Roxie Patton’s office, located in the Center for Student Diversity in Campus Center, is notable for two reasons: the door is always open, and the walls are a brilliantly bright shade of purple. Since coming to the College of William and Mary last March, painting the walls is just one of the things Patton has done to bring her personality to the Center for Student Diversity as associate director.
Patton’s educational and professional background clearly showcase her passion for her many roles at the College. She originally received a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and dance at Wright State University in Ohio and then pursued a master’s degree in student affairs and higher education.
Everyone asks me how I got from point A to point B, and it was just the natural progression of the work I was doing in undergrad,” Patton said.
“Everyone asks me how I got from point A to point B, and it was just the natural progression of the work I was doing in undergrad,” Patton said.
As an undergrad originally studying theater to be an actor, Patton became fascinated by the idea of the theater of the oppressed, and how theater can amplify the voices of marginalized people and change the world. Her longstanding passion for equity and social justice eventually drew her into student affairs.
“I was always really passionate about equity, even when I didn’t know what that meant,” Patton said. “I had a tendency to notice when people were being treated unfairly, and it really upset me.”
Working in various student affairs programs as an undergrad, she was involved in running a residence hall, as well as providing tutoring and accompanying high school students to college-level courses. After realizing her passion for student affairs and training, she took a year off before her graduate studies. While studying student affairs at Wright State, she was asked to be the graduate assistant when the university was starting its LGBTQ center.
Patton was also the first employee at the LGBTQ center at Kent State and started the country’s first ever trans student organization there in 2011.
She describes starting the center as the most important work she’s done in her career, and she still keeps in touch with the students there.
“At the time, we started them as a discussion group in our center, and I worked with them on writing a constitution, and now they’re still about 35 members strong,” Patton said.
Before coming to the College, Patton also ran the LGBTQ center at the University of Florida. There, she decided to expand her understanding of diversity beyond the LGBTQ experience when she became an Equal Employment Opportunity trainer.
All of these skills and experiences came together in her position here at the College.
“It offered all the parts of my world that I really enjoy, and the other part of it is frequently what you’ll see at universities is they’ll have a multicultural center, an LGBTQ center, and a women’s center and a veteran’s center, but what I like about this is we’re all together in the Center for Student Diversity,” Patton said. “It gives us the opportunity to approach systems of oppression from a very broad lens of how things like whiteness affect every one of our areas that we work with. The intersectionality of being able to work in a space like this and work with the experiences of folks who are intersectionally marginalized is really fascinating and exciting to me, and so [this position] kind of merged all the things that I think are good and true in the universe into one piece.”
Patton plays many different roles on campus, including running and creating new programs in the Center for Student Diversity, creating training programs for faculty and staff and running Inside Out Theater and the Tribe Unity session during Orientation. Inside Out Theater is one of her largest projects, and she has worked to expand the program beyond Orientation to create two spring productions. She works with students to collect stories and turn them into theatrical moments. Patton is able to use her theater background to create a unique experience.
“It’s just a way to have these wonderful experiences, and we’re connecting with people in a nonthreatening way that allows us the opportunity for growth,” Patton said.
Patton’s largest role at the College, however, is with students themselves.
“I love getting to hear them talk about what their experiences are, and we have really phenomenal students,” Patton said. “I’m coming from the University of Florida where students are all very, very bright, but the students here are unique, they really are. They’re passionate, and that passion can’t help but make you feel excited about what you get to do. What I’m always trying to get at with students is how we can be more welcoming as a campus community. You get to see those sort of ‘a-ha,’ bold moments as they realize what life is like for someone different than them, so that interpersonal engagement that I get to have is really rewarding.”
Patton says equity and social justice are topics that she was born passionate about, but she describes a moment that really challenged her belief system for the first time: In her high school in rural Appalachia, her best friend came out as gay.
[It was] this huge, earth-shattering moment in a town of like 2,000 people where he had basically become a social pariah overnight,” Patton said. “Everything he had done, his whole life, nothing mattered, and I couldn’t understand how that worked. That’s when I really started investing more in people’s lived experiences. That was when I was starting to go, there’s something here that’s valuable, that needs to be explored.”
“[It was] this huge, earth-shattering moment in a town of like 2,000 people where he had basically become a social pariah overnight,” Patton said. “Everything he had done, his whole life, nothing mattered, and I couldn’t understand how that worked. That’s when I really started investing more in people’s lived experiences. That was when I was starting to go, there’s something here that’s valuable, that needs to be explored.”
Going away to college challenged her homogenous view of the world and made her realize that her friend’s experience had not been unique. Patton said she realized everyone’s suffering is intrinsically linked and that people should be liberated from their suffering.
This change happened gradually, but it garnered in her a passion for working with combative people who do not believe in social justice. She said that she believes every person is worthy of love, and because of her upbringing, this work is personal and emotional for her.
Patton’s passion for educating and advocating for students is something that dominates her view of her work.
“I think that the number one thing I could tell students is that you don’t have to feel like you’re a diverse person to be a diverse person,” Patton said. “You don’t have to identify as a diverse person to come to the center. My door is open regardless of how you identify, what you think, what you feel, what your ideology or religious background is. If you need help and support, you can always come find me, and I will do whatever is necessary to get you where you need to be. If you have nowhere else to go on campus, you can always come to the big purple room in Campus Center.”