- Synopsis: Introduction and BackgroundKeywords: Law School; Military; LesbianTranscript: DVORAK: One, go [Countdown when starting the recording]. All right. Hello. My name is Alice Dvorak. I am here with my fellow interviewer, Ryan Potochnik and our narrator Jeanne Meyer. Today is Friday, October 11th 2019. We are here in the DeKalb public library in scenic downtown DeKalb, Illinois to conduct an oral history interview. With Jeanne Meyer for Northern Illinois University's 125th anniversary oral history project. Thank you Ms. Meyer for participating in this project.
MEYER: Thank you, Alice.
DVORAK: All right. Now I’d like to start, could you introduce yourself a bit and give your background before you came to NIU?
MEYER: Sure. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in Mount Prospect, went to high school at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois. I joined the Navy from college, went to college in Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Florida. Joined the Navy, spent eight years in the Navy, traveled the world, lived in Scotland, lived in Florida, lived in Hawaii. My last few years I was a special agent with Naval Criminal Investigative Service in Honolulu, Hawaii. That was a great job, and then I decided I wanted to go to law school. I looked around, Illinois has what's called the Illinois Veterans Grant, so you can attend any level of education if you return to Illinois from Illinois in the military. So I went to NIU for law school from 1995 to 1998. I was a student at NIU Law School. During that time, I founded the first LGBT student law organization at NIU. I also became a member of what is now known as Prism which at that time was the LGBT Coalition. When I graduated from law school, I started practicing law. My specialty was criminal law, so I worked in child protection and Misdemeanor Court. Eventually, I decided I wanted to do something different, so I got a job in DeKalb, Illinois as the Director of the Rape Crisis Center. Did that for a few years, and then I got back into law enforcement. I was interested in law enforcement, so in 2005, I started with the NIU police. Then in 2012, I began my career in student affairs. I worked as the Director of student conduct now. It was last year, so that would be 2018 through 2019 that I was the chair of the Presidential Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Believe it or not, that's the abbreviated version.
DVORAK: Was there anything that drew you to NIU in particular over any other school?
MEYER: Free education was highly motivating for me. Frankly, I was not a good undergrad student and I wanted to go to law school and that restricted my options. The best law school I applied to was NIU. It happened to be close to my parents. That's really what drove me. It turned out to be a great fit because I was struggling with my sexuality at the time. It was 1995, I was in the military prior to that and one of my responsibilities in the military was on occasion, I was responsible for dismissing sailors who were lesbian, gay, bisexual. That was really tough and I started to realize that I was also lesbian. Part of my reason of getting out, I figured out, later on, was that law school gave me an opportunity to be outside of work and figure out my sexuality. NIU was where that happened.
- Synopsis: LGBTQ Community HistoryKeywords: LGBTQ; Faculty; StudentsTranscript: DVORAK: Can you tell us what's been like being a member of NIU's LGBTQ Community for several decades?
MEYER: Gosh, I hadn't thought of it that way. Yes, it has changed greatly and not at all at the same time. Because I was coming out in 1995 and it was during my first year of law school, that is an incredibly stressful time. I was older. I was 29. I hadn't told anybody I was lesbian. I started to go to counseling and my counselor challenged me to go to a dance; what was then the LGBT Coalition. I went to my dance. It was an NIU dance. The entire community was so welcoming. That wasn't my experience prior to NIU, and I think it helped me move me along that process. I got very involved. What I found as a community is the students, in particular, were kind of a ragtag group of queer people thrown together by this commonality that were really different. They weren't just different based on their sexuality. You had every kind of person in that room. It was the period right after HIV and AIDS, and so things were starting to get better in '95, but we certainly didn't have any legal protections. Learning about advocacy in law school and wanting to make a difference, the NIU LGBT community became my focus for my last two years of law school. I got involved in the community as well. DeKalb had a community group called Project Alliance. Our assistant general counsel, which is the attorney for the university, the general counsels, the attorney and then they have people under them. Really powerful people. One of them was an out gay man Norden Gilbert. Norden was everywhere. He was advising and I would look at him and go, "Oh, you can be out and gay and a lawyer." It was very formative for me. He incorporated the project Alliance community group. They would have potlucks once a month, the Community member and the students could come. They were open to anybody, there wasn't that wall that you frequently see between community. In the beginning, I was more focused on the community aspect than the NIU aspect because I didn't really see a lot of movement with NIU. As I progressed, in '96 and '97, were really important period of time for NIU. That is when the Presidential Advisory Commission on LGBT wrote a report to the president saying we have to improve the climate. They made some 25 specific recommendations, and one of those was we need to have a center. That didn't happen, that took a long time to happen. The other thing they said is we need to have a paid adviser for the student group. It was one of the largest student groups on campus and every year we struggled for funding through the student’s association because of bias. They just didn't see that it was appropriate to fund a student group based