VCU hired the school’s first permanent representative of faculty, staff and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) this semester because of the collaborative efforts of Student Equality and the Office of Inclusive Excellence.
The university hired Michael K. Pisarcik as VCU’s first LGBTQ coordinator and diversity educator. Pisarcik will be responsible for serving as the professional voice of students in the LGBTQ community.
Before coming to VCU, Pisarcik helped run an education center, that helped serve high school students.
“I’ve done some activist work with causes like the Human Rights Campaign … I’ve also volunteered for various causes and benefits and I’ve always done a substantial amount of LGBTQ counseling,” Pisarcik said.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Pisarcik received his master’s degree in counseling from the University of Mississippi.
Pisarcik has also worked at the University of Mississippi establishing their Safe Zone program, was a math teacher and also worked as the director of assessment in Tennessee where he worked in epidemiology and mathematics. There, he did work with HIV and AIDS data collection systems.
“The more I transitioned from area to area, the more I learned about myself,” Pisarcik said. “I had been looking to get back into the field of LGBTQ work and so I was exploring and looking at various schools.”
In his new position, Pisarcik said he wants to develop a series to focus on professional development of LGBTQ individuals.
“The more comfortable a person can be … the more productive they can be, the better they can be,” he said.
Not only does Pisarcik hope to mentor students, he also plans to educate and help create a better climate for the VCU students who identify with the community.
Students like Caitlin Tolson, international studies major and president of Student Equality at VCU, eventually want Pisarcik to help voice things needed in their community to the administration, such as gender-neutral bathrooms and lavender housing, Tolson said.
Tolson is one of the students who expressed the need for an official advocate of the LGBTQ community on campus via letters to Reuban Rodriguez, the dean of student affairs.
Tolson, who is a lesbian, heard about queer-friendly or lavender housing projects at other universities.
Other schools that have housing for LGBTQ students include George Mason University, Old Dominion University, University of Richmond and Duke University.
Though Pisarcik said it is hard to predict the timeline for the creation of lavender housing, he said there are already people working on establishing more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
Pisarcik said his development and understanding of his part of the LGBTQ community as a gay man came through in his professional development.
“Knowing what I had to go through, and if I can make that easier for any other individual who’ll put something in place to make a university more welcoming, I would like that,” he said.
Pisarcik said he would also like to challenge stereotypes such as actions, personalities and lifestyles of the people within the community.
“A lot of times individuals are sometimes surprised that I have two sons of my own through my first marriage to a female,” Pisarcik said.
With his relationship with his sons, who he said are both welcoming and accepting of his part in the community, his life experience “gives (him) another piece to bring to the table,” Pisarcik said.
Pisarcik took the position as the new diversity educator and LGBTQ coordinator on Dec. 1, said Wanda Mitchell, vice president of Inclusive Excellence.
“We hired a diversity educator and LGBT coordinator, it’s the same person,” Mitchell said. “So he is broad based in diversity and education and working on initiatives to advance the climate for members and allies of the LGBT community.”
Campus Pride Index surveys in 2011 showed VCU was an average ranking university in regards to the climate of the LGBTQ community and needed improvement, Mitchell said.
It’s not uncommon for universities to hire an LGBTQ coordinator; Mitchell said she has heard about similar positions from colleagues across the country.
Pisarcik’s experience in higher education, his background in curriculum development and professional development, the work that he’s done to advance LGBT issues throughout his life and his passion for the work is what made him stand out, Mitchell said.
“We are open to working with (students) to enhance the climate for diversity and inclusion at VCU,” Mitchell said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and we need the students to help us achieve the goals and desires that we have.”
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Mr. Pisarcik would serve as a representative of VCU students who identify as LGBTQ. He will also serve as a representative of VCU faculty and staff who identify as LGBTQ.