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Commissioner Spotlight

Luke Garton

Pronouns: he, him, his

What is your position at the University?

I am the Petition and DARS (Degree Audit Reporting System) Coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences. Prior to that, I worked as an Academic Advisor in Arts and Sciences as well as the Departments of English and History.

What is your role on the Commission?

I have been a member of the Commission for going on seven years and have served as co-chair of the Membership and Awards Committee for the last three.

Discuss some of your recent accomplishments and/or areas of study relating to the LGBTQ+ community.

My work with the LGBTQ+ community began when I was hired as the first ever Graduate Assistant for the Office of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt. As their GA, I organized weekly brown bag luncheons for students, staff, and faculty called “TGILGBTQIF;” facilitated Safe Zone workshops; coordinated a holiday potluck affectionately known as “Homo for the Holidays;” co-advised three undergraduate and graduate LGBTQ-themed student organizations; and planned our annual Lavender Graduation ceremony. During my second year of graduate school, I was chosen to be the first GA for Vanderbilt’s Women’s Center. This provided me with even more experience related to gender and sexuality. I was also elected President of the Peabody Queeries (the Gay/Straight Alliance for Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development) at this time.

When I started working at UT, I immediately inquired about joining the Commission. The co-chairs at the time asked if I would be interested in establishing a professional mentorship program so that LGBTQ+ students could get better-connected with LGBTQ+ faculty and staff. I jumped at the chance! I coordinated the LGBTQ Mentorship Program from 2011-2014, researching peer institutions, creating all of the paperwork/policies involved, and pairing the mentors and mentees.

In addition, I am in my third year serving as co-chair of the Commission’s Membership and Awards Committee, and I have been really enjoying it. During this period of time, we changed the award review procedure, making it more in line with similar committees across the country. One of our more ambitious goals this year is to create a database highlighting LGBTQ+ research and projects conducted by UT faculty, staff, and potentially students.

With regards to my work in the College of Arts and Sciences, I have organized two Safe Zone trainings for my office over the last few years. I am also a member of the NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) Commission for LGBTQA Advising and Advocacy, and I co-presented with the chair of that Commission and two others at the NACADA

Annual Conference in 2013 (our presentation was entitled “Elevating Fluidity: Advising Bisexual or Fluid Students”).

In what ways do you see the Commission impacting the University?

The Commission is the voice of the LGBTQ+ community at UT. Without it, visibility would greatly diminish. We are charged with ensuring that Chancellor Davenport, President DiPietro, the Board of Trustees, and the state legislature understand our unique concerns and challenges.

We must always remember that not every college and university has a Commission for LGBT People and/or a Pride Center. We are lucky enough to have both and should be grateful for this. I know there are a lot of prospective students, staff, and faculty who browse through UT’s website to see what resources and opportunities LGBTQ+ people have at their disposal. And knowing that we have both the Commission and the Pride Center lets individuals of all identities know that they are welcome and have people fighting for them.

What would you like to see in the future at UT for LGBTQ+ people?

New institutional leadership means new possibilities. I would love to see the Pride Center expand to include more full-time staff as well as a larger physical space. Having worked at the Office of LGBTQI Life in graduate school, I know how important it is for students to have a place to connect and be themselves.

A thriving Safe Zone program and additional diversity training opportunities also need to be taken into consideration. By this, I do not mean chances to simply pad a résumé or CV…I am talking about meaningful trainings that participants can share with their classmates, friends, and colleagues and that require follow-up/reflection.

Another thing I would like to see is more networking opportunities with faculty and staff. LGBTQ+ and allied faculty and staff are often insulated and only know others in their department who identify within the community. Monthly faculty/staff brown bag luncheons would be a good way to bring people from across campus together. Other than Commission meetings, there are not many other ways for LGBTQ+ faculty and staff to interact. I am hopeful that the research database we are trying to create in the Membership and Awards Committee will provide new collaboration opportunities for people with similar interests.

Finally, I would like to see more students join the Commission so that we have broader perspectives.

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