on sex, kind of a misidentification of what was happening. There were the fights on campus that were very polite. We were not protesters and marchers, but there was a lot of work done behind the scene that started to develop some Agency for our LGBT community. I saw a transition over those three years. When I came back to Northern in 2005, I saw that we now had a resource center, we had a full-time staff member, we had advisers for the student group. The student group had space on campus. For the first time, we were starting to offer insurance benefits for domestic partners. Over time, I saw a lot of organizational changing, and the core group of constituencies that were faculty and staff did not change. They were there creating a welcoming environment for students. But once you got outside of that bubble, it got more difficult. That's how I've seen the change. When I think about what's going on now, I continue to see a strong ally program. Care and concern from the president, the Board of Trustees and yet, there are still pockets at the University that are not welcome. We need to do a better job systematically of how we address those inequities. It isn't enough for us all to put placards out that say, "I'm an ally, and I support this community." We need research in the area. We need funding. We need to step out and invite LGBT students to this campus. Then follow through with the support to have them be successful. I think sometimes we invite them, we're really good at recruiting them. We use our agency in the community to exploit that. How are we then following that up with the resources, the counseling, the advocacy that that particular population needs? Just like every population needs, but that one has a specific set of risk factors that we need to address. That's how I think I've seen things change.
- Synopsis: Difficulties as Director of Student ConductKeywords: Discipline; Director; StudentsTranscript: DVORAK: In 2012, you took your current role as the Director of Student Conduct. What have been some challenges you experienced in that position in particular?
MEYER: Related to LGBT or…?
DVORAK: In general but if you want to focus on that.
MEYER: In general, it's really hard to work in an area where your job is disciplining. It's not a lot different than policing. It's not a lot different than parenting. I like to say I see the very best students at their worst. It's really easy to develop and engage students at their best, to develop and engage students at their worst is difficult. I was not prepared with the amount of caring and handholding it takes to make a student successful. I've learned over time, what it means to be a leader for students. A leader for students means sometimes I need to work with the students for an exit strategy out of NIU because they're not good for the community. Sometimes I need to work with support students to help students be successful at NIU. It's really hard to tell, in individual cases, which way is the best way to go because I can't predict future behavior. I don't know who is going to be the next shooter or violent person. I don't know who is going to interrupt our learning community, but I want to prevent that. The only way I know how to do that is to spend time with students, using all my training and to consult with other experts about the best path forward, which you both know is difficult because the age group I work for is 19 to 24. I certainly wouldn't want to be held to a standard of my behavior at 19 to 24. I don't want to hold those students for the rest of their life. I don't want to label them, but by the same token, I don't know who is going to remain dangerous and who is going to find their way. That's the challenge I find. As an LGBT person, I'm a director. Directors are middle management. They talk about being crunched. You got your people who you want to support, who want you to go one way. There are people above you who want the whole system to work are pushing down the other way and you have to find the middle. Frequently, students will come to me and say, "Well, I'm LGBT and you have this power. Can you use your agency or your power to advocate for me?" I can, but that only solves one student's issue. That doesn't address systematic problems. Really, what I communicate a lot is I have a lot less power than you may perceive I have. I also see we all have a tendency to rely on our individual characteristics or culture to make connections. I, having been law enforcement, I might find other law enforcement people that I'm connected with and can get along with. They accept me, I accept them. As an LGBT person, I have access to some people I wouldn't normally have because we share that identity, and that's good. It's also challenging, because NIU is a place of community. You only have so much power and you have to make sure that you're using it for good. What I found is I want to be an outspoken advocate for systems and for our students. NIU lets me do that because of where I am. I have a boss who's incredibly celebrative about diversity and seeks out. Doesn't just accept, but celebrates the fact that we have these identities that are different than hers and seeks out our expertise and knowledge. That's great. I certainly didn't have that other times in my life, but I want to make sure I'm not abusing that relationship. I'm also not biased and that's really easy. As a gay person, I find it really easy to like other gay, lesbian, queer people, sometimes to the detriment of others. I have to be careful in my job. What I like to say is, I address people's behavior. I don't address and I don't discipline or correct who you are. I discipline, correct, educate as to the behavior. What that should mean is, if the expectation is you don't engage in classroom disruption, then regardless of what you're talking about, I'm going to say you can't disrupt the classroom. I don't care if you're talking about Donald Trump or Black Lives Matter or Queer Manifesto, you can't disrupt the classroom. Sometimes that goes against my own personal values and morals. I have to be able to put that aside.
