building there will be even additional resources that are coming from our private donors but also from the University in expanding the programmatic aspect of the office. Once we got the advancement council up and running then the private dollars have just really been coming in, and I think there's even more room for growth there.
ZD: Why don't we talk about the new space in the new student center. Tell me a little bit about getting that set up, getting the whole move together. (6:42)
VH: Sure. It was easy when we said we were going to do this building and we were just plotting and planning of what's going into the building. One of the first things was we've gotta bring LGBT out of Brewster. And so we wanted it to be in this building. At that time we didn't have the department of intercultural affairs, but now that we do having all three of those offices- the LGBT resource office, the cultural center, and the women's resource office gender office all together is fabulous. It's going to be a huge piece for synergy and collaboration and partnerships. So that was an easy statement. Then it just a matter of how much space? And again, they have that office in that area's prime real estate. Now that didn't come without some challenges. So there were conversations about why and why does it have prime real estate. I mean those weren't the words used but yes. And so, there were a lot of conversations and I could share and show why we were doing this and it makes sense, and it's the right thing to do. And you know what, right now this is about my students, so boom. It was the right thing to do. We didn't lose our ground on that, and we had justification beyond being the right thing to do; there's a lot of justification for this. (8:19)
VH: Every fall when we do our welcome back activity from the office, the number of students, we outgrew the green room in the Croatan, and then last year when we were in the great rooms of Mendenhall and I was like, "Oh my gosh, when do we get our new building because this is not enough space?" And now to be able to go into the new building and we got the space we need, what that says to me is our students are feeling so much more comfortable, that they can be their whole authentic selves on this campus. And that to me is a beautiful thing, and I think all the stuff that's happened out of the office, what Mark has done, what the campus as a whole has done and the fact that our students continue to see that yeah there is support. Look, look. They're seeing, "I can do this." I feel really, really good about that, I do. (9:18)
VH: When I go into that welcome back event ... Last year I told somebody I was like, "Oh my God, I feel like crying." I was emotional about it because my babies are saying they feel good about this, they feel good about themselves, they love themselves and they believe their university is here to support them. We made a checkbox let's keep it going. So that move will happen in November. The rain has put us off a bit but construction will be done sometime in October, so over November and December we'll make the transition, get the building up and running, make it look good and then we'll bring students in starting January when they return from Winter Break.
ZD: That sounds wonderful.
VH: I'm excited.
ZD: I'd love to talk about the process of getting the campus pride index, getting that done for ECU, what was that? I know it was under Erik Kneubuehl but you had to have some. (10:16)
VH: Yes. I used to joke with Erik, and this is truly a joke, but I used to tell him that his job depended on it, and that if we didn't get it ... I give the campus credit, but I give Erik, Mark, and Kathy Heel a lot of credit for moving this along. It took a lot of time and attention to inventory everything that was happening on campus, and to see where there was some gaps, and to figure out how to fill those gaps. It was important for me to get it, to get that designation because one, I thought we were there and that the students were showing that actually, but then I also wanted it for symbolic reasons. To be able to say to students and prospective students, we gotcha. This is a place where you can come and be your authentic self, and we're going to love up on ya because that's what we do to all our students we love up on ya. And we're going to take care of you. And for students and honestly, for the student's parents and their families to know the same thing. And so for me it's a point of pride to have that designation. It's just like being Rare Carnegie is a point of pride for us. (11:40)
VH: What I want to have happen is for us to talk about it more publicly, and to get more media attention about it, I really do want some of that. So that folks across the state and across the country when they're looking at schools can say, "Oh yeah, ECU, look at that. I'm going to go there because ..." And regardless of sexual orientation, because there's some straight students who are to say, "That school is supportive of their gay students, of their lesbian, gay, transgender, bi-sexual students, I'm going there because they value diversity, they value authenticity. And so, I'm going to that institution because I like their values." It was important for me for all of those reasons and for folks to say, for the current students to be able to say somethings to their peers who don't have this designation. My school is good. My school is taking care of me. And I believe there's a sense of respect and a sense of value to be honest about all of that. (12:52)
VH: People talk a lot ... I digress I'm sorry, but people talk a lot about this whole notion of tolerance and that we're a tolerant campus, no we're not. We're not. We're an accepting campus. We're not tolerating anybody; don't tolerate me. I don't want you to tolerate me. It's like you're saying, "I'm going to put up with ya because I got to." No, accept me. We're an accepting campus, an accepting institution. As I say to folks, bring all your whole selves to us, and we're going to work with you, period that's it. Cause we accept people who you are. So, it says we're an accepting campus.
ZD: I think that's good lead in to my next question. Why do you think a space like the LGBT resource office is important for ECU? (13:46)
VH: This is going to be a very strange convoluted response, sorry. I think it's important for many groups, but specifically and particularly marginalized groups to have space. And while this notion of safe space has become taboo to talk about, particularly on college campuses I still do because I think everywhere on this campus first of all should be a safe space for any individual regardless of whatever it is that they're bringing. Religion, orientation, race, gender, what have you. But for marginalized groups, I think it's okay for those individuals to want to socialize with like individuals.
