GREEN BAY ― When you walk into Stacie Christian’s office at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, you’re greeted by a short woman with wavy brown hair and a soft smile.
Her door is decorated with a Pride flag & UW-Green Bay Alumni and Supportive And Friendly Environment (S.A.F.E.) Ally stickers to show that all who come in are welcome.
As the assistant vice chancellor of inclusive excellence across the four UW-Green Bay campuses, Christian is all about impact ― what she can do to support students and make UW-Green Bay and the Green Bay community more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and all other minority groups.
“I just want people to be healthy and be who they’re supposed to be, and then they give the impact back to the community,” she said.
She was among 11 other University of Wisconsin System employees and students who were awarded the Dr. P.B. Poorman Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ+ People at the beginning of November. The award recognizes faculty, staff, students and community members for their excellence in advocacy, research, teaching or service on behalf of LGBTQ+ communities.
Her reaction to winning the award? A little embarrassed, she said.
“I’m kind of a humble person,” she said. “I do this for impact, I don’t really do it for awards. But I thought it was very nice that they recognized me again.”
This is Christian’s second time winning the Dr. P.B. Poorman award; she originally won in 2015.
Awardees are chosen based on their work to foster social justice and organizational change; create positive institutional or community transformation to achieve better diversity, equity and inclusion; and to improve the visibility of LGBTQ+ people.
Christian has worked for almost three decades to advance the visibility, acceptance and support resources available to LGBTQ+ people across the university’s four campuses and in greater Green Bay. At the university, about 20% of students identify as being LGBTQ+.
“Stacie, her approach, her commitment, her expertise, her content knowledge, all of that has played a pivotal part in the work that she’s done to provide environments where people from all journeys have been able to feel safe and or comfortable in sharing their identity,” said Corey King, the vice chancellor for university inclusivity & student affairs at UW-Green Bay. He helped select Christian for the award.
Prior to coming to UW-Green Bay, Christian was a health care administrator and clinical social worker trying to improve equity, diversity and inclusion in health care. But if she wanted health care workers to join the profession more knowledgeable about diversity and inclusion, she thought it best to start at the source of their learning.
That’s what brought her to UW-Green Bay.
When she joined the university in the late ’90s, Christian taught classes in many different fields all aligned under the same theme: inclusivity.
Because of her work, the university asked Christian if she would start the campus’s first Pride Center to offer resources and support to LGBTQ+ students.
She said no. Four times.
“I thought, ‘Well, I was teaching.’ But then I thought, ‘Well, I’m gonna do it.’ So we started the Pride Center here 11 years ago,” Christian said.
As soon as it was up and running, the center started serving the campus’s most vulnerable LGBTQ+ students.
“A handful of students were not very healthy, a lot of mental health issues because their parents were kicking them out of their homes and they were often houseless,” she said.
Christian focused a lot of the initial efforts on food and housing security and created a food pantry and clothing closet called the Campus Cupboard and Closet for students.
Continuing campus education, Christian helped implement multiple offerings of S.A.F.E. Ally Training for the university community to be better LGBTQ+ allies.
She later went on to develop Pride camps for queer, transgender and non-binary middle and high school students so they could discover who they are in a community that shares similar identities.
“It’s important for students to have their development of who they are, and we were finding that they were coming to college and then they were like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m queer. And so therefore, I have to redefine who I am. What does that mean, right? How do I behave? How do I think about myself and how I fit in the world?’ It’s hard,” she said. “So that’s a little late. They’re wasting time, frankly, not being able to study and do the typical development that a college student has because they’re still defining who they are ― which everyone else does when they’re younger.”
Christian’s work has revolved around making campus life more fulfilling and welcoming for all people, but particularly LGBTQ+ students. She worked to make it easier for students to use their preferred names, instead of forcing them to use their legal names, during routine campus activities like getting food from dining halls.
She also advocated with other people involved with campus housing to establish Safe And Inclusive Living, or SAIL, housing on campus. In SAIL housing, two or more students share a university apartment regardless of the occupant’s sex, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.
It creates a living option for students who the traditional dorm experience wouldn’t be as safe or inclusive.
Beyond the bounds of the UW-Green Bay campus, Christian offers parent and community support groups for LGBTQ+ people and those wanting to learn more about supporting LGBTQ+ people in their lives. She also provides training for community stakeholders like police officers and health care workers to educate them more about LGBTQ+ identities.
“The students love her because her approach is always one of education, one of awareness,” King said. “She’s able to guide people through their own journey and their self discovery and so faculty, staff and students enjoy talking with her and interacting with her because she just helps you to be you … to do that in a very safe, embracing and welcoming environment,” King said.
Since she was at the university as a student, acceptance and support for LGBTQ+ students has completely changed for the better on campus with the help of her work.
“Historically, even when I went to school here for a undergraduate and graduate degree, you were closeted. You couldn’t talk to anybody,” Christian said.
“I was one of the few people, when I came here to teach (in the ’90s), to be out and people were afraid to be out,” she said. “… I was out here because I thought people need to know.”
And it didn’t come without negative backlash from students.
“They would say, ‘You’re going to hell.’ And, ‘You shouldn’t be teaching about this stuff,'” she said.
Going into the 2010s, more and more students and staff were out, or open about their LGBTQ+ identity, and now the university has a five star rating on the Campus Pride Index, which rates how LGBTQ+ friendly a campus is.
“You can really see a difference in the development of people when they’re allowed to be who they’re supposed to be, and not have to redefine their personality and their goals and who they are,” Christian said.
Her favorite part of her work over the last 28 years?
“Students getting to be who they are, totally. Having someone tell them they’re valuable. They’ve been told they’re not valuable. They’re valuable,” she said.
Source: Meet the UWGB professor behind decades of work advancing LGBTQ+ rights.