- Synopsis: Sexual Assault Assistance RolesKeywords: Title XI; Sexual Assault; Military; VictimsTranscript: DVORAK: Since you joined the Title IX board, how have anti-discrimination policies at NIU changed?
MEYER: Well, they've been changing a lot nationally and regionally. When I was in the military, I worked for NCIS, I investigated over 100 sexual assaults. In the 1990s, sexual assault in the military was absolutely prevalent. It was also a weapon that was used against queer people to get them out of the military. It was used in two ways. One was, if you were lesbian you were identified and they might send men to rape you to make you gay. That was one tool. Another tool that was used was if they perceived that you were lesbian, they would try and push you out based on sexual harassment. They would reverse it by saying, "You've sexually harassed somebody else, merely by being who you are." I came with that lens, being very careful about how I presented myself and about my queerness moving into the private world. What happened is, I got involved in Title IX as a police officer to respond to sexual assaults. Having come as the director of the Rape Crisis Center, the Chief of Police said, "I want you to be the victim advocate. I want you to work with our victims, not as the investigator. I want you to work with the victim as they speak with the investigator to help them understand what's happening." I did that to some degree as a police officer. It was really challenging, because there's a lot of misconception about what sexual assault investigation should be and shouldn't be, if you are considering the goal is prosecution. The vast majority of sexual assault cases don't get prosecuted. Even when the victim cooperates, but the system is set up in a very flawed way, so that victims are re-interviewed over and over again and begin to question themselves. When they question themselves, what frequently happens is they say, "Either A, I don't want to do anything anymore, I'm done. Or B, it never happened, because if it never happened, you'll leave me alone." Just because a victim in a police investigation says it never happened, doesn't mean it never happened. That's really hard for people to understand. When I got involved in the police, I was victim centered. Then I took over in Student Conduct in 2012. We did not have a Title IX office. Student Conduct handled all the sexual assaults, and Student Conduct met me. The level of proof in a Title IX case is different than a criminal case. In a criminal case, you have to get warrants and arrest somebody based on probable cause. In Student Conduct, you're either responsible or not responsible for sexual assault by a preponderance of the evidence. 51%, what's more likely? What we saw when I took over was an increase in findings of sexual assault at NIU, because we were strategic in how we addressed that. Then there was a push by the federal government for universities nationwide to approach sexual misconduct in a very structured way. I lost my ability in my office to support victims because I had to be seen legally as impartial. Title IX, we hired lawyer experts to take over investigating Title IX incidences. This is separate than the police. The police still did their thing, but rather than going to Student Conduct and see if you violated the code of conduct, we said, "No, we're going to create a Title IX policy." We're going to make sure we're neutral and we don't take anybody's side throughout the entire process. Well, victims are already feeling like, no one supports them, then you put a neutral person and you ask them to tell their story, they don't feel supported. They don't give the information in the full way that they could. What has resulted is less findings of sexual misconduct. You add on to that a layer of, you are more at risk to being a victim of a sexual assault if you're a person of color or if you're queer. Those two things, if you don't have somebody questioning you who you believe understands your circumstance, it is much more difficult for the person who's been abused to trust the person interviewing them and to give their story in a full way because victims find themselves trying to explain why they did what they did, rather than just explaining what happened and they get defensive. When they get defensive, you don't get the information you need from a impartial view to be able to move forward with the case. Because of this federal push to have universities be absolutely neutral, you're seeing less victims come forward, less offenders being held responsible. I think it's a detriment to the community. If you cheat on an exam, I'm going to kick you out if it's your second or third. I have to prove it by a preponderance of the evidence. If you rape somebody, I have to make sure I'm not using any hearsay evidence against you. I still have to prove it by a preponderance, but it is less likely I'm going to be able to prove it because I'm not going to consider all the things I could consider in cheating. It's a struggle. I don't see it getting better anytime soon. The federal government has walked back a lot of their protections. We used to say we're going to provide an advocate to victims. Now, the federal government says, whatever you provide the victims, you have to provide to what they call the respondent, what we used to call the perpetrator. The person who is alleged to have done the wrongdoing, before they even say anything, you have to give them an advocate. I believe we do a disservice because I believe victims go into that inherently at a lower level because they've experienced trauma. The person with the privilege is the person who had the power and control to commit that. I understand that they might be not responsible or innocent of that. How do you weigh the person who's starting out at a lower place and somebody else at a higher place and saying we're going to treat them equally? It's inherently unequal. You guys have heard my soap box now.
