This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of IDENTIFY.
Story and photo by Ryan Gavin
Eli Kean joined the Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity as the LGBTQ Resource Center’s Coordinator in August 2019. They are an affiliate faculty member with Mizzou’s Women’s and Gender Studies department, serve as adviser for Queer Liberation Front, and are a member of several professional organizations such as AERA and ACPA.
Kean got degrees from MU (Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, Environmental Studies minor), University of Missouri-Kansas City (Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration) and Michigan State University (Ph.D., Curriculum & Instruction) before joining our staff. Get to know them better!
What led you back to MU after getting your bachelor’s degree here?
I spent some time in the non-profit sector, I’ve done some faculty work, many iterations of higher ed administration work, and I’m really happy to be here to support LGBTQ students and serve as a resource for other students, faculty and staff on campus for queer and trans issues.
Working on LBGTQ issues is my biggest passion in regards to education, so working as the coordinator of the resource center is a really great opportunity to work with students, which I find really fulfilling. And I also get to serve as an education portal for folks who want to serve our LGBTQ students better; to educate folks on why the presence of LGBTQ students, faculty and staff really matter; and to make this a better place to be. I want to serve as someone who can provide advice, support and outreach on all issues no matter what your question is.
I didn’t expect to be back. Columbia is a place where if you love it, you might stay a long time. I’m from Kansas City originally, so it’s never been too far from home, but this passion that exists in this space drew me back in.
What are some of the things that have surprised you about the work so far?
I wouldn’t say I’ve had any great surprises. Mizzou is in a pretty great place at the moment in terms of wanting to be inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ people. My colleagues are wonderful, and that makes the job completely worth all of the stress that comes from working in higher ed sometimes.
I will say that it’s great to be back at Mizzou because the students are so passionate about social justice issues, and that’s something I have not seen at other universities. It’s just something very unique to Columbia, to Mizzou, and I am very grateful that this spirit is still here. I felt it when I was a student; just the fact that students are passionate about making the community a better place and fighting for social justice really empowers me to do my job and fight for their needs even harder.
What drew you to higher ed, both as a student and a profession?
It’s the impact you can have on future generations. Working for non-profits is great, working in politics is impactful in its own way, but there’s just something about knowing that no matter how long you stay in higher ed, you will be impacting the next generation and everyone they interact with. It’s very intriguing to me. As a trans person, the negative experiences I had as a student has really strengthened my conviction to work in this area.
What are some of your goals as the new coordinator?
I would really like to strengthen the connections that the resource center has with faculty. I think there’s a lot that can be done in terms of collaborating with them, working on how gender and sexuality are taught in our classes. I know a lot of departments have classes that talk about these topics, but at this point we’re not really sure how they’re being taught, whether they’re using best practices, whether they’re using the right terminology, so that’s something I would like to work toward.
At the same time, I want to work toward affirming policies. We have the preferred name policy, we have some good movement on gender-neutral bathrooms, but what else can we do to really provide an affirming and safe space for LGBTQ students moving forward?
I hope that faculty will be more willing to consider my expertise in terms of curriculum and creating courses that are affirming and welcoming. I hope we can have some strong collaborations and relationships where maybe there hasn’t been that before.
So outside of the academic environment, how do you like to spend your time?
I love to be out in nature and consider myself to be an amateur nature photographer. I love taking photographs of trees and sunsets and flowers and whatever. [Note: You can give Eli a follow on Instagram at @eeveekay]. I like playing video games and just spending time with friends. When time and money allow, I like to travel. I enjoy learning about new cultures and thinking about philosophical questions, just growing as a person and doing things that make me feel fulfilled in myself and my relationships with others is really important to me.