Summer Wisdom oral history


Summer Wisdom


Zachary P. Dale

East Carolina University


August 3, 2018

Plemmons Student Union

Appalachian State University

ZD: It is Friday, August third, at 9:15 a.m., Zachary Dale is conducting this interview and we are at Appalachian State University in the Plemmons Student Union. I will turn it over to my interviewee to introduce herself.

SW: Hi. Good morning. I'm Summer Wisdom, and I work here at Appalachian. I was at East Carolina from 2009 to 2013.

ZD: Very good. Why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Tell me a bit about your family.

SW: I grew up in Mooresville, North Carolina, which is north of Charlotte. I came here to Appalachian for undergrad. When I was here, I was really involved in our LGBT student group, which is called SAGA, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance. We were working with our chancellor at the time. Chancellor Peacock, to open an LGBT center here at Appalachian. (0:55)

SW: There was a whole committee that put together a proposal, and as the president of the undergraduate queer group, there's a letter from me in that proposal that established our center. It didn't open until the fall after I graduated. I never actually got to participate in it, but I was part of the conversation throughout opening it.

SW: When I went to ECU for graduate school, in sociology ... My undergrad here is in English with a minor in women's studies, and sociology. Then my graduate work is in sociology at East Carolina, which I started in 2009. When I went there I thought certainly there would be more LGBT student support because I knew it was a larger school. My assumption was just that Appalachian is smaller, so we haven't gotten there, but bigger schools surely will have this already. I got there and there wasn't an LGBT center. I was like, "Huh. Well dang." I had just gotten through this, not gotten through but I had just been a part of this process to open a center, and it was sorta like surprising that other schools also were not where I thought we all needed to be. (2:12)

SW: Let's see, you asked about my family. My dad is a psychology professor and he went to East Carolina, also, for graduate school. My stepmother is an English professor, so I have lots of academic-minded folks in my family. I have a brother named Talon Wisdom, and a sister named Indigo Wisdom. My name is Summer Wisdom. We all get lots of great comments about how cool our names are. Shout out to my folks who picked those out. We don't get any credit. I have a husband and three dogs, and I really love Harry Potter.

ZD: Nice. What was your MA thesis about?

SW: It was about LGBT students services in higher ed. It started at the time Marika Van Willigan, Dr. Van Willigan was the chair of the soc department. She and Dr. Linda Moody, in the soc department, Dr. Melinda Kane in the soc department, Dr. Lee Maril ... lots of folks had interest around this. There was a chancellor's ... I'm not going to get the terminology right because all universities call these things different things, but like a chancellor's diversity leadership cabinet, or something like that, and within that cabinet there were multiple working groups around different identities.(3:33)

SW: There was an LGBT focused group of faculty or staff within that Chancellor's cabinet prior to me, who had done a campus climate survey. I think Dr. Linda Moody was ... not Moody, Mooney. Dr. Linda Mooney, was a big part of that climate survey. They had, before me getting there, collected a lot of great research on people's responses to what their experience was like as a queer ... LGBT was the word they were using at the time. I'm going to use "queer" because I think that's the more encompassing umbrella term. So, what the queer experience was like at ECU at the time. We had this data saying people, I don't remember what the specifics were at the time, but there is something to be desired about the way queer people feel here on campus. (4:20)

SW: My interest in student centers specifically, from my experience at Appalachian, Marika, Dr. Van Willigan and I, she was the chair of my project, said, what if we looked at all of ECU's peer institutions. Then all of the UNC systems schools that we are comparing ourselves to, schools that we would measure ourselves against and that we're competing for students. When a lot of students choose to go to ECU, they also probably looked at UNC Charlotte and NC State. These are schools that we are legitimately competing with. So, let's look at what they're doing and be able to show a benchmark of, if there's something to be desired by the queer experience at ECU, what are other people doing to meet that need? That's what the project was on.

SW: Do you want me to go into all the specifics?

ZD: If you want.

SW: I wish I had a list of what the schools were, but I think there's probably 40ish campuses. I contacted all of them. I think there were only two that I could not get anyone who would speak about this. If there was an LGBT center, obviously I spoke to the person who ran the center. If there wasn't a center, then the next step down usually was an LGBT student group, and I would speak to the person who advised that group. (5:53)

SW: Sometimes there would be a mid-range. What I was thinking was ultimately university support and buy in financially and on paper. Is there someone whose job description includes the words, includes explicit support for LGBT students so there's money behind this. As a campus, we decided to put money behind a salary that supports this job.

SW: Yes, you can have a multicultural center. That's wonderful, and we did. We had the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, but that job description did not explicitly say LGBT. That person wasn't being explicitly mandated with funds to support this group. I'm sure that they would say that they did support that group, not that it was being left out on purpose, but I wanted there to be intentionality from the university's institutional perspective behind a written description that says, this group. Sometimes if there wasn't a center, there would be a mid-range thing. There were a couple ... I wish I was looking at the data ... People who worked in counseling centers, or dean of students offices, that sort of thing, who had, as part of their job description, to run something like an LGBT safe zone program. It wasn't their full job. (7:15)

SW: There was somebody ... I wish I could remember who, but it was like a quarter of their position, was to run a safe zone program. They were some sort of, I think this was a counseling center position. A part of their job ... I don't know what school it was, but a part of their job said "LGBT" in it. That was better than no job. That's really what I was doing, was saying, "does the university have a position that supports this population in any way explicitly? Then, if so, what do they do?" They were telephone interviews, and in person interviews. There's a center in the soc department at ECU ... Oh, what's it called? Dr. Lee Maril used to run it. It's like Inequality and Diversity Research, something like that. You know what I'm talking about. I wish I could remember the official name though. That would be way better. Their whole issue was grants to support research on inequality, diversity, equity, etc. I got some research support from that center, from Dr. Maril to go and interview in person two of the campuses who were on my list. (8:25)

SW: That year the Advocate had put out a book, I think in 2009 or 10, of the top 100 most gay friendly campuses in the country. Two of ECU's peer institutions were on that list. It was like, we are not doing anything. Not doing anything is harsh. We had the LGBT student group. We had lost of great folks, but we're not doing anything on paper with money behind it. So, when I say, "We're not doing anything," that's what I mean. Two of our peers are among the top 100 most gay friendly campuses in the country. Let's go see what they're doing.