- Synopsis: 2008 ShootingKeywords: Shooting; Victims; Trauma; SupportTranscript: DVORAK: That pretty much covers the next question. Which of your various roles that you've played at NIU would say has been the most important to you?
MEYER: The one that has affected me most in my life is being the victim advocate for the survivors of the shooting in 2/14. 2/14/2008, NIU was the victim of a mass shooting, and it affected the campus community. We shut down for a week. I was tasked with going to the hospital after the shooting before we identified the victims and sitting with the people as they waited to see if their loved one was alive or dead. I was wearing my full police uniform. I was sitting for hours waiting as these parents waited to see was their child, one of the students who was dead on the floor of Cole Hall. You guys can tell I'm a pretty straightforward person. I'm not an emotional person. It's an excellent skill in times of high trauma. What that means is when I leave that and decompress, there's a bigger impact. I'm really privileged to have been there when the families were notified that their student died. I'm privileged that I could provide support. Over the next months and years, I got to know those moms and dads intimately and they’ve become friends. Didn't actually personally know their students, their child, but I feel like I know them now. It's been over 10 years. I'm still in contact with those people. It was not only those five students, it was also the 22 students who were injured and the 120 students in the classroom. NIU created one of the first in the country support and advocacy centers. Everybody who was in that building at the time of the shooting got free services in a standalone building staff full time back counselors, advocates and student development professionals. I helped them fill out paperwork for crime victims compensation. We went to programs. Anything to try and decompress from the stress. You can imagine, the shooting happened in February. Cole Hall was shut down. All the classes that were held at Cole Hall had to be held somewhere else. One of our few auditorium classrooms that can hold that many people. We had students meeting in the home Student Center in empty rooms for class, it was not ideal. That particular class, that was the victim of the shooting, they had to keep meeting and so they did. Not much was done, but the instructor thought it would be important that they finish this semester out, so they did. The office of support and advocacy gave an opportunity for those students to come somewhere and hang out. We did art projects. We went to baseball games. We went to plays. We carved pumpkins. Anything to sort of try and make life a little more normal. At the same time, those students struggled. There were a couple of real unique triggers which I will never forget and I have a response to. One is, that classroom had a concrete floor, and so when they ran out of the classroom, they literally ran out of their shoes. Some people had their shoes off because the heat was on, so it was freezing outside and hot inside and students sometimes wear flip flops or whatever, they had their shoes off, the shooting happens and they run out. They leave all their property in that room and there's blood and everything else, it was horrible. Then the students are, "I got to go back to class next week, where's my laptop?"We had to work to clean all that up and make it available so they could get their property back. They had to go into this room full of all this stuff and identify what was theirs. They had triggers based on that cement floor so some students like, I can't do any more lecture halls, I just can't. We had to find accommodations. The other one is, for a week we had helicopters overhead nonstop. For a lot of students, that noise is activating for them. We would send out campus announcements, "The news helicopter is going to be here tomorrow for some other event." It altered NIU and the biggest way I saw it alter NIU was to bring the community together. I felt like I was an integral part of bringing that community together. We had such a community that the groundskeepers and the professors were hugging each other, volunteering to hand out cookies for the students, helping students with their homework and that went on all semester. We had organizations who had particular agendas who stopped that entire agenda to get resources for the students directly affected, they did fundraising for scholarships. Everybody walked around in red and black. You felt like NIU had been transformed from this awful event to we're all Huskies, it was very powerful. While in some ways it was my worst time at NIU, it was also the most profound powerful time. I felt like I personally had a major impact. Every year we have a scholarship luncheon and we invite those families back. It's tough because their child, who they've lost, would be 31 now and they're gone. NIU supported them, none of those families sued NIU, none of those families went to the media and said NIU stinks. They thanked NIU for their support, I think that's important. What I take away from that is all of our institutions, whether it's your students or your employees, you support those people in a time of crisis and they will give back to you. I've tried to live my life that way.
