Dakota Miller is working to build inclusive community for UMSL students as new LGBTQ+ and diversity coordinator
Dakota Miller grew up in the small town of Potosi, Missouri. He was one of only three openly gay kids he was aware of in the conservative community, and he said claiming his identity publicly wasn’t easy.
Miller didn’t come out until he was a freshman in high school, and he faced harassment and threats afterward.
Though he found friends who offered support, those frightening experiences would later serve as the blaze beneath his commitment to being a LGBTQ+ and diversity advocate. His personal mission led him to his role at the University of Missouri–St. Louis as the new LGBTQ+ and diversity coordinator in the Office of Student Involvement.
One of his first big projects has been coordinating campus events for LGBTQ+ History Month, which kicked off this week.
Miller’s career in higher education began when he was a resident assistant at Missouri State University as an undergraduate student. He later became a graduate hall coordinator at Saint Louis University, where he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in higher education administration. He also has considered a career in counseling after working at Lakeland Behavioral Health and because of some challenging experiences he encountered in his more recent work at SLU.
“We were experiencing a lot of mental health crises at SLU,” Miller said. “We lost five students to suicide last year. One of them was in the building I supervised, and then one of them was in the building I lived in. It kind of shifted what I thought I wanted to do and what I knew I needed to change.”
He’s committed to creating safe spaces for people in marginalized groups and those dealing with mental health crises.
His work at Lakeland Behavioral Health aligned with those goals.
“My job was also to make sure if they were safe,” he said. “If there were chances where they would have sporadic behavior or be harmful towards others, my position was to restrain them, which is traumatic for both people involved. I took great pride in the role.”
When considering his next move, the position at UMSL was exactly what he’d been looking for. He’d had his sights on it since 2017. He applied for the position while still pursuing his bachelor’s at Missouri State and again last year, but didn’t get it. Things finally went his way this fall.
Miller is very excited about the breadth of the position, which includes providing Safety Zone training, and how he’ll be able to make it his own.
“I think the role is very different because you don’t see an LGBTQ+ and diversity coordinator,” he said. “It’s usually one or the other. So, the fact this one is blended, it is both challenging and an extraordinary opportunity. I am so enthusiastic about being able to not only put on events about things I’ve learned in the past through my psychology of diverse populations courses, world religions and all of these different courses in my background and apply that in a position but also learn at the same time.”
One project Miller is already working on is collaborating with Teaching Professor Lynn Staley on a transition closet for trans students to access the wardrobe they may need to express their authentic identity.
When it comes to identities, Miller enjoys expressing another side of his, in drag, performing at different venues around St. Louis. Another hobby Miller has mastered is bowling, a sport he began when he was 4 years old, playing in tournaments and winning competitions. Bowling provided a community where he felt safe because he was looked at as a fellow bowler, nothing else. He wants the students he works with to feel the same sense of comfort.
“I love working with students and seeing them in their element in a place where they can feel safe because a lot of times in universities, especially when I was an undergrad, the queer organization on campus was viewed as the outcasts,” he said. “They weren’t represented well. But a lot has changed within the past five years. I think UMSL is just a really good place for students to meet and realize they’re not alone. I love seeing students make connections and have a great support system that they may not have had at home.”
Miller is already getting emails about services and requests, even from those outside the university, and is ready to serve UMSL students.
“I want to create a world where your identity does not have to come before your name or job title,” he said. “Students need mentors and people that look and act like them so they can feel safe. I want to be that person.”
Events hosted by The Office of Student Involvement for LGBTQ+ History Month are listed below.
Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=95269