New Director of LGBTQ Student Center On Board

By Meredith Camel

New Director of LGBTQ Student Center On Board

By Meredith Camel
Van Bailey, the former director of BGLTQ Student Life at Harvard College, is the new inaugural director at UM.
Van Bailey
Van Bailey comes to UM from Harvard College.

Van Bailey is not shy about telling people he was once homeless. His gender identity and sexual orientation were at odds with his family’s conservative religious and cultural background, so at age 14, he transferred from his North Carolina high school to a performing arts school with a dormitory he could call home. He then lived year-round at Denison University in Ohio as an undergraduate English and black studies major.

Today Bailey feels right at home at the University of Miami, where he is the inaugural director of the LGBTQ Student Center, located on the second floor of the Whitten University Center on the Coral Gables campus. Set to open during the first week of classes this fall, the center will support the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning students and allies. Previously Bailey served as the inaugural director of BGLTQ Student Life at Harvard College.

Creation of the University of Miami’s LGBTQ Student Center, housed in the Division of Student Affairs, brings to fruition a key recommendation of the LGBTQ Task Force, which has been working with the LGBTQ Implementation Committee since 2013 to make significant changes throughout the University, including last year’s designation of gender-neutral restrooms and a forthcoming gender-inclusive housing option.

“I love working with diverse student populations and have missed being able to talk about intersectionality and how I show up as someone who comes from both Cuban and Jamaican heritage,” says Bailey, who also holds a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from The Ohio State University and an Ed.D. in educational leadership from California State University-Northridge.

Bailey’s early obstacles with his family—which have been healing over the years—did not dissuade him from being a very visible and confident student leader at Denison, taking on roles such as resident assistant, president of the Black Student Union, and a member of Student Government.

“As an undergrad I didn’t talk about my gender identity or sexuality much; I just showed up,” he says. “I didn’t come wrapped in a rainbow flag or anything; I’ve just always taken the approach of being very open and vulnerable when it comes to my story. That invites people into a space where they feel they can connect with you. They say, ‘If Van can show up as his whole self, maybe I can too.’”

While a doctoral student and residential community director, Bailey and a colleague launched a living-learning program for LGBTQ students to fill a gap in support for this community. That prepped him for his first LGBTQ-focused student affairs job—at the University of California-San Diego—and the realization of his professional calling.

“People ask why I do this work,” Bailey says, “and I say it’s because it’s life or death. Literally. There are students out there who are contemplating their worth every day. I’ve seen students pull themselves out of some really dark places.”

National studies confirm that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are more than twice as likely to commit suicide, and transgender people are more than nine times as likely. Bailey dedicates his life—here on campus and nationally as an invited speaker and member of advocacy group executive boards—to helping people embrace every aspect of their identity.

As the higher education voice on the National Center for Transgender Equality board, he guides conversations about how policies such as Title IX, housing, and facilities affect transgender students. For the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals board, he chairs an initiative to support people of color in LGBT-specific fields (“there aren’t that many of us,” he says) and stresses “the importance of doing identity-based work within identity-based work.”

Bailey is also a diehard feminist who works with national organizations to reduce violence against women and girls—including the California-based Brown Boi Project, which he credits for giving him a new perspective on masculinity and patriarchy as a transgender man.

LGBTQ people aren’t a monolith. We are diverse and international and have differing abilities. We as a University community are going to work hard for students to feel like they can see themselves in the center.

“One of the things I have to be very cognizant of as I’m transitioning physically is that the more I get seen as male, the more privilege I get,” Bailey says. “It comes up in the ways I’m allowed to take up space and the way my voice can be seen as more weighted than others in the room. That was not always the case.”

As the University of Miami continues to develop a “culture of belonging,” which is a top priority among President Julio Frenk’s Roadmap Initiatives, Bailey sees the LGBTQ Student Center playing a central role. He is eager to partner with other campus organizations to develop programming that fosters identity-based dialogue and breaks down barriers to inclusivity.

“LGBTQ people aren’t a monolith,” Bailey says. “We are diverse and international and have differing abilities. We as a University community are going to work hard for students to feel like they can see themselves in the center, regardless of whether they identify as a Muslim lesbian from Kansas or a Latino gay man from Miami. It’s very important for them to feel they have a safe space where they don’t have to check other identities at the door.”