- Synopsis: Changes on CampusKeywords: Diversity; Purpose; CutsTranscript: DVORAK: Thank you for sharing that. Sorry, there were a lot of questions that had to be covered by all that. How has the college changed overall since you first arrived as a student to today?
MEYER: It's amazing. When I walked on campus in 1995, I was a law student, I didn't get out much, but because I was the student president of Prism, I got to know all these undergrads. It was 10 years after my own college education, and so I got to see a transition. What I found at NIU is NIU, even in 1995, was a place where we offered diverse opportunities. You could minor in women's studies, you could major in all these amazing things and then we would create these certificate programs and classes that, in my limited experience, I knew nothing about. That was NIU then, I was impressed. What I did notice, though, overtime is NIU became a regionally accepted institution and somewhere where students from Chicago came. It was a diverse group of students. NIU was not a diverse faculty, staff place. I know we've worked really hard, but there aren't a lot of faculty of color, employees of color. If you're a student of color and you want to talk to somebody who maybe has experienced some of the same struggles you have, it's really hard to find somebody. I think that's an area we can do better in. I think where we have changed is we've become more of a liberal arts institution, it used to be students would study in their field and they would never get out of that. What I see now is we're encouraging our students to experience all NIU has to offer, whether it be student organization or employment or some kind of activity, becoming activists, that really is valued at NIU, the way it hasn't been valued before. I also think NIU has changed because money has become so limited and it's easy to shut people down by saying, "We don't have money." Rather than doing the harder work which is to find a way to do it with what we have. I would like to see us become an institution that has more of an identity so that we're known for whatever thing it is. We're known for a few things, but I think sometimes we try and be everything to everybody rather than narrow our focus. We have a great regional History Center, should that be our thing? We have a wonderful engineering program. I realize it has to change and evolve, but I think we need to do a better job of figuring out what is NIU's purpose, why NIU as opposed to Illinois State? Why NIU instead of Iowa? I think we need to be leaner and it's a very unpopular opinion, but I think we need to drop some programs to put those resources into things we want to develop, because as you're aware, enrollment's been going down. It's been going down over 10 years, population of Illinois is going down every single year. We can't just tighten our belt anymore, we have to make some cuts, and if we're going to do that strategically, I think now's the time. That's how I think it's changed.
- Synopsis: Stories about Past LGBTQ PrejudicesKeywords: LGBTQ; Students; Coming Out; Transgender; Anecdotes; PrejudicesTranscript: DVORAK: Do you have any other memorable stories from NIU either from your time as student or on the faculty other than the big one?
MEYER: Yeah, I do. I have some great funny ones and touching. I came from the military, I was in law school. First you do this and then you do this and you show up and they said, "We're going to have Coming Out Day, it's October 11th." Exactly how many years ago? We're going to have Coming Out Day, it's 1996 so--
MEYER: 23, good math.
DVORAK: I was born in '96.