SW: That was Northern Illinois University, which is in DeKalb, and they had a really big, spatially-wise LGBT center. I flew out there, and interviewed their director, and the folks that worked in the office, and got to see the space, and talk about their programming. That was awesome. Then I drove out to University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, because they were the other center, the other campus that was highly ranked by the Advocate. That was one of our peers, and similarly interviewed their director, their assistant director. They had students in the space at the time, which was great. I got to see what the space looked like, and it was ... DeKalb's was more set apart, like ours that you see is, which is a factor of what space is available. Milwaukee's was right in the heart of the student union. That was really cool to get to see what does it look like when you're really on display for the campus. I got to see different ways that you could set up a center. (9:58)

SW: Within North Carolina, at the time, there was a center here at Appalachian, at Chapel Hill, at NC State and at NC, Wilmington. Those are the ones that have physical space. I'm not counting Duke. I was only looking at the NC system. Let's be honest, we're not competing with Duke for students. That's not the same. That's not fair ballgame. There were other centers, but those are the four that I was looking at, and that I felt like were a fair comparison. Then UNC Charlotte had a multicultural center with a full-time staff person who was devoted to LGBT student services, but it wasn't a separate center. That was just a different model. They had a physical space devoted to this, and they had a full-time staff person, which is huge, but it wasn't an LGBT center. It was sort of a separate way to do it. So four centers, five total ... Well no. Not five staff people because Appalachian center does not have a full-time staff person. It only has a graduate student, which I think is super problematic. That was the state at the time. (11:03)

SW: I went and met the person who ran the LGBT center. There was a full-time staff person at Wilmington, at NC State, at Carolina. I went and saw all those spaces and meet all of them. Went and interviewed the staffers at NC, Charlotte and then here at Appalachian there was a staff person who the GA reported to, so I interviewed the staff person who supervised the GA, but they also supervised the GA for the women's center, and the multicultural center. So there was lots of different models.

SW: To the degree that I could I asked people for salary information and budgets for the space. To be able to say how much money per student are we putting behind this. Not surprisingly, I think Chapel Hill was putting the most money per student body behind the initiative, but it still wasn't a ton. We're talking per student they were spending, most places are spending less than a dollar a year per student, if they were spending anything. Also, the physical space. How big is it? Where is it? How much traffic does it get? How centralized is it? Programming ... What are their big initiatives and learned a lot about things like Lavender graduations, which we call lavender launch. Peer mentoring programs. Things that centers tend to do. Oh, and how many staff. If they have a director, some places also had an assistant director. Also, had a GA. Or also had paid students services. All kinds of ... That was one end. (12:37)

SW: The other end was there's nothing. I would bumped around from person to person. I would call the dean of student's office and say, "Do you have anybody who does anything related to LGBT anything." At the time this was mostly at HBCU's, so at Elizabeth City State. That's, I think, the one that I really had the hardest time getting anything. You would call and people didn't ... "Well, no, I don't think we have anything like that." I would get bumped to a faculty person who used to advise a student group that no longer exists. I did my best to find the person who was the most connected to the queer community, but it wasn't always the same type of person, at the same position, because it varied so much across campuses.

SW: I did qualitative interviews, recorded them, and then went back and listened to them all, like you're going to have to do with this. Pulled out quotes, and pulled out themes, and ultimately was able to have a big presentation where I showed, compared all the campuses and their student body, and whether they have a center or not, and the size of the center and how much money they were spending on this. Here's all the demographics, the numbers basically to show. Pretty much everybody who was bigger than us was doing this. Definitely. A lot of schools who were smaller than us were doing this. UNC Wilmington is smaller than us. At the time, actually still, Appalachian and UNC Charlotte are smaller than us. People were doing this, and we weren't. (14:14)

SW: I think it was Dr. Van Willigan, the chair of the committee. The whole committee was Dr. Van Willigan, Dr. Melinda Kane, Dr. Linda Mooney and then Aaron Lucier in housing, who had been the staff advisor for the GLBT student union for as long as I can remember.

SW: Funny side story about Aaron. When I first came ECU and said I wanted to study queer stuff, every single person was like, "Oh, have you met Aaron?" It was like he was the only gay person anyone had ever met. Shouts to Aaron, because he was pulling this community, for a long damn time by himself. Love Aaron.

SW: Aaron was on the committee also. I wrote this big long paper. I think it was Melinda ... Marika and Linda, it was their idea to invite the chancellor and provost to the presentation. Chancellor Ballard, Provost Sheerer both came to my presentation of the research, which at the time, as a student, I was ... I think your sort of entitled as a student, and you think administration should listen to you. I was like, "Yeah, they should come. Great." (15:25)

SW: Now, as a staff person at a university I look back, and I want to barf in my lap that I was not more nervous than I was. Your perspective as a student is much more entitled, than your perspective as a staff person. As a student, I was thrilled that they were there. Like, "Yes! They need to hear this." I probably should have been more terrified. They were great. They were super engaged. That sat on the front row. They were both very polite, nodding, paying attention, they asked questions. Like it was a fabulous experience. They both took a picture with me afterwards. I remember specifically that one of them, I think it was Dr. Sheerer asked me in the question, answer session, what do you think we should do with this? I was like I think you should open an LGBT center. That's what I think you should do. (16:12)

SW: I graduated in December of 2010, and I assumed I would graduate, and I don't know what I was going to do next. Move on, leave, get a job, I don't know. There was a meeting the week between my thesis defense and the graduation ceremony, where Dr. Sheerer called me into her office, and I think Dr. Moody ... Why do I keep saying, "Moody?" Mooney. Dr. Mooney went with me. Maybe Dr. Van Willigan too. They basically said, "We want to open a center and would you like to run it or be the staff person to support it?" I was like, "Heck yes, I would. Of course, I totally would." It was not then, what it became. It was a 20 hour a week, temporary position. No health insurance. From my memory it was some sort of forgotten byline that had been and administrative assistant. It was like $12.50 an hour.

