In June, we celebrate Pride Month, during which we honor the decades of challenges the LGBTQIA+ community has encountered in their struggle to be heard, respected and accepted around the globe. To commemorate their successes and their continued efforts, we interviewed the program lead for the Office of Inclusive Excellence (OIE), Cheyenne Murray, who is also a member of the LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group at Dallas College. Cheyenne is a recent hire to Dallas College, having joined the team in January 2022.
What do you enjoy the most about serving women and LGBTQIA+ students at the Richland Campus’ OIE?
“I’ve been able to create a space for students who don’t have a space for themselves,” Cheyenne said. She described one of her favorite activities called “floor time,” where students arrive at her “little and normal office,” sit on the floor and talk about finals, transfer opportunities and how their day has gone. Cheyenne said she provides blankets, pillows and snacks to help the students relax. The main purpose of this initiative is to generate a deeper connection with and among the students. “Sometimes we lose sight of how important it is to have that one-on-one engagement. One action can change the life of another person,” she said.
A Commitment to Building Community and to Social Justice
Cheyenne earned a bachelor’s degree in human rights and a master’s degree in human rights and social justice, both from Southern Methodist University.
During her master’s program, she was able to work with low-income and first-generation students through the federal TRIO program. This gave her an opportunity to help a sector of the population that she cared about. However, she admits that it was daunting during the pandemic to spend more than 12 hours a day in front of her computer studying within a program that wasn’t designed to be virtual. The process took longer than normal because everything slowed down.
“We have not fully realized what switching to virtual so quickly has done. I’m not saying it’s bad, but the transition is difficult, and for me, it was a huge challenge,” Cheyenne said. At the same time, college showed her the importance of her work. It was there where she met other people who were doing the same type of work and people who taught her about new causes.
The Office of Inclusive Excellence didn’t exist prior to the reorganization of Dallas College, so she and her three colleagues are creating their initiatives from scratch. Their goal is to encourage students to meet in person. “It is exciting being that person creating that space from nothing, creating the program and helping people to connect,” Cheyenne said. They are discovering what the students want to do.
“Sometimes we put things on, and they don’t work, and that’s okay,” she said.
Cheyenne finds her work exciting, even though it’s somewhat challenging for a staff of four to serve seven campuses. She wants to eventually have one staff person per campus so they can be a constant presence and students know where to go when an issue arises. She would also like to see the Women’s Leadership Conference that Dallas College has been organizing for the past 10 years (now under OIE) become a cornerstone Dallas College program. In addition, she hopes the LGBTQIA+ student event celebrated in October can serve as a forum that includes people and students from outside the Dallas College community.
The Power of a Role Model and Experiencing Growth
Cheyenne said Dr. Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Program at SMU, who taught her first — and most difficult — undergraduate class, is a great inspiration to her. For him, it was imperative to investigate the abuse and injustices of the world so that once you learned about the issues, you could act.
Cheyenne said this philosophy shaped her view on how to be a change agent, particularly regarding her work with LGBTQIA+ students. Knowing what is happening in the broader community and the issues that are impacting students is something that shapes her job.
Cheyenne said it is important for her personal and professional growth to have the women and LGBTQIA+ centers. “We are trying to do more than just give the services that are listed in the job description. I think making that connection and really taking the time to build the connection the way they want to be connected, it really makes a difference. That’s the way I try to approach the work that I do, and I think the successes that I have seen in my colleagues come from that place as well,” she said.
She confesses that a “younger Cheyenne” was fearful that people would find out that she was a fraud because she didn’t have everything figured out. However, she knows now that it’s okay to figure out what you’re doing along the journey and that you don’t have to have it all together from the start.
Dallas College celebrates the rich and diverse tapestry of our community members, their heritages, customs, practices and values. We are committed to highlighting topics that will advance our knowledge and understanding to bring about greater inclusion and community-based belonging. We encourage dialogues that help us to not only grow our understanding and empathy toward others, but that also support personal growth and exploration.
We continue to encourage our community members to act with kindness in mind and heart and treat each other with empathy and compassion. Let’s live our mission and values by honoring our differences, embracing our distinct cultures and uplifting each other.
- Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- General Number: 214-378-1591
- Voice line: 972-860-7800
- Online: Diversity@dcccd.edu