MEYER: 23 years ago, and we're in the MLK Commons, we're handing out stickers, there's the Keith Haring photo of a man or woman, a person-outlined opening a door and coming out in rainbow. We're saying, "Wear this to support your LGBT peers." I was nervous because we're in the time and we're approaching people who are faculty, staff, students. We don't know if they're supportive or not. One of my Deans from the law school comes by and I say, "Will you wear this to show your support for your LGBT students?" He's like, "Sure." Puts it on, I'm like, "Wow, this is really cool." Then there's this big guy and I see him arguing with one of the students. Not like a back and forth, but just like, "Get away from me." Then he's walking towards me. I got riled and it's the military cap in me, so I went up to him, I'm like, "Why don't you wear this to support your LGBT?" He's a big guy wearing sweat pants. He says, "Get away from me." I'm like, "Oh, so you don't want to support your fellow students?" Then he screams, "Get away from me you fucking dyke." I'm like, "Okay. Well, thanks for that." He walks away. He is wearing sweats that say, "NIU Huskie." Then a round emblem that says, "Large or extra large," and the matching sweatpants, let's say NIU huskies and the round emblem that says, "Extra large or large." Well, in the 1990s, when you saw that, the only place you got those sweats were in the athletics department. He was obviously probably a football player, but I don't want to be biased. Maybe he was something else where you have to be really big. I told our faculty staff adviser. She said, "Oh, do you mind if I tell some other people?" I said, "Sure, go ahead." We kept track of all these homophobic incidences, and we had a meeting with the President, President La Tourette to air these grievances. President La Tourette was less than welcoming. I will say he did agree to the meeting, but he basically left us with this other senior staff member who was a woman who I suspected was gay. She did not say anything about being gay, and was somewhat challenging to us, "Well, how do you know?" "Because I know." She suggested we meet with the athletics department, so I did. Went in and met. Interestingly, they set in a coach who I also had good information was lesbian. I thought that was interesting. Maybe they thought she'd be more supportive. Her entire point was, you don't really know that that was an athlete. I'm like, "Well, this is so supportive." Then she's like, "Well, what do you want?" "Well, I want you to educate the athletes about it's okay to be gay, because you have some athletes who are lesbian, gay. They're telling us they don't feel supported." "Well, I don't know about that. They can't be out because of their job." I'm like, "I'm not saying I need to be out or not out. I'm just saying educate them." That was really kind of situation was like, "Hmm, there are a lot of straight people in power who think the way to handle queer people is to sit them down with another queer person." I'm like, "I don't know that that does anything." That was a unique experience. The other things I remember is Prism, which was then LGBT Coalition, was a student group, we had over 100 members in 1995. Everybody showed up to those dances. They were never on campus because they didn't allow alcohol on campus. We tried to find venues, we could have over 100 people dancing, and we would give out wristbands and check IDs and do all those things. It was $5 to get in, and you would get people from all around because there wasn't a place for LGBT people in the greater DeKalb area, and they would come to dance. We were meeting in a restaurant that closed down and we had to find another place. We went to another restaurant in Sycamore, they had this huge private room in the basement. Perfect. Yes, they would love to have us, they'd love to have the business. Everything was great. Then they found out we were gay, lesbian and they called us and said, "Oh, fire code won't allow this." "Who won't they allow? You have parties there all the time." "No, we're afraid it'll be too big." Now we go to another place, and everything is fine and dandy until we say we're lesbian gay group, then, “Oh we’re booked that night.” "Well, what about the--?" "We're booked that night." We ended up meeting in the basement of Eduardo's which is a really crappy space, but they let us and they took our money. I think for Eduardo's, it wasn't about being gay or lesbian, it was about, "We'll take your money." In order to find it, you had to really know where you were going. It was hidden away, so nobody else in Eduardo's knew we were down there. That lasted for a couple of years, but it was very enlightening to me. The other major thing that happened right after I graduated is DeKalb passed an ordinance. We were the third city in the States to pass an ordinance that says, "You cannot prohibit public accommodations based on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender." It got to the city council, said, "We'll pass it, but not transgender." We said, "We don't want it then. If you're not going to include everybody, we don't want it." They said, "Look, don't give up this opportunity." There were a lot of conflict as there should have been, what do we do? The organization decided we would take what we could get, but we wouldn't give up. We passed it and then a year later, one of the city council members came to us and said, "I think we can put the transgender protection in the revision of the policy without anybody being aware." That's what they did. Part of me was like, "Really? We have to be secret about this, like where's the equity in that? You know what? I'll take the protection." There was one citizen who went crazy, berserk over this. He put flyers on everybody's car that said, "I'm looking for someone to help wash my car and you can't be gay." Trying to like challenge the statute, but what he didn't realize is it didn't apply to an individual who wanted to hire another individual. It applied to companies who provide public accommodations. Eventually, he gave up and moved on, but for a long time, he would write letters to the newspaper, and it was frequently the Northern Star. If you look in the '90s, in the Northern Star, you'll see, I think it was Ted Campbell, was his name. I think you'll find his letters to the editor about how this was going to be the downfall of the entire community. That was a, I felt like a real victory. It was the one time in the city of DeKalb, they filled up the boardroom and the overflow room. The vast majority people were there to support it except for like two or three. Fred Phelps threatened to come with God hates fags, but he never showed up. I guess we were big enough, but it was a true victory. I believe to this day, it was a victory because of the clergy. The clergy came out strongly in 1996 to support this ordinance, and that was really neat for me. So, couple good stories.