SW: It was not what it became. As a grad student, fresh out of school, with all the passion in the world. I was like, "Heck yes! I will for $12.50 and hour, 20 hours a week and out." You know it was probably more than 20 hours a week. (17:32)

SW: They gave me this killer space, which was in Brewster. Brewster B103. Is that right? Look at me, five years later still remembering that. Five years since I've been gone. Seven years since this started. They gave me the space in Brewster. I think that was because the soc department was in Brewster, and they had been using that space. It actually turned out to be great. It was not right in the heart of the union, and I don't think EUC was ready at the time for it to be in the heart of the union. It was a scary place for people to be. I realize I'm like all kinds of melding into your future questions.

ZD: No, it's good.

SW: Are you okay with that? Okay.

SW: Brewster, the space was a suite of offices. There was a reception area, then within that, inside there are three offices, two of which have windows, one of which does not. It was huge. That was fabulous on campus to get that kind of space. I think I had $10,000.00 maybe to outfit it. We're talking everything. Computers, furniture ... Make this a functional space with 10 grand, which is not a lot of money. Did a lot of donating. Recruiting people to donate things. I remember one of the first things we did was recruit folks to help us build a library. We got the word out to queer folks in the community to donate books. (19:08)

SW: Then I had a wonderful student, Thomas Paswater, who was incredible, and created this entire library system, and documented all the books that we got. It was very interesting. We got a lot of the same books. I got to see what works for the foundational texts for queer folks who were a couple decades older than my students. Got a lot of, And the Band Played On, and got a lot of Greg Louganis memoirs and things. Really generous.

SW: A lot of folks gave us great stuff. Got some furniture donated. I would hear across campus, some office was changing out their furniture and getting rid of a couch, and I was like, "I'll be there in five minutes." I would find a truck and a kid and we would go over there and we were just scrappy, trying to make this place home. We put a lot of art on the walls, made by the students, to try to make it homier. I think Mark has upped the professionalism some, since he's gotten a bigger budget, but when we didn't have that, it was all decorated by student art, which I loved and was fun. Actually, that piece right there, the rainbow crayon thing that's on my wall at the moment was made by Katie Ross who was a student at the time. That was one of the pieces that was up in the center. There's something else that Laura Carlson made that was up in the center, that's around here somewhere. I think its ... I'll find it. Anyway. Oh this! Laura Carlson made this. That was up in the center at the time. (20:39)

SW: Let's see when we started it was just me, for 20 hours a week. I did a lot of going to GLBTSU meetings to meet the students and build relationships. One of the things I had learned from my interview with Chapel Hill was about the rainbow pins. I don't know if you all still do that. Safety pins with rainbow beads on them. There's one hanging from here. Its' a safety pin with rainbow beads on the back side, so it's still usable. I made those by the hundreds, in my living room with pliers and beads. Anytime I would go to a meeting I would take my business card and one of those rainbow pins and tell faculty and staff, "If you'll put this on your bag, or wear it on your jacket or something, that means that you're an ally to the community. That you're supportive of the LGBT center, etc." (21:38)

SW: It was a way to visually mark the expansion of the influence of the office. It got to be one of the really foundational programs in the beginning of the center. Once I got enough students to come and hang out and spend time in the center, they would make these pins by the bowls. Whenever we would go to class presentations, we'd give them out to everybody. You started seeing them on everybody's book bag and on people's jacket, everybody. And you started seeing them on everybody's book bags and on people's jackets. Students would come in and say, "I didn't really want to take this class. I was so nervous, but then I saw that my professor had a rainbow pin on her bag, and I'm excited now." It was a really great subtle way to say, "I support the LGBT Center." So that was a great ... turned out to be a lot bigger deal than I realized at the time. I was just trying to be cute and like, "Here's a little token of my appreciation for having met with me." So I was trying to meet with everybody on campus, every single department that would have me. I just wanted people to know the center existed. (22:35)

SW: So Georgia Childs, I think, in rec, people in the health center, people all across the department. People would ... when I met with them, they would recommend other people. So basically, "This is somebody who is friendly, who will want to know that this exists." So I was really just saying, "Hey, we have a center. If you ever want to collaborate or partner, let me know. Let your students know," etc.

SW: Okay. Ask me another question, or see what I haven't answered yet, because I feel like I'm just stream of consciousness talking at you, and I may be missing things.

ZD: No, that's good. That's good. I think really where we're at now is the formative years of the Resource Office.

SW: Okay, the beginning of the center.

ZD: Yeah, the beginning of the center. (23:19)

SW: The office, yeah. That was one thing, I wanted it to be called a center, but there was some sort of politics about the definition of center at ECU. So it's the office, that's fine. I also remember there was a very specific discussion about it being the LGBT center instead of the GLBT. Because I was female identified, Dr. Sheerer, Dr. Hardy, Melinda Kane, Marie Van Mulligan... I talked about so many female identified folks. So in addition to the fact that in a marginalized community, we want to be aware of other instances of marginalization and try to champion where we can. But also that legitimately a lot of the foundational folks in this instance had been female identified that it was like, "Let's make the L first," you know. So that was the intentional discussion that I remember, because it was the GLBT Student Union. So at the time that was real confusing for folks. They were like, "Wait, I thought it was GLBT." And I was like, "It's, okay, yes. That's the student union and we're the office." And that's how it's different. (24:17)

SW: Okay. So in the beginning the first thing I realized was it couldn't ... that I was out so much, meeting people, speaking to classes, etc. What I wanted this space to be was like a home for people, and it couldn't be that if I wasn't there. Because it didn't feel safe to just have it be open and have anybody come and go without any type of supervision or support. What if someone comes in in a crisis and no one's there? So I needed there to be folks there all the time in an official capacity, in addition to the fact that I only worked 20 hours a week. During those 20 hours, I was out of the office.

