Former director expanded gender and sexuality programming
After three years as Assistant Dean of Intercultural Development and Coordinator of Gender and Sexuality Programs at Lafayette Gene Kelly left the college in June, citing personal and health reasons for his resignation.
Kelly said that during his time at Lafayette, he had been dealing with health issues, which may have been exasperated by the stress of his job in his last year. These health issues, according to Kelly, ultimately culminated in surgery last spring.
Kelly, whose contract was up at the end of May, said he began “selectively looking for positions in the spring semester.”
Kelly was brought into Lafayette to increase the visibility of “those who are queer identified or LGBTQ identified on campus and to bring [those discussions] out of the shadows into the public space,” said Dean of Intercultural Development John McKnight, who hired Kelly in 2012.
According to McKnight, a Campus Climate Study administered in 2010 found that support both for women on campus and for queer identified students and faculty and staff was highlighted as something Lafayette needed to work on.
“In the first year, really, he kind of hit the ground running trying to make sure that the campus was making those issues a lot more visible,” McKnight said. “I think he did a fantastic job of that.”
“I think if we were to conduct [the Climate Campus Study] again, I think we’d be in a very different place right now,” McKnight said.
Kelly said that when he came back from surgery, he took the time to reevaluate what he wanted from both his personal and professional life.
“It wasn’t 100 percent everything that I wanted to be doing for the rest of my career,” Kelly said.
Kelly acknowledged that his resignation may have come as a surprise to some students.
“I’m sure it was shocking for students when they came back, or a little bit shocking when I sent some students [that I was working with] an email in June…to let them know I was leaving,” Kelly said.
“I know people are going to have questions, and I get that,” McKnight said. “[But] when it comes to comings and goings, it’s actually not that surprising that people would come and go, especially administrators, because in higher education that’s a pretty common thing to have turnover.”
Kelly said that he never received direct or personal pushback from the Lafayette College Board of Trustees or administration, despite the possibility of criticism of his programs that others may have felt.
“I can’t even say I personally received pushback, because I really didn’t,” Kelly said. “Now that might have gotten to President Byerly, or Vice President Diorio, or Dean McKnight, but that never sort of, trickled down to me, per say.”
Kelly said he is sure, however, that the college received numerous parent and alumni concerns for his programming, particularly for bringing adult film star Miriam Weeks “Belle Knox” to campus.
“Lafayette College posted about it on their Facebook and alumni freaked out all over that Facebook thread…I think a lot of people just thought it was wildly inappropriate,” said Kathryn Schwacha ‘16, who worked closely with Kelly. “But if that was reason enough to get rid of someone, [bringing the adult film star on campus] would never have been approved in the first place.”
McKnight said that it is the nature of the GSP position itself that was controversial.
“I think that Gene, the person, was very provocative with his programming. I think a lot of students and faculty and staff responded really well to that. Some not so much,” McKnight said. “But I think that’s actually less about him and more about the nature of the program in itself.”
“My job is, in my opinion, a difficult one for anyone at a college like Lafayette, with a storied academic and alumni tradition,” Kelly said in agreement.
“Maybe we stirred the pot. Maybe we’ve gotten some great visibility and gotten some really great campaigns and really put these issues front and center,” Kelly said. “Maybe it’s time for someone else to kind of pick this up and maybe it doesn’t need to be a pot-stirrer.”
The GSP coordinator that filled Kelly’s position, Cristina Usino, started her job Tuesday.
Kelly is currently pursuing a post-graduate certificate program in diversity, social justice and inclusion at the University of Colorado, University Springs, lecturing at Marywood University, and searching for work in a more metropolitan area.