Story by Lindsey Coleman, Staff writer
Michelle Barber started her first day as interim LGBT coordinator on Jan. 20, after the end of Jody Cofer Randall’s 15 years of serving Murray State.
“I am excited to serve my alma mater, especially in the LGBT coordinator capacity,” Barber said. “I did not have these resources here when I was a student.”
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Barber came to Murray State as a student in 1999 and graduated with degrees in both business administration and German, with a minor in multicultural class and gender studies.
After graduating, she moved to Vermont, where she worked in areas such as higher education, service learning, marketing and the nonprofit sector.
Most recently, she worked as a freelance marketing consultant. She said the work was mostly online and very flexible, which made moving to Murray easier.
During the fall semester, Barber spoke at a Murray State LGBT Thanksgiving event and met students. She said she heard of the coordinator position opening shortly after.
Barber said she will be the interim LGBT coordinator for 4 to 6 months but is not interested in the position long-term.
Barber’s three main goals for her short time in the position are to “hold down the fort” for the time being, listen to people about what the program can be in the future and incorporate that information into searching for candidates for the permanent position.
She said her door is open to anyone in need of a safe space, whether they identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, pansexual or any other sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I really want to listen to all segments of our community, whether you have felt represented in the past or not, whether you identify with any of the letters in our title or not” Barber said. “I’m open to hearing from staff and faculty, from allies, from people of color, from people who are differently abled, and anyone of the LGBTQ community.”
The previous LGBT coordinator, Cofer Randall, said her position as Murray State’s inaugural LGBT coordinator was one of the high points of the position for her.
“So many years went into building a foundation of education and acceptance by so many people, and then being able to serve as the positional leader of the office was an honor,” Cofer Randall said.
Her time at Murray State was filled with memorable experiences, during which she fell in love and built relationships with her students. She said it really all happens at Murray State.
Cofer Randall said now is a good time for her to move on professionally. She began talks with Texas Tech last spring and several months later accepted an offer to join their campus life team as LGBTQIA administrator.
“Murray State has the potential to continue what we started, while further expanding how it chooses to intentionally demonstrate commitment to LGBT students, faculty and staff,” Cofer Randall said. “That work, however, needed a fresh face.”
She said her hope for Murray State is to recommit itself to LGBT work and find new energy to keep the momentum moving forward.
Matt Allen, senior from Tompkinsville, Kentucky, said during his freshman year – before he came out to his family – he joined Alliance, a social support program offered through the LGBT office, and got to know Cofer Randall.
“Jody guided me on how to do that,” Allen said. “Hearing some of the stuff that she had to deal with gave me the confidence I needed.”
He said she set him up with several opportunities to gain leadership skills, including attending conferences and organizing the drag show.
“To me, Jody was one of those people who didn’t really care if she got anything in return, but as long as it was helping one of her students, that’s what she wanted,” Allen said.
He said he met Barber when she spoke at the LGBT Thanksgiving meal event last semester, and her willingness and openness was encouraging to him.
“Hearing her personal story about how she came out to her family and the details about what happened there really helped some of the LGBT students who don’t have that support system back home,” Allen said.
He said he believes the LGBT programming is in good, capable hands through Barber’s leadership.