At the Crossroads

by | Jan 21, 2016 | 0 comments

I know what intersectional life is:
As a Black woman who is Queer-identified and disabled there is no shortage of vantage points from which I live my life. It is my insider/outsider status that enables me to move through so many different spaces and to work for justice authentically.

Coming from Brooklyn to Madison was a huge transition, and changing the scope of the work I used to do from national and international for youth and justice to colleges and universities that are predominantly white was tough. I learned a lot about how racism and white privilege operated in higher education. That re-sparked and fueled my love and dedication for higher education. I knew I wanted to study and work towards equity and justice in those spaces.

As I pursue my advanced degree I have been given a tremendous opportunity to do LGBTQ student of color work locally and nationally at the University of Wisconsin-Madison through the Crossroads Initiative. We have many types of events and programs including discussion groups, workshops, speakers, and social events. This work changes from day to day but is always centered in LGBTQ student of color needs and issues. It allows for Queer and Trans Students of Color (QTSOC) to voice how their needs are unique from the majority LGBTQ student population and create opportunities to address those differences. The other side to that creativity and innovation is the demand for accountability and growth from majority LGBTQ students. Having a Crossroads Initiative at our university casts a light on the simple fact that we need an initiative and pushes us to work for justice and equity so something like this would no longer be necessary.

A major national incident that put in high relief the need for QTPOC-directed initiatives was the Rachel Dolezal/Caitlyn Jenner conversation that took place on national television. While some people felt that if Caitlyn was to be “accepted” as a woman, then Rachel should be able to claim being black. What this entire argument missed was that being trans-identified is not equivalent to being Black-identified, and it erased that trans people of color exist. I saw my students in person and on social media feel erased, silenced, and aggressed in their own intersectional identities throughout this scandal. I had to remind them that transphobia and anti-blackness is something we will always have to fight against.

I have had a passion for justice and education since I was a child in Cleveland, Ohio. I remember vividly loving school and always being excited about learning new things. At the age of 14 I committed my first overtly political act by writing a letter to the mayor. I was extremely upset that the city was going to spend lots of money on a sports stadium instead of schools. The junior high school I attended was so severely out of date that we didn’t have a functioning computer lab, up-to-date books, or air conditioning in the building. I still did not know how to type, so I enlisted the help of my English teacher, who took dictation from me, corrected my grammar and structure, and mailed the letter. I got a response back from the mayor’s office. It was a form letter that made reference to a rainy day fund. I reminded the mayor in a second letter that Cleveland Public Schools had been in a hurricane since, at that time, we had not passed a school levy to get extra tax revenue in over 25 years.

Sheltreese accepting Fair Wisconsin’s Activist of the Year award this past spring.

Sheltreese accepting
Fair Wisconsin’s Activist of the Year award this past spring.


It was the first time I recognized I could speak out against injustice even if and when the powers that be try to pacify or ignore you. I learned that fighting for equity and justice was a lifelong commitment. I took that passion with me to college at Bowling Green State University and moved into larger issues around people of color and queer visibility, workers’ rights, and anti war campaigns. Justice and equity is at the core of who I am, and as I grow older and come to understand my own identities, I take advantage of and create opportunities to expand my reach to change the world around me.

QTSOC work is not only my professional work but also built into my scholarship. I am currently pursuing my PhD in Higher Education with a focus on LGBTQ People of Color in colleges and universities. It is this dedication and drive that pushed me to start my own national consulting company called Change the Field, LLC. I specialize in trainings, workshops, keynote speaking, and long term strategic planning to improve services for QTSOC.

Through my work as a higher education scholar, student affairs professional and consulting firm owner, I hope to transform our collective understandings of the complex lives of queer and trans students of color. My hope is, through the development of understanding, campuses and organizations will recognize that (1) our campuses are growing by leaps and bounds with queer and trans students of color who deserve outstanding educational experiences, and (2) marginalizing, regulating, and making invisible QTSOC will render my colleagues’ work less creative, inequitable, and stuck in reactionary mode, going from crisis to crisis instead of being proactive and forward-looking.

This work is not only important because it demands that campuses do better for their queer and trans students of color but also because it is the crux of who I am. It is my identity that is so intimately tied into my work—there is no beginning and end. And while some see this as a problem, I see it as a gift. A gift that allows me to always be humble, compassionate, and determined to make a change in higher education. It gives me the ability to sympathize and empathize when students come to discuss challenges with me. I can honestly say to them I know, and what can I do to help? Because I have been there.

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