SW: So we started the advocate program, the desk shift volunteers. The first big thing was to hire ... hire, they were volunteers. Recruit students to sit at the desk and be there in case someone came in. We had a training that summer, so I think that would have been the summer of 2011, I guess. Because it would have ... Okay, let me think, hold on. Yeah, it would have opened January, 2011. So that first semester, spring 2011, it was just me scrapping it, trying to make it work. That summer we had a training for students who would work the desk. So then starting in fall of 2011, there was somebody there 8:00 to 5:00 to have it open. (25:42)

SW: I remember coming in at 8:00 and there were people already sitting in the hallway. If I was not there at 8:00 to open the door, there were people there waiting. So we started a system actually where there was a key to the office up in the Sociology Department office. The desk worker, if I wasn't going to be there right at 8:00, could go up and open the office so that it would always be available. Because people were there all the time. I mean, it was like ... I'll say .

SW: One of the reasons I currently have a professional Facebook profile and a personal Facebook profile is because I started getting lots of friend requests on Facebook from people who I didn't know. I didn't want to have people I straight up didn't know on my Facebook, in case I shared anything personal. But I also didn't want to turn people away, because ... What it was was students who wanted to know more about the LGBT center, but weren't comfortable enough to want to come in or talk to me, or you know. It was like a really subtle, "I heard your name. You have something to do with this thing." (26:42)

ZD: Sure.

SW: So I didn't want to turn those folks away. So I changed my personal Facebook profile to be not my real name, and I made a Facebook profile with my real name that purely exists, and still exists, to reach out to students.

SW: So a lot of people would send me Facebook messages and want to know about the office, but didn't want to come in. Luckily I had taught in the Soc. Department. I taught Intro to Sociology, Human Sexuality, some things just adjunct, in addition to my time there. So that was a great cover, because people who didn't want to be associated with the office could meet me for coffee as if I was their professor, and then we could talk about the office. I can remember a really specific student who now is like super queer. In grad school and doing all the great things. But when they first came to campus were not trying to come to the center. This was a person that I went and met at Starbucks to be like, "This is what it is. You're super welcome. It's not scary." But it was scary for people. (27:51)

SW: It was also very loud in the center in the beginning, I remember this. There was classroom across the hall, which is not ideal, and the office would get crazy. People had so much fun. They were safe, they were comfortable, they were happy, they had friends. It was a really sort of self-discovery. So people were just excited and funny and there was shit going on. Multiple times a semester the faculty who were teaching across the hall would come and complain to me that I needed to keep everybody quiet. So that got to be an issue, the fact that we were in an academic building because it was quite a fun space. At one point we had a room full of beanbags. That was fun. They didn't last very long, because they got beat up, but it was great until ... They were all rainbow beanbags. So the office other than mine, the other one with a window, which was the beanbag room ... So you'd open the door and there would just be like 10 kids playing on beanbags on the floor, just hanging out. (28:47)

SW: There were some students, I remember, who came into the space and changed into clothing that was more representative of who they were. But they were only comfortable wearing that in the space. Then when they went to class, they would change back. One person particularly ... unfortunately has since taken their life which is really sad. But when they were in the center, they were at least from my perception, able to be much more who they were than they could anywhere else on campus. And that was huge. So that was sort of the best part at the time, was being a space where people who didn't feel like they had a space could come and meet other people who didn't feel like they had a space. And be like, "We do have a space." (29:35)

SW: There was also a lot of internalized homophobia. I have a really specific memory of a meeting with a student who came into my office and closed the door, and he had just like tears in his eyes and asked me if he was going to hell basically. I am not religious at all, and I was like, "No. Of course you're not. You're a wonderful person and whoever, whatever God is they made you how you are on purpose. And they love you to death." But I was not super equipped to have that conversation as a nonreligious person, and that was a big issue. There were a lot of people who had grown up in super religious families and had been ... This student told me a story of getting literally, physically hit with a Bible by his mom. And that's just so much internalized hatred, it was really sad. (30:28)

SW: So I connected him with Brad ... Oh, what's his last name? In the community, plays piano at a local church. Aaron Lucier would know. Anyway, a local religious person who is openly queer. And so that was another thing that we did a lot of at the ... I said, "We." That was me. That I did a lot of at the beginning was outsourcing. You know, "Go talk to this person, go talk to this person." Everybody would come to me and say, "If you ever have a student X, I can do that." So I knew who all the queer people were in like every department. So I could tell you, "Take class with this person because they're your friend." It wasn't necessarily open to everybody, but I could tell you, "Here's a church where you can go," or, "Here's a ..." you know, whatever. So it was nice to be a repository for queer information, because there hadn't been a physical space for that before. (31:22)

SW: Okay, so we talked about the pins. We talked about the desk shift, the advocates, volunteers. We had a brochure. We always had like a bowl of condoms, a bowl of dental dams. Student Health did a great job of giving me those for free, which was nice. So they kept us stocked in safe sex stuff. There was a trans person in the Counseling Center at the time. His name was Dr. Stanley, and he was super involved with helping ... I think there was a queer student group in the Counseling Center at the time. So a lot of my students also connected with Dr. Stanley in the Counseling Center.

