At first glance, Chelsea Gilbert may not seem like an international educator. In her position as the director of Lehigh’s Pride Center, she works to build an inclusive community and empower LGBTQ+ and allied students, faculty and staff. She is also part of an effort to collaborate across campus to support all students and provide innovative international experiences.
“Our offices may function separately, but our students are living one life,” says Gilbert. “They don’t say this is the international part of me, this is the LGBT part of me. We’re all here for the same reason – to help students thrive and succeed. We need to get out of our silos and talk to do that.”
The Pride Center’s partnership with the Office of International Affairs is multifaceted. Pride Center staff work closely with study abroad advisors to support LGBTQ+ students who want to go abroad to help them have a safe, positive experience. The Pride Center offered a custom LUAlly training program for OIA staff, and many staff have attended open LUAlly sessions. And Pride Center staff help train International Orientation Leaders and participate in International Orientation to talk with new students about LGBTQ+ norms in the U.S.
“The rate of LGBT identity is the same across Lehigh’s student population, but international students engage less with our office,” says Gilbert. “It’s important that we engage with all of the lives that students are living and that they can bring their full, authentic selves to the university.”
Now the partnership has an additional dimension. In 2018 and 2019, Gilbert joined Bill Hunter, director of fellowship advising and UN programs, to co-lead ServeAbroad Antigua, a nine-day service trip to Antigua and Barbuda.
“Through the UN Partnership, I’ve worked with Chelsea on a variety of programs over the last few years,” says Hunter. “She's this incredible concoction of engaging, thoughtful, empowering, empathetic, open to new experiences and full of energy. She builds a deep and meaningful relationship with her students, and has the ability to teach and mentor as needed. This made choosing her as a co-leader for the Antigua trip a very easy decision.
“While I manage the logistics on the Antigua trip, Chelsea has taken the lead on many of the team-building aspects, such as group dynamics and the importance of reflection following our activities and projects. Both are critical to the success of the trip. She's also very quickly earned the respect of our Antiguan partners, making relationship building even smoother.”
Gilbert says this opportunity lets her build relationships with students that she might not otherwise meet and aligns with the Pride Center’s larger commitment to social justice.
“The thing I love seeing at Lehigh is the way students challenge us to think more deeply and intentionally,” she adds.
Though students enjoy the trip, some may feel their impact is limited because they are only in Antigua for nine days. Now Gilbert is working alongside Hunter to modify the experience based on the needs of students and the needs of the country, while also showing students that while the trip may be brief, it’s part of a larger relationship between Lehigh and Antigua and Barbuda. (For example, this year, students in the 1-MBA program will conduct a semester-long research project designed to stimulate the growth and development of the environmental economy in country.)
“I’m grateful for this strong partnership,” says Gilbert. “Now as both of our programs grow, there is an opportunity for our partnership to grow as well. We share some of the same strategic goals, so we can work together to meet them. We can show up for one another, and for our students.”