Walking alongside Chancellor Ronnie Green, Corrie Svehla beamed with pride.
It was a scene that has played out hundreds of times — mostly behind scenes. At a State of Our University rehearsal. Prior to a football pre-game celebration. On the turf of Memorial Stadium before commencement. In the corridors of Canfield Administration Building.
Colleagues. Walking. Discussing a technical issue. Sharing a light-hearted moment. Or, just chatting about weekend plans.
This time it was different. It was public.
Flanked by more than 40 others from the university — administrators, students, faculty, staff and supporters — the duo walked two laps around the Nebraska State Capitol as thousands cheered support as part of the inaugural Star City Pride Parade on June 19.
“This means the world to me,” Svehla said during the walk. “To have the chancellor and other members of the senior team, academic leaders, staff and students out here with us shows that the University of Nebraska–Lincoln honors its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“This is a special moment in the history of this university.”
In a Facebook post about the event, retiree Vicki Miller responded about how fun the event looked and weighed in on the importance of university leadership participating openly.
“How far we’ve come,” Miller posted.
The moment encapsulated 15 years of work led by Svehla; Pat Tereault, director of the university’s LGBTQA+ Resource Center and the Women’s Center; and numerous others. For his efforts, Svehla recently earned a 2021 Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to the LGBTQA+ Community.
During his tenure, Svehla has worked on the university’s faculty/staff free-standing Committee on LGBTQ Concerns, a committee that was not fully recognized but occasionally met with the chancellor, and the more recently formed Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Gender and Sexual Identities.
“The creation of the commission by Chancellor Green was a huge step,” Svehla said. “Backing by the university administration allowed us to generate momentum that we were unable to realize previously.”
When the commission formed in 2019, Svehla agreed to serve as its inaugural chairperson. In the last two years, the group has developed commission bylaws; formalized the university’s gender-inclusive restrooms policy; moved forward the NU system policy on chosen name and gender; facilitated collaborative programming; organized networking opportunities for LGBTQA+ faculty, staff and students; and connected the university to the local community, facilitating participation in the Star City Pride celebration.
“Everything I’ve worked to accomplish has been about building community on campus and in the community,” Svehla said. “It’s been an uphill climb, but we’ve made important strides.”
The Star City Pride parade reflects that change on campus. For the inaugural event, Svehla offered an open invitation to campus leadership. It drew participation from Green, his wife, Jane; Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor of research and economic development and his wife Lynda; Laurie Bellows, vice chancellor for student affairs; Mike Boehm, vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and his wife, Connie; Bill Nunez, vice chancellor of business and finance; Heath Tuttle, chief information officer; and Michael Herman, director of the School of Biological Sciences.
“It’s been a lot of work to get this far, but it’s an amazing feeling,” Svehla said. “To have our campus leadership here, walking in the pride parade feels like an incredible accomplishment. It feels like we are finally being accepted as part of the campus community rather than just tolerated.”
And, that success is creating greater momentum for the chancellor’s commission.
Svehla said the group is forming plans for LGBT history month in October. They’re also working to be more proactive with engagement across the university community and plan to erect a historical marker that honors Lou Crompton, the first professor to teach a course on homosexuality in 1971.
And, as he continues to battle a debilitating kidney disease, Svehla plans to keep pushing the envelope, encouraging greater acceptance on campus while also encouraging more participation in pride celebrations in 2022.
“This is just the start,” Svehla said. “We’re leaps and bounds better in terms of acceptance today. The world has changed a lot and it’s time we keep moving forward toward greater acceptance on campus and in the greater Lincoln community.