SW: We had some like go-to programs that we would do for classes. So there was one ... I don't know if they still do this. Like the stars ... Coming out stars, that's what it was. So basically everybody in the class gets a paper star, and they're all different colors. There's like four different colors, green, red, yellow, blue, and I would pre cut them out before I go. You have everybody write on each point of the star like their closest family member, their best friend, their strongest community, their job. And something on the fifth one, I don't remember. Their favorite thing, or I don't know. Then I would talk through ... You can Google coming out starts. This is not something I came up with. It's a program from the internet. (32:52)

SW: But you would talk through ... The experience of a queer person sometimes coming out is they lose their family members. So if you have a red or a green star, rip your family corner off. If you have a blue star, fold your family corner back because they don't accept you right now but maybe they'll come around in the future. Then a lot of people when they come out lose their friends, so you tell a little story about someone coming out and losing a friend. So if you have a yellow or an orange star, rip your friend corner off. If you have a red star, fold your friend back. They don't support you right now, but they might later. So you would go around and everybody, depending on the color of their star, would lose different parts of what was important to them. (33:33)

SW: So then we would talk about, you know, what did that feel like? Do you think that's realistic? Do you know anyone in your life who this has happened to? Have you ever thought about the fact that this is something that really happens to people? So it was a really elementary sort of way to talk about what a queer identity can mean for people. At the time it was sort of revolutionary. I mean, it was like ... It was pretty impactful at the time. I will say, we've come a long way since then. Maybe that's an elementary way to think about it, and it's probably problematic now, but it was super helpful at the time. It was colorful and tangible, that they got to actually have the star and take it home. So that was a program we did a lot with classes, go speak with classes and do that. (34:10)

SW: Lavender Launch started ... Aaron Lucier had wanted to do a lavender graduation forever. And so he and I and unfortunately an RD whose name I can't remember. A gentleman ... It's probably in the research somewhere. Aaron might remember. Put together the first Lavender Launch. And we got rainbow tassels? Rainbow tassels for everybody, I think. I think Dr. Sheerer spoke at the first one. Maybe Dr. Hardy spoke at the first one, too. It was in like the common space of some residence hall. What's the residence hall behind Ledonia Wright? Or like ... Oh, I can't remember. Anyway, it was not in an ideal space. We just started putting it together at the last minute, and space is pretty ... On campus a space big enough to do something like that is usually booked at that point. (35:11)

SW: I remember we did it on the Thursday before graduation, because the idea was that that's before your family comes into town, if you don't want them to be at lavender graduation. But it's close enough to graduation, that if you do want them to come, they could just come a day early. So it was intentional about, "Let's make it accessible to people who don't want folks to know, but also to people whose family do want to come." Then afterwards ... I wish I could remember Brad's name. Again, Brad, that local piano player, local church ... He got his church to fully do the first lavender graduation reception.

SW: So after the graduation, in the building next door, which was the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, there was this huge spread of church potluck food that Brad and all his church people had made for the first lavender graduation. So the office didn't have to pay anything, which was really cool. So that was a lot of what it was like was scrappy ... Like everybody was so excited this exists and everybody wants to help. So we just made it work with random people putting stuff together. So that was the first lavender graduation. (36:19)

SW: I think we did it ... I'm backtracking now, but I think we did like a kick off, like an opening for the center the first ... that would have been the fall of 2011. So it technically opened in January, but in January there was nothing there. So by fall when we had the students working the desk, and we had a more robust program, and we had furniture and stuff. That fall we did sort of a kick off opening and had people come by and just see it.

SW: We made a piece of art at that thing. It's like a big canvas and everybody stamped their hands in paint and so it ... Is that still there? I don't know where that is.

ZD: No.

SW: I hope it's somewhere, because that was a really cool piece, and we made it at the opening kick off. So I wonder where that is. I've probably got pictures of it somewhere. That was in the room next door to the center. There's a big conference room next door to the center, and so that was also ... It wasn't our conference room, but it was right next door. So we would book that for trainings and anything like that. So the opening reception was in there. (37:31)

SW: Let's see, what else happened in the beginning? There was an advisory board. Kathy Hill helped me put that together. So the position, like I said, was part-time temp, and there was a couple evolutions of it becoming more than that. At some point it moved under Student Affairs, and it was under the Center for Student ... CSLE, Center for Student Leadership and Engagement. Laura McMaster was the director at the time. Shout out to Laura. Loved Laura, she was amazing. So I reported to Laura under that center. It was a part-time position there. Then the other 20 hours a week I worked for Kathy Hill in Student Affairs Assessment, Research and Retention. That was great, because she was really helpful to me as far as teaching me how to do assessment properly and how to tell your story through data. So we started having all the students who worked at the desk mark who came in. I don't know if they still do that but-

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

SW: Do they really?

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative). (38:42)

SW: Oh, that's adorable. So that we could tally attendance, and we could say, "Look, you know, there's a ton of people come in the door. This is who they are." Not who they are, we didn't ... It was anonymous. But student, faculty, staff, this is the percentage of people who come in. Which I think is helpful to be able to say like, "We get an influx of people at this time of year. Maybe we should have more services at that time." Data is really helpful. So Kathy Hill taught me a lot of that. I was working part-time in her office and part-time in the LGBT center. I think that only lasted for like a semester and then they found the money ... I say, "They." I think it was Virginia Hardy found the money to make it a full-time position. So I reported directly to Laura in CLCE. That was like the last year I was there, so that was 2013. End of 2012, beginning of 2013, that academic year. (39:32)

SW: We did a lot of co-programming with other departments, just financially. So Wilson Cruz came to campus, and that was co-sponsored with us and the Theatre Department and Campus Activities Department. Wilson Cruz played Angel in the Broadway run of Rent, and he's an openly queer actor. He was in ... you would recognize him. He was in My So-Called Life. He was Angela's gay friend in My So-Called Life, which was a big deal at the time. One of the first openly queer characters on TV. So he came, which was awesome, but I couldn't have afforded that, right? So it was a co ... He also did some workshops with Theatre. And Faisal Alam who is an openly queer Muslim activist came, and that was also co-sponsored with Religious Studies. So I was always looking for ways that we could do programming that would appeal to multiple audiences so that I could pay for it from multiple buckets. Which is ... That's what you've got to do in the beginning, you know?

ZD: Yes. Yes. (40:41)

SW: Who else? I have flyers from all this stuff. I kept all these things in the beginning. I had friend who was a trans man who came and spoke and sort of told his story. He would come every year and speak to classes. It got to be really popular, where every time he was coming other faculty wanted him to come to their class. His name is Loren Lemmond, and he was Facebook friends with all the students after he came. We did a presentation in Mendenhall one year. He sort of told his story to everyone, and then he would come back every year and speak to classes.

