Stephen Collingsworth arrived on campus Jan. 10 to become the College’s first coordinator for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered (LGBT) issues and Assistant Director of the MultiCultural Center (MCC).
Housed at the MCC, the coordinator of LGBT issues will address the concerns and needs of the LGBT community and its relation to the rest of campus, as well address other minority concerns. Collingsworth will provide support to students and act as a liaison to other faculty and staff members. Collingsworth was offered a three-year contract.
A report from the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) first proposed the creation of the position of Coordinator of LGBT Issues in 1995. However, the position remained unexplored until several homophobic campus incidents raised the issue again last year.
“There is a homophobic problem on campus, but I don’t get the feeling that it’s a dominant voice,” said Director of the MCC and professor of political science Alex Willingham.
“Lots of caring people were embarrassed by that, but the problem is still located in isolated activities, classroom incidents and private incidents. The process [of creating the role of a coordinator of LGBT issues] is a testament to a community that doesn’t want to be dominated by homophobia.”
“Williams is not an incredibly homophobic place, but neither is it the easiest place to be a gay student,” said Matthew Sandoval ’99, former officer of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered Union (BGLTU).
“The creation of this position suggests that the College understands this. It is a strong show of support for the queer community as it struggles to raise awareness and acceptance at Williams,” Sandoval said.
This past summer Willingham and the Office of Human Resources formulated a job description and advertised the new position in education and LGBT journals and Internet sites. A committee consisting of faculty, staff and students reviewed 22 applicants.
“What amazed us all was the consistently strong qualifications this pool of candidates offered,” said Robert Volz, custodian of Chapin Library, who was on the selection committee.
“It speaks well of the dedication, wisdom, education, experience and creativity of the individuals around the country who are addressing LGBT issues on campuses and in their adjacent communities. Such a strong candidate pool is not the norm for academic jobs.”
According to Willingham, the criteria for choosing the coordinator of LGBT issues included knowledge of student life, experience working with students and familiarity with issues facing the queer community.
The committee chose five candidates from the applicant field to invite to campus for interviews. “It was a fruitful experience to have a day and a half to two days with each of them,” Volz said. “It allowed us to see that in Stephen we had most of the particular strengths that characterized each of the four other candidates, plus a person who was open and accessible about himself, his LGBT organizational activities and about his ambitions and expectations – in the way we hope Williams administrators will be.”
Collingsworth, a native of Ohio, describes himself as an activist. Beginning with his creation of a “save the seals” organization in sixth grade, Collingsworth continued to be a student leader during his college days at Ohio State University and worked for two community centers in Columbus, Ohio to provide support and social activities to LGBT youth and educate the community about queer issues.
“I like helping people become activists,” Collingsworth said. “In student affairs, I get to help students become the best student leaders that they can. Even if you believe something totally diametrically opposed to what I believe, if you are passionate about it and doing something about it, that is what I feel good about. I like to see people doing that.”
The position of coordinator of LGBT issues at the College appealed to Collingsworth because he likes “pioneering new positions.”
The last two positions he held – as the coordinator of Kaleidoscope, a queer youth center in Columbus, Ohio, and as education coordinator at the Columbus Community Center – were new positions that Collingsworth enjoyed creating.
Collingsworth looks forward to helping to make a safer, friendlier environment for LGBT individuals. “Concerns that queer students hold should be concerns of all students,” he said. “Fear and hatred are based on gender roles, and queer people challenge that.”
Collingsworth holds a bachelor’s degree in English with minors in history and photography from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership with a minor in counseling psychology also from Ohio State University. He served in the Peace Corps, teaching English in Tanzania.