College is a place where all students deserve to not only feel safe and respected but welcomed with open arms.
Casey Butler, the new associate director of LGBTQ+ Campus Life in the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion at the University of Richmond, has spent the first few months in their position working hard to make sure students are seen and heard.
It is Butler’s job to focus on support, advocacy and programming for LGBTQ+ students. They emphasized the importance of the SCEI and its intersectional approach to supporting students who are underrepresented in higher education.
“In other colleges, [programs and resources] are very siloed, and they oftentimes don’t leave room for intersectionality,” Butler said.
At UR, students who face various types of marginalization often go to see Butler.
“They get along really well with students,” said sophomore Ella Myers, treasurer of the LGBTQ+ Coalition. She said Casey even brings their dog to see students every Friday.
María Zambrano Dávila, a sophomore and employee at SCEI, said Butler has been a wonderful mentor for students. Students put a lot of trust in Butler, Zambrano Dávila said.
“My friends of color, who are also queer, have felt that Casey’s a good mentor and a safe space to go to,” Zambrano Dávila said.
Butler is the staff advisor for the LGBTQ+ Student Coalition, which partners with LGBTQ+ Campus Life. They coordinate the Affinity Groups with LGBTQ+ students: Shades of Pride, for LGBTQ+ students of color; Kaleidoscope, for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students; Bi/Pan+ Social Support; and Ace/Aro+ Space.
“We want to make sure that we are carving out some intentional space for those communities to thrive and find support,” Butler said.
Zambrano Dávila said these Affinity Groups were not as active before Butler was hired. They helped revive them this semester.
“Ever since Casey came in, things have been changing really fast,” said Zambrano Dávila.
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Zambrano Dávila also initiated the painting of the new mural in the LGBTQ+ lounge on the second floor of Whitehurst. They tried to propose the mural multiple times last semester, but the idea was never turned to action until brought to Butler’s attention, Zambrano Dávila said.
Zambrano Dávila is one of the founders of next year’s Lavender Living Community, which will be available to LGBTQ+ students and allies. Butler is the staff advisor for Lavender Living and has put together multiple meetings with housing and the Center for Student Involvement.
“They have done a really good job of taking the burden off of us and making it an institutional thing,” Zambrano Dávila said.
It is also Butler’s responsibility to run the Affirming Space Training Program, which consists of two 90-minute sessions where faculty, staff and students can fill the gaps in their education on LGBTQ+-related topics. After these two sessions, people can attend the Deeper Dives, which allows people to focus on more specific topics.
In combination with the Affinity Groups and training programs, Butler is also responsible for putting together various campus events.
“Part of my mission is really to create a campus climate and culture where folks feel like being out is something that is celebrated and positive,” Butler said.
They said that the direct conversations they have with students are the best part of their job. They listen to students and do their best to ensure everyone is receiving the help and change that they want, Butler said.
Working with students is not Butler’s only job, however. They are involved in many discussions with the administration to make sure the needs of students are met, acting as that connection between students and faculty.
“There’s a mission behind the work that I do, and that’s making sure that our students can really thrive in any context they find themselves in on campus,” Butler said.
Butler said that being a gender nonconforming and queer-identified person they quickly found an interest in themes around gender and sexuality while studying anthropology in college. Learning about these topics helped them understand their encounters with marginalization. This also inspired them to help others in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I see this work as a gift because I can be that person that I needed when I was younger,” Butler said.
Butler got their master’s degree in sociology, specializing in gender and sexuality at the University of Amsterdam.
In July 2022, they moved to Richmond and almost immediately began work at UR., Butler said.
Recently, Butler has been working to change the accessibility of gender-flexible housing for students. Currently, gender-flexible housing can only be accessed by students who have chosen a roommate already. They also want to allow students to select their genders on Bannerweb, rather than basing choices solely off legal sex. These changes would allow for students to be housed much more appropriately based on their personal needs, Butler said.
Butler recognizes the need to fight for what UR students need. Often, this includes a lot of emotional labor for everyone involved, they said.
“I think that’s important,” Butler said. “To think about your legacy and how you’re gonna leave this university behind.”
Contact features writer Solace Church at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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