SW: Let's see, what else did we do in the beginning? It was also just a lot of fun. There was a time when this like ... I'm turning around looking at my computer. If I can find it on my flash drive, I can show you. Everybody just hung out there and had a good time. Everybody made their friends there, so this silly internet craze called the Harlem Shake videos where people would ... there was .

ZD: I've seen what you're talking about.(41:51)

SW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So everybody's watching this on the internet, and somebody's like, "Oh, we should make a LGBT office Harlem Shake." And I'm like, "Okay, sure." So it was also just fun. It was also just like, "Let's make a space where people can just be like normal college students and have a good time." Okay. The "Gay? Fine by Me," that was the biggest ... probably the last big thing I did before I left. So those shirts are the rainbow-colored shirts that say, "gay? fine by me." I will say that's sort of problematic, too. Like we all ... It could be better. But at the time, that was a big deal. That was revolutionary.

SW: So I went to like a summer meeting of all the Student Affairs directors, or something or other, and presented this idea to say like, "I'm going to order a ton of these shirts and give them out for free to your offices, if you agree to let me take your picture in them. And then put it on the website to be like 'Here are all the people on campus who support you,' basically." So I sent out emails to ... We got in hundreds of shirts. We got in boxes like red, every color of the rainbow. Then you could have them for free as long as you would let me take a picture. So that was a lot of coordinating. (43:09)

SW: There was Health Services, I got a picture of all the like doctors and folks who worked in the office with their "Gay, Fine by Me" shirts on, but with their white coats over it. It was really cool, right? And so many departments participated. Obviously the counseling center. I mean, like the ... and academic departments, too, like Sociology, History, all those sort of like social sciences, English, Rec Center staff. Obviously Dr. Sheerer, Dr. Hardy, like high-up folks. So I would bring them a t-shirt, and bring them the university photographer, and take their picture with their shirt. Then we had all these pictures of people who were important on campus visually wearing a thing that says, "I support you," ultimately. So this is ... This flyer is on my desk-

SW: ... this flier is on my desk, I'm reading from this flier. It says be part of our ECU allies photo project. We will be handing out "Gay Fine By Me" tees at the locations below. Which I should pull this of the wall so I can read it more easily. (44:16)

SW: So this says Gay Fine By Me free t-shirt giveaway. Be part of the ECU Allies photo project, we'll be handing out Gay Fine By Me tees at the locations below. So Wright Plaza and then these are the following dates. Health sciences building on these dates. So on both campuses. Then we have a random location office.

SW: Once you have your tee, a drop in, small group, an individual photo shoot for anyone in their Gay Fine By Me shirt will take place Thursday, March 1st, from 2:00 to 5:30 in Ledonia Wright Cultural Center. So everyone was supposed to come to that, if they wanted to whenever. A campus wide photo shoot will take place by Wright Fountain during Barefoot at the Mall on April 25th at 4:45 pm. Contact Summer Wisdom for more information. Sponsored by the LGBT Research Office, the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement, Campus Living and Dining, The Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, Student Health Services and Campus Recreation and Wellness. (45:10)

SW: So all of those offices helped pay for the shirts. And so I had to get all of those people on board first. So I had to go to all those offices and say; this is what I want to do, this is what the shirts look like, I want everybody to do it.

ZD: Yeah.

SW: So it was a lot of just like, time, to set up all those meetings and go meet with them and be like 'I need you to pay for everyone t-shirts' and here's why. But then we got these great pictures! Like we had photo shoots where people would drop by Ledonia in their shirts and then, So this is the pictures of the first campus rainbow picture. During the Barefoot In the Mall. Do they still do Barefoot in the Mall?

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- (45:49)

SW: So that's a big annual event. So during Barefoot in the Mall we like announced over the intercom "everybody who wants to be in the campus, in the rainbow, group rainbow picture, come to the fountain" And we organized everyone by the color of their shirts. Everybody in the red shirts gather, etc, And then we make a big human rainbow in our shirts. It was just such a big like, such a good visual, such a like, everybody can be involved in this. The shirts are free. Anybody who wants one can have one. It was awesome. I do remember though, it was like, a conservative blogger who got a hold of the email I send out about it and wrote this really nasty blog post about it. But other than that it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I and think they still give these shirts away every year. Don't they?

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

SW: Yeah, so that is one of the things I am proudest of, that was a big undertaking. And trying to say 'i need y'all to spend lots of money on t-shirts that we are going to give away for free" But it worked. Okay. What am I missing. Do you have any other specific questions or anything I've forgotten? No. Okay. You're good? (47:00)

SW: What else> Run through what I should have, or questions what questions you had just to make sure I didn't forget anything.

ZD: Why don't we just... I think you ended up actually covering everything.

SW: Yeah [crosstalk 00:47:11]

ZD: But it as great, you ran through everything. So I mean if there's anything that you would like to sort of wrap up with.

SW: I'm trying to think what else. There was, another thing we did to decorate, cause like I said, we didn't have any money was, we didn't want the much on decorations, was we made this big posters called Famous Family and it was LGBT, Do you remember that? I loved that. I wish it was still around. But that was an idea I took from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. So I was just pictures, little you know, maybe twice the size of a wallet picture of people who were known to be queer in some way. And just a big collage of their faces, but then there was a notebook underneath the copy table where you could look people up and see who they were and how they identified. And so the idea was like, there are people in all fields who do all kinds of things who identify like we do and I really was intentional about trying to make it as diverse as possible in all the ways. And have religious folks and have people in all different professions and races and ethnicities and, it was big, it was beautiful. You know like a typical poster. (48:25)

ZD: Yeah

SW: So it was 9 posters total I think by the end of it. So it was like 3 by 3 posters. So it was BIG.

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

SW: And so hundreds and hundreds of people. And so every year, that would be one of the jobs of the people that sat at the desk was to like find more people to add to our famous family collage and then do the research to put in the notebook to say who they are and why they are a part of our collage. That was another project in the beginning that was super fun.