- Synopsis: Further Information about Student ConductKeywords: Fraternity; Sorority; Student Conduct; Relationships; CoalitionsTranscript: DVORAK: Yes. All right. All right. What would you tell someone in your position coming to NIU for the first time this year?
MEYER: Someone who?
DVORAK: Someone who would basically be taking over your current job.
MEYER: My current job?
DVORAK: Yes, and they have no idea what what they're going into--
MEYER: That's a great question. Well, first of all, I would say to them, NIU is a great place to work. In my experience, the way to get things done is through personal relationships, and not necessarily through official channels. I think a lot of the strides I've made personally in student conduct have been through the relationships I've developed, not so much formally, but informally. Reaching out to the fraternity and sorority community to say, "What do you want to be about?" We have a major problem with fraternity and sorority life. We know it, they know it. I'm like, "I've built those relationships and they know how I feel." I think I would tell them that in student conduct, you have to build a couple allies in the student association and the student groups, because your real credibility doesn't come after the fact, it comes from preventing a problem, by having a student ally who's going to say, "We don't do that here. That's not how NIU is." Or, "Take this post down," it's dumb. Because if I tell somebody to take a post down, I'm limited by what the Government says. You have the freedom of expression. There's not much I can tell you to take down besides a threat, but you can say really stupid things, and I'm like, "I will I could tell you to take it down." One of your peers may say, "Do you realize how that's perceived? For the rest of your life, that's going to be out in the ether. Is that really what you want?" I think those personal relationships make a difference. I would also tell them NIU is an accepting community, and you get to make mistakes. I've made my share. We are not the flagship institution for the state of Illinois. We don't have those resources, we don't have those powers. We can complain about that all day and all night, or we can embrace that. We also don't have that spotlight and we can do things differently. For example, there was a problem recently with students getting their proper name on the graduation program. There are lots of legal reasons that you could argue about why you can or can't in legal names and all that. Really, it took someone pulling the president aside and saying, "Is this how we want to be?" The president saying, "No, it is not." The president going to those people and saying, "Make it happen." That's the kind of influence you can have here at Northern that you can't have other places. I see it over and over again. In our advocacy work for students, financial problems are rampant. We don't have a pool of money to help students. If you're a good student and you're $600, you have to owe less than $500. Let's say you owe $600, and you're like, "I just don't have it." There is no fund for us to say, "Somebody give that person $100 so they can register for classes and graduate." There are people who will open their check book and make it happen. I think that's great. It's important to understand where your support lies. It's important to be friends even with those people who may not support you to build those bridges. It's hard work. The other thing I would say is coalition building. Coalition building is so important, because there are very few concerns that directly affect everybody, but there are a lot of concerns that overlap. If we partner with the faculty who's trying to create a union because we recognize that you should be paid for your work, then when we say as gay lesbian people, we can still be fired, they're like, "Wait, you supported us when we were going for a contract, let's support you in passing this ordinance that says you can't be fired." Coalition building is, I think, how you move forward. That's what I'd tell the person who's taking my job.
- Synopsis: ConclusionsKeywords: Board of TrusteesTranscript: DVORAK: All right. Is there anything that we didn't cover today that you'd like to add for the 125th anniversary project?
MEYER: I have been blessed to work at NIU and to be myself. In various times, it's been hard or easy, but NIU has always made it worth it to me. What I'm really impressed by is a few years ago we had a member of the Board of Trustees who was the Chair. His name is John Butler. I know John Butler because John was a brand new faculty member at NIU and a gay man. He outlined the arguments we would make for the DeKalb Ordinance. He was young, baby-face young, PhD, trying to get tenure. He took his time, and he said, "No, this is important, I'm going to do this." Ultimately, I believe, this is a personal belief-- I believe John Butler didn't get tenure here, because his scholarship was around the work of LGBT. Because he spent so much time doing that, he probably paid the price in more academic ways. That was so sad, but to see him 15 years later as the Chair of the Board of Trustees, because he went off and did great things in the private sector, I like to think NIU built that. I think it's kind of an example of how sometimes NIU doesn't get it right the first time, but we learn from our mistakes and we take advantage of that. I guess that's a good place to end.
DVORAK: Yes, I do agree. Right.
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