VH: The book by Beverly Tatum Daniels, I think is her name, a long title, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? talks about some of that. And part of that is I think it's okay that you do that. You can't do that only, you still have to mingle and interact with everybody, but the LGBT resource office to me is the very same kind of thing. It is a place to go for like minded folk, different minded folk as well, but it's a space that says, you know what, if I need this safety or I need somebody to talk to about who I am, what I'm experiencing I got that space. I've got a place to go. Now I may not go there all the time to talk about it, but if I need to and want to I've got a place to go. So I think for the students it's significant. (15:54)
VH: I also think what it does is it sends a message. It sends a message to the campus, to the Greenville Pitt County community, and to others that this is fine. This is fine. And that you know what, we meet our students where they are and we're going to do what we need to do to take care of them where they are, and then help them go and do whatever it is they want to do. And so, the LGBT office to me is like the women and gender office, the cultural center. It's all of that.
VH: And people will always throw back this notion of, well you know, if we have an LGBT office then do we need a straight office? Or we have a black student union do we need a white student union? Those kinds of things. And my answer to that, because I get that question, I've gotten that question quite a bit ... or there's a space in the cultural center called Space for students to go and meditate or practice whatever religion they want. And the question was, will Christians be able to do that? And my thing is we're talking about marginalized groups and while yes we welcome any and everybody come on, marginalized groups they need a little bit more attention and some additional resources to be able to understand and address some of the nuances and the unique needs of those groups.(17:27)
VH: Not saying it's right, wrong, good, bad, better or worse; it is what it is. And if we're going to be a campus of 29,000 students, and those 29,000 students are coming from all walks of life then we better be ready to talk to them, and help them, and push them along from all walks of life. And to be ready to go out into this very diverse world and interact with very diverse people, opinions, backgrounds, etc. So the office for me serves that purpose. It serves a purpose of it's always good to know somebody is there who is like you. It just is. I feel comfortable when I see somebody, a black woman or a black person. I get it. And so, having that is hugely beneficial, but it does send the message.
ZD: What's your vision for the future of the resource office now that we're moving into this new space? (18:27)
VH: That we're going to do even more. I'm looking to do some research. I want some research to come out of that office. I want some grants to come out of that office. I want to be able to start telling the world about the things that are happening here. I'm wanting our students to be engaged in that research and not just in the professional student affairs educators. And then to be able to go to these conferences and tell it. What's the research happening? What's going on in general, but what's happening at East Carolina. I think we're a model. I've stolen this from Erik Kneubuehl, but we are the benchmark. And I want people to start seeing it and saying, "I want to do what ECU's doing. I want to be like ECU's LGBT resource office." And the fact that we got someone like a Jessie Peel who is doing everything that he's doing speaks volumes to me. And I need everybody else to hear it so it can speak volumes to them. That is a key area of interest for me. (19:33)
VH: I think we're doing great programming. I think it's sufficient programming, we can always do more and do better, but I think we've got a good plan right now. Again, we can always do more or do better but keep that moving. But the gap that I see is the research aspect, so I'm hoping that we can do some more of that.
ZD: All right. Is there anything I haven't asked you that you would like to share?
VH: I give kudos publicly to Mark Rasdorf and to what Mark has done, and the commitment and the energy that he has given to our students, to the University, to that office, it has been phenomenal. The growth has been largely contributable to him. So I say thank you to him for what he's done. (20:39)
VH: I think there's even more that we can do, going back to the previous question. In addition, I want to start educating the rest of the campus a little bit more about LGBT and some of the things that are happening, the beauty, what are some of the concerns and issues and have some real dialogue about some of this stuff. I think our campus is somewhat ironically seems almost invisible and I don't necessarily want that anymore. I want the conversations to be had and had publicly and honestly, almost like a cupola conversation. I truly believe that the only way for folks to understand and have an awareness is through courageous conversations. So that's the other thing that I would like to have. (21:51)
VH: I'm proud, I'm happy. I really am proud if you can't tell. I really am proud of this and what we're doing here at East Carolina, and I thank our students too 'cause they put themselves out there. A few years ago when we did a climate survey, gosh it's been maybe eight, nine years ago now, and one of the questions was about transgender. And even then I realized we had more transgender students on this campus than any of us knew, and I think that's an area too that we gotta pay a lot more attention to is our transgender students in many, many ways, even from the use of pronouns, and the use of names within the offices and the classrooms. So that's an issue we need to address I think. But the fact that they're willing to tell us again, makes me feel good that they're comfortable with that. And so now we just can't let them down. (22:56)
ZD: So any closing thoughts, remarks that you'd like to add?
VH: I'm glad we're chronicling this, this is a good thing so that when the rest of us have moved on that we at least get this history, and it is a beautiful history. It hasn't always been that way and it has definitely not been easy, we've gotten beaten up along the way. We've got some scars to show, but we're still standing and we will continue to stand and continue to push the envelope and do what we need to do for our LGBT and T, LGBT students, and so I'm happy. Thank you.
ZD: With that love to say thank you so very much for doing this interview I really genuinely appreciate it.
VH: Yes thank you Zach. I can't wait to see what all you do with this man. (23:51)
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