SW: Lets see if there's anything else I have forgotten. You're going to leave and I'm going to be like 'oh but this!'

SW: Oh the time I remember Dr. Cane started the first, I don't know if it was the first LGBT class, but one of the first that was 100% focused on. It was like LGBT society, history and culture. Or something like that in the soc department. And Dr Cane was hard, like her classes were not easy. And people took it like wildfire. Everyone was so excited about it. And so she would come down and advertise it in the center and have a flier in the center and that was something in the beginning that everybody was like 'Are you taking the gay class' you know. And like I said, it was tough, but people still did it because it was a big deal to be able to take, you know, just a class specifically on the history of the movement. (49:46)

SW: I have one more thing. I remember in the beginning, like I said it was like 12-15 hour part time whatever. And Kathy Hill organized Caf� Conversations. That we invited folks; faculty, staff, students, to come talk about the LGBT center, and about services on campus and experiences, etc. Just sort of an open feedback discussion about where we were with LGBT support on campus. And out of the discussion everybody; faculty, staff, people got on board with like this should be a full-time permanent position. That this as a part-time, temp position is not acceptable.

SW: So that felt really good, to have other people day, and I get why it temporary part-time in the beginning, cause you're just trying to do what you can do as soon as possible. I mean literally there was like a month turn around. So, totally get it. But, that was not going to be enough. And it was great to have faculty and staff and students say what Summer is doing is important, she's doing a good job, etc. like, we think this should be a full time position with a full salary, with health and make this a legitimate... And so before I left it was, I think the last year or two I was there it was a full time, salaried, assistant director level position. Which, you know is huge. And that really felt good to have everybody, that come out of that discussion. Like everybody say 'We need to make this more official and support everyone in this way'. (51:18)

SW: I think that's what I can remember. Do you mind if I put my flash drive in really quickly, because I have a bunch of pictures from the time.

ZD: Sure, yeah.

SW: So that might spark my memory of something that I forgotten. But if you stop it while I look that up, you're welcome it.

SW: Are we back on?

ZD: Yeah.

SW: Okay so I have found some pictures from the first Lavender Launch and remember that the name of the person that is Brad Pollier and there's a picture of his church folks that made all this wonder food for us. And he and his partner and some other folks at the church, and I had forgotten that the dean of students at the time, Lynn...what's her last name?

ZD: Roeder. (52:05)

SW: Yeah, Dr. Lynn Roeder, she was at the first Lavender Launch and she was also super supportive. She was one of the, had her... I took her picture in the Gay Fine By Me shirts and she was really into it. And supportive of the whole idea. I forgot we did Transgender Day of Remembrance events as well every year. And so I have some pictures. We did one in Ledonia Wright Cultural Center. So we would have candles and read the names like you do in a lot of campuses. And it looks like we had a speaker, like a reception after the Trans Day of Remembrance event at the cultural center.

SW: We also had an Ally of the Month board on the wall outside the center. And Emily Lemus was the grad student that did the work for the board. So she would go around and do interviews with people. So this is a picture of her next to the board in August, it was Dr. Shereer. And she would have quotes from Dr. Shereer and then we had the names of everybody who was the Ally of the Month for that Month. So Victoria Jacobs one month. Like I have pictures of every month so you can go back and see Dr Lisa Faranick, assistant professor in psychology was the Ally of the Month in January. So, I can send you all of these so you can know who they were. Georgia Childs in rec and wellness, she was awesome. (53:29)

SW: An Ally Mixer, oh I do vaguely remember this. One year we did, at the beginning of the year with the LGBTSU, we invited faculty and staff and called it the Ally Mixer. And for people to come and show support for the students. So this picture there's like a person in their full police uniform, and the idea was get people from around campus in different departments to come to a LGBT Student Union meeting and show we're here to support you. So there's Kathy Hill, here's somebody in their Health Center scrubs to show there are people all over campus who support this community. And of course Dr. Shereer is there as the main speaker, because she's amazing.

SW: We always did a table at Barefoot at the Mall because that's a big event. So that's not surprising that we were there for all those things. I did all the orientations every summer. We used to do Polar Plunge every year. Oh, I forgot about this. So it was really just me, and Christina from the office, we would do the Polar Plunge. Like we would to an LGBT Center team. It's not officially a team, it's just we're all going to together and jump in the pool together. But so these all LGBT office, students and me and we would all stand in line every year and do the Polar Plunge together. (54:49)

SW: Trans Day of Remembrance, volunteer low ropes course . Oh I forgot we did this! I took all the students who worked the front desk to the low ropes outdoor activities course and we did like team building and learning about how to work better together etc. I have pictures from Volunteer training, you know I am so organized. So here's everybody who went through volunteer training in 2012. I can send you all this if you'd like.

ZD: I would love that.

SW: I'll label them so you'll know, like this is advocate training Summer 2012. And I have videos apparently, what are these videos? Oh my good vibe video. So I left in June of 2013. I left because my partner had gotten a job up here closer to Boone, and I went to undergrad here and I loved the mountains and I had always wanted to be back here. But I left in the middle of the summer and I didn't want to just leave without saying goodbye to anyone so I made this video of me saying 'I love you all, I'm sorry i have to go' etc. And Tracy, why is Tracy's name... Tracy Davis, who was a grad student was sort of the interim person to take over the office while I was gone. They were searching for Mark. She had a GA position, well they had a GA position through Center of Student Involvement Leadership so that she could be over the office in my absence because she had been really involved. (56:28)

SW: We did have a LGBT grad student group, which was really cool. Just, you know, we met monthly. Grad students who were queer or identified met together, and that's how Tracy got to be my friend. And there some grad students that were more involved with the center.

