Myers ’14 provides support for LGBTQ+ students in role at UW-Milwaukee

Ariana Myers ’14 says her experience at Ripon College was integral to her process of self-discovery. 

Her first semester at Ripon, Ariana was cast in an ensemble role for the theatre department’s production of “Cabaret.” When the student cast in the Emcee role fell ill, Ariana — who was the only one who fit the costumes — was thrust into the role. 

In one scene, the Emcee wears a wig, dress and fishnets to dance the can-can with the Kit Kat Girls,” she recalls. “It may play into age-old tropes, but I remember looking at myself in the mirror wearing that costume and for the first time I felt like a complete person.

“So many of my theatre friends commented on how good I looked, too! I would describe that as my first real experience of gender euphoria,” says Ariana. Gender euphoria is a term that refers to the feeling of joy trans people experience when their gender is affirmed. “Our media often hyper-fixates on the concept of gender dysphoria, which pathologizes transness. Being trans doesn’t have to be misery and doom and gloom if we are properly supported,” she says.

Ripon, says Ariana, was the first place she met people who identified as transgender. “I had only a vague understanding of the term from movies and books growing up. It was a taboo subject, and transness was treated as something comical and gross,” she says. “I made friends at Ripon who showed me that transgender was more than the stereotypes — a valid and beautiful experience. Those friendships gave me the courage to explore this more deeply and the resolution to move forward with transition myself. I still count them among my dear friends to this day, as with many of the wonderful supportive friends I made at Ripon.”

Her classes at Ripon also helped to “open my mind to new knowledge about the world,” she says. “I came out to a select few faculty shortly before graduation, notably my advisors Diane Mockridge (history), Eddie Lowry (Classics) and Geoff Guevara-Geer (Spanish). They were extraordinarily supportive.”

Still, the three-major, Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude graduate with honors in history, classical languages and Spanish received her diploma before the transition. “I really started the processes (legal, social, medical) once I moved to Princeton University for graduate school and had the infrastructure in place to support it,” says Ariana.

Ariana Natalie Myers earned her master’s and doctorate degrees at Princeton where Dayton-Stockton Professor of History Bill Jordan ’69 was her advisor. “He modeled how to be a conscientious, responsible academic, and I am so honored to have had the chance to study under him,” she says.

Now, as director of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Ariana is the primary support officer for students in the campus’ LGBTQ+ community. “The Center is a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ students and their allies — a place they can go to be themselves unapologetically and without fear,” she says. “I serve as an advocate for these students, supporting them through what can often be a bewildering and labyrinthine bureaucracy. I also plan and organize events to boost the campus climate.”

She says she and her assistant director run LGBTQ+ inclusion workshops for faculty and staff to give them the tools to understand and support their students. “I also serve as the ‘subject matter expert’ for any questions university personnel have relating to the LGBTQ+ community,” she says. “Finally, as the chair of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee for LGBTQ+ Advocacy, I make policy recommendations, such as those relating to bathrooms, inclusive housing or preferred names.

“I often say that this role allows me to be the person I needed when I was younger,” says Ariana. “I had to figure out a lot of this on my own. Although I had individuals along the way who helped and advocated for me, because of a lot of factors, I had trouble fitting in during my first couple years at Ripon. I was not out, so the queer student organization (then The Network, now the Queer-Straight Alliance) didn’t feel like a place I could be. That sense of isolation was hard, but I found pockets of support.

“I have to highlight the theatre department, especially Ken and Susan Hill, for the tight-knit and supportive community they offered. That’s what I want to replicate for students in my professional work now — that sense of trust, belonging and community. I know how it feels to not fit in, to be the black sheep. I want to break that cycle for the next generation.”

That said, Ariana emphasizes that she had many incredible faculty and staff who supported her and helped her attain the success she experiences today. 

“After I legally changed my name, about a year after graduating, I was visiting friends on campus and stopped in to the registrar’s office to present the forms to Michele Wittler. She and the staff were, of course, surprised to see me, but they immediately updated the name in their files and reissued my degree with my new name, free of charge,” says Ariana. “It was a truly compassionate gesture since many institutions make it very hard to update this kind of information. That’s the kind of experience I want transgender students at UWM to be able to have — seamless and unquestioning support. 

“Some people will always fall through the cracks, of course, but I try to be there for them when that happens

In recognition of her work since graduating from Ripon, Ariana will be honored with an Outstanding Young Alumni Award during the 1851 Awards Dinner as part of Alumni Weekend Friday, June 21.

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