GSSS: A Troubling Past and a Promising Future

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Photographs courtesy of www.uis.edu/gendersexualitystudentservices/

On September 17, Patricia Sanchez sent out an email on behalf of Dr. Van Vieregge, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, titled “GSSS Office Update.” In this email it was relayed to the student body that the Gender and Sexuality Student Services (GSSS) would become a part of the Diversity Center under Director Justin Rose. The email went on to state that Sara-Ann Rosen, the Graduate Assistant for GSSS, would handle day-to-day operations while they were in the process of hiring a program coordinator to oversee the Safe Zone and other GSSS programs. With this email, many students asked the same question: What happened to GSSS Director Kerry Poynter?

            A search of the staff listed on both the Diversity Center and GSSS websites makes it clear that Mr. Poynter is no longer part of the staff in this office. It is unclear if Mr. Poynter is still an employee at UIS, since the UIS staff directory continues to list him as the Director of GSSS. Mr. Poynter leaving GSSS was kept exceptionally quiet and there seems to be no public explanation for his position being terminated.

            The Diversity Center and GSSS are not able to divulge the information surrounding Mr. Poynter. The hiring and firing processes at UIS have always been extremely secretive, so the responses received were expected and respected. What was odd was the lack of response from those who have worked with Mr. Poynter. Only one current worker, Graduate Assistant Sara-Ann Rosen for GSSS, mentioned Mr. Poynter in an email responding to questions about GSSS, saying,  “I sincerely admire and am grateful for the years of innovative programming and greater campus visibility resulting from Kerry Poynter’s work, which will continue to inform GSSS’s vision.”

            While current workers remained silent about what it was like to work with Mr. Poynter, past student workers felt no such loyalty. Amileo Glover, a past student-coordinator, came forward with what it was like to work under Kerry Poynter. His statement was honest about his good intentions when he first started working in GSSS, but described ways in which it was felt that Director Poynter poisoned the office environment. Glover brought to light startling and unsettling information on what happened in this office, such as racism and sexual harassment. Glover and his coworkers wanted to create a space for all queer people, especially those who are people of color, yet Glover stated “[Mr. Poynter] actively tried to reorient our different programs missions to cater to the desires of white queer people,” even when the staff had different goals for their programs in mind. It also became apparent that Poynter had favorites, which Glover indicated were “young, gay and white males” while keeping around a few minority students to tokenize them at meetings and public events.

The most distressing statement came when Glover wrote, “[i]t got to a point in which the staff and I grew incredibly uncomfortable when he asked us to foster the idea in students minds to be comfortable to talk about their sex lives with him.” Even when the staff informed Mr. Poynter that students would not be comfortable discussing their sex lives with him due to the age difference and his job title, he pushed his staff to encourage students to come to him with this subject. Mr. Poynter was able to keep his actions contained for so long due to the isolation of GSSS. Glover said, “Kerry… would push us to not create events with other offices… he did not like us working with the Women’s Center and openly talked negatively about the previous coordinator of the center, Lynn.”

            The information about how the past director of GSSS ran and handled his office is upsetting to say the least but that era is over. Under the leadership of Director Rose, GSSS looks forward to a bright future. Glover also mentioned Rose in his statement, saying, “I enjoyed working with Justin Rose in the Diversity Center because he was always welcoming and fostering towards the avenues of equity, representation and inclusion.” Director Rose himself shared these sentiments in his own statement about what he envisioned for the joining of GSSS and the Diversity Center, saying, “in this new partnership, I believe it provides an opportunity to align with the pillars and practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion that we promote at UIS…there is an increased opportunity for the commitment of equity over injustice. I believe it starts with continuing to lean in and support many of the programs and services that already exist like Safe Zone, LGBTea, support groups like Shades and Fluidity, but equally as important is keeping an attentive ear to the student experience on our college campus. Understanding their experience will play a huge role in our efforts to adapt to stay a safe, inclusive, and nurturing environment for sexual and gender minority students and colleagues alike.”

Graduate Assistant Rosen is also an equally important partner in the unifying of the Diversity Center and GSSS and she is ready to take on her new, more interactive role of handling the day-to-day operations of GSSS. She stated, “I feel privileged to be able to serve that cause through the new partnership with the Diversity Center under the direction of Justin Rose.”