SW: And we also had an LGBT faculty lunch group. And Aaron Lucier used to coordinate that. And we met every other week for lunch. And so I just had a personal listserv that I would send out an email every other week saying 'hey, here's where we're going to meet, this time.' And I had some really good connections out of that. There were people who, I remember meeting, I don't remember the guys name, he was a faculty member on the medical campus, and he wanted to meet with me one-on-one at like a, we went to Starbucks off campus, so nobody would see us. And he sort of came out to me as an adult. Like far into his life and just no realizing and being more comfortable and so it was also a support service for faculty and staff to find people who identified the same way they did and they could have a space to talk to someone. (57:32)

SW: Then I have all Gay Fine By Me, have all the pictures. So apparently the Bachelors of Social Work Student Association, Campus Living an Dining staff, Campus Rec and Wellness staff, Counseling staff, CLCE obviously Student Leadership and Engagement, College of Nursing, English Department, IPAR, Ledonia Wright, Literacy, English Education and History, Orientation Assistance, Student Health Services, Transition Office, what is Spillman? Oh people who work at Spillman so it's like, yeah know. Dr. Hardy, Dr. Shereer, who is all this. This is like staff and the Provost office, there's the Chancellor and the Probus and Dr. Hardy all high up administrative people. Chancellor and his wife in their people Gay Fine By Me shirts. Do you have all these? I hope you have these.

ZD: I don't have these.

SW: You don't have these? Okay I'll send you all these. So like, this is what I was telling you. Student health, all the doctors with their shirts and their jackets. I love that one. Student Transitions office is like the, does that office still exist? Like orientations and transfer students. (58:44)

ZD: Yeah I think that's still around.

SW: That's the staff of that office. College of nursing. I remember there was a person who worked in the College of Nursing, he was super supportive and said this is like...Who's this lady, Wanda Lancaster. She really wanted to get the initiative over to the Medical Campus as well cause they were not as connected to some of the student support stuff. Let's see, English Literature, etc, faculty, there's Bachelor of Social Work Student Association, like people would just email me and say 'yeah we want to do our picture.' They actually set up a tent and gave away shirts for us.

ZD: Oh wow. (59:27)

SW: Like that was one of their service projects as a group. Campus Living and Dining that doesn't surprise me because they are awesome. Cause Erin worked in Campus Living and Dining so that's like the staff of that department. Campus Rec and Wellness, that's where Georgia works and she was super supportive so she got her whole staff to do it, so maybe staffs wouldn't assume, like Rec. You might not assume people who work in Rec are going to be into it, but everybody, so many people got on board. Department of Eboard? Oh yeah Music, because John was so into, this is John O'Brian. Yep, he got his, all his students to do it. Let me see this, Miscellaneous, who's in this? Oh this is just around the office. Like when the shirts first came in and we were all so excited. We had big boxes of them, and like people sitting in the office were in their shirts. (1:00:21)

SW: Oh I remember these pillows! Oh my God, so the pillows that used to be in the office, I don't know where they are now, but they were, on one side, the backside was rainbow fabric. But the front side was old gay t-shirts. Since, when I did the call out for people to donate books, somebody gave us a bunch of old random t-shirt from old prides or like very 80's gay t-shirts. So my grandmother-in-law. My husbands grandmother. Made them into pillows for the couches in the office. Which is cool.

SW: Allen Bailey in the library, there were so many people who were into this. Lets see. This is actually helping me remember people so let me look in the Ledonia Wright folder and see if there's anybody I have forgotten to mention. Cause this is like the come one, come all random photo shoot. Just everybody come who wants to be in it. So this was set up all day. We had like a formal photographer there and people would just come in and out and take pictures. So, do you have these?

ZD: We do. (1:01:27)

SW: You do have some of these? Okay good. Yeah, because these were taken by the official photographer, so you should have some of these. But, I can send you anything that you don't have. Orientation assistants. Oh okay, like summer orientation. That's nice that we did that. We did so many of these I'd forgotten. This is awesome. How fun.

SW: I have thought of another random thing. I keep saying that I have a husband, and I do have a husband. And he is a transgender man. And so when I first started, I would often get people who would find a way to pull me aside and be like 'so why do you.. you have a husband, why do you do this?' Everybody assumed I was straight. So, I'd invite, I like the word queer better. I say bisexual to people who don't know what, you know, but I've had relationships with people of all different identifies and genders. And God forbid my husband and I weren't together anymore, my future relationships would be with anyone. Alright, I'm not bound by genitalia with who I want to have a romantic relationship with. But I would always in the beginning get called an ally in meetings, or like people would, everybody would just assume and, so yeah that was a funny thing in the beginning that everybody assumed I was straight and everybody was like 'why do you do this? What are you doing here? Why are you the face of this?' You know. (1:02:50)

SW: I will say I utilized it to my advantage sometimes because it would make me less scary to some people. Seriously, like there was, I remember a time at a table at like an orientation thing and it was a family I think. Some parents. And they came up and they were not super friendly. And So I'm like moving my hand in front of their face so that they see my wedding ring because this was before marriage was legal. And so they would assume that I was married in a heterosexual way and that would make them more comfortable talking to me.

SW: So Dr. Cane and I would have this discussion because Melinda's also married to a man. And she does all queer research and it's a hard balance to, I have all the privilege. I'm obviously taking advantage of my hetero-passing privilege. But I try to use it to get into spaces that would not let me in if I weren't as like nonthreatening. So as a person who passes as heterosexual, I recognize all the privilege in that and I try to use it to advance queer voices. And that's what I think is so great about the office, is that it's still there and it's still advancing queer voices. Even though I'm not there. (1:04:10)

SW: That's probably a good place to stop.

ZD: Alright. Well, in case I forgot, do I have verbal consent for this interview.

SW: You totally do.

ZD: Okay good.

SW: This has been a blast. I've really enjoyed it.

ZD: Well, thank you so very much!

SW: Yeah! It's been fun for me to reminisce.

ZD: Well, I'm glad. I'm very glad. (1:04:28)

Summer Wisdom oral history
In this oral history Summer Wisdom details her master's project, which resulted in the establishment of East Carolina University's first LGBT center, as well as the process of establishing that center and her experience being its first employee. Interviewer: Zachary Dale. Interview took place at Plemmons Student Union on the campus of Appalachian State University.
August 03, 2018
Original Format
oral histories
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University Archives
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