To be Sheltreese McCoy is to be so many things: an educator, a social justice developer, an innovator, a speaker. McCoy does not identify herself in those same terms, however. “I am human,” she said. “But I’m not just any human; I am a fat, queer, African-American human being, and I know this. These are all things that carry stigma and negative connotation in our present society, but these are all things that I carry with me regardless wherever I go.”
To be McCoy, then, is to be authentic, candid, cognizant. Through her bold and frank statements, McCoy embodies the very notion of reality she wants college campuses nationwide to face. As she describes so eloquently, her conception of perspective involves the utilization of different lenses unique to every individual. Through the development and experience of various formative moments in our lives, what we obtain is the ability to attribute to ourselves different characteristics, characteristics that are multiply realized and affect every aspect of our lives.
In McCoy’s words, “Each of us lives intersectional lives.” We each have multiple identities, multiple self-characterizations, multiple internal perspectives that contribute to the multiplicity of self-distinctions that each one of us embodies.
The interactions individuals share every day also go into creating the individual. As Cody Harmon ’19 reflected upon his brief interaction with Sheltreese McCoy, “Being a part of the interchange of ideas enacted by Sheltreese McCoy’s presence is truly something to behold. Just knowing that she is a guest here and is actively engaged in our community fostered this connection between us that I’m sure extended across the entire student community.”
Matt Ford ’18 echoed this same sentiment. McCoy’s presence benefited the continuing of conversations on campus.
To live life as each of us requires different obligations, each of which is not necessarily equivocal across all experience. Essentially, though we each approach life as distinctly and differently as each of us are, there remain common obtrusions we communally share. Some of these obtrusions are especially compounded on college campuses everywhere and must be addressed.
It’s a good thing, then, that McCoy is no stranger to travel. As the Associate Student Services Coordinator at the University of Wisconson-Madison, the president and founder of Change the Field, and the coordinator of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Crossroads Initiative, McCoy’s recent activity has taken her on a tour of the entire country to speak of the state of affairs for marginalized minorities on college campuses nationwide.
Even as a student, McCoy moved around frequently. After obtaining her undergraduate degree at Bowling-Green State University in Ohio, McCoy was tapped by a friend to work in New York. Unhindered as she was by any significant responsibilities, rather than working at a mundane desk job, McCoy moved to Brooklyn to work in social justice.
It wasn’t an easy transition. McCoy described her experience of Brooklyn as a culture shock. “The city was so dirty, and there were entirely novel phenomenon I witnessed for the first time, like putting garbage on the curb!” It was a new time in her life. McCoy developed a nuanced learning curve for her current environment which she attributes to her plasticity as an educator.
Though moving to Brooklyn was the first culture shock Sheltreese McCoy experienced, it would not be the last. After acclimating to her new environment in New York, McCoy found further vocational opportunity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where McCoy currently works. At one time a graduate student in Educational Leadership and Policy, Sheltreese McCoy has introduced and development different initiatives to better address the needs of underrepresented students on her home campus.
As the president and founder of various progressive programs, McCoy’s initial goals were to better accommodate the LGBTQ Students of Color on the university’s campus. After identifying the need, McCoy’s solutions manifested themselves in Change the Field and the Crossroads Initiative.
Change the Field is one of McCoy’s social justice development firms that aids queer people of color. Describing the motivations and background for this initiative, McCoy attributes significance to the idea of transmutating the scope of academic acknowledgment of how these students’ needs are addressed.
In other words, McCoy delineates the necessity of a paradigm shift; one that not only is necessitated on her home campus, but across the wide range of academia in general.
McCoy has a mind ahead of her time. When she coordinated the award-winning Crossroads Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it became the first program of its kind in the entire country. Crossroads Initiative was created to serve LGBTQ students of color on her home campus. No other individual has impacted the realm of campus’ approaches and remedies to this idea of social injustice as much as she has.
There are a few common identifications McCoy has determined substantially impact the general institution of secondary education in every state. For example, the refusal to acknowledge that types of social repression and ignorance exist on campuses of any size can become a distraction. It impedes students’ abilities to maintain their projection of self, and thus there are ramifications on their mental states.
Colleges have identified the necessity of a more pragmatic approach from administrators. Any approaches not currently implemented are due to administration committees’ trepidation in incorrectly executing change, and the student backlash that could be faced. This issue of administration belays the difficulty of resource allocation which acts as an obstruction with weighty impact on the breadth and scope of colleges’ ability to alleviate student concerns.
One pointed example of this was McCoy’s presence on campus throughout the racial tension at the Mizzou University of Missouri. McCoy spoke to students as they sat in solidarity with those students in Missouri. As Harmon said, “Her presence here has made me feel like the actions and events taking place all around campus are even more impressive and considerable.”
Despite these obstacles, McCoy maintains optimism in the ability of academic institutions to both approach and assuage these issues. The existence of the fact that her work has been identified and sought after by various institutions whether it is a lecture series at Vassar College, or her continued presence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, bolsters the confidence placed in the current educational system’s attempts at inclusion.
Following her week-long residency here at Vassar College, the robust student participation and progressive dialogue indicate the extent to which McCoy has affected the fundamental nature of discussion in this realm of social justice.
McCoy herself identified the considerable development in administrative dialogues she’s witnessed with the passage of time: “These sorts of conversations and these types of topics would have never even been discussed to this extent 10 years ago.”
She went on, “Even seven years ago, discussions of this nature weren’t even happening. A lot has changed since then; change in both how students approach their differences and in how administrations accommodate them.”
McCoy had one thing to say about her week-long residency at Vassar. “Even though there are many issues faced by the administration and the student body in attempts to accommodate the needs of both, there fundamentally remains one method towards achieving substantial progression: increasing resources.”
Through that, McCoy said, those minorities will begin to get their voices heard.
McCoy concluded, “Only with increased resources for programs and amenities for students of color, the LGBTQ community, and other departments involved with sections of the minority would the ideal of social justice be attained.”