Tag Archives: Diversity

Ryan Tauriainen, Former White House Fellow serving in the US Department of Education, answers career related questions LGBTQ+ identifying students might have when seeking job opportunities

Peer Career Advisor (PCA) and Posse Scholar Zoey Ellis ’22 interviewed Ryan Tauriainen ’08 to answer common career related questions LGBTQ+ identifying students might have when seeking job opportunities.

Zoey: What activities or student organizations were you involved in during college and how did they help you get to where you are today?

Ryan: While a student, I was predominantly involved with Middlebury Open Queer Alliance (MOQA) and Feminist Action at Middlebury (FAM). I was co-president of MOQA in 2007-2008, which was an eventful period for queer activism at Middlebury. I was also part of a three-person team that successfully founded the Queer Studies House in 2008. Being the leader of a student organization helped me to develop communication and organization skills, which was useful in future leadership positions I held. 

Zoey: As a graduate who identifies as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Non-Binary,  Gender Non-Conforming, Genderfluid, or Queer, what are some of the questions you suggest students should keep in mind when researching employers and applying to job opportunities?

Ryan: Bostock v. Clayton County (2020) held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression. The landscape for queer people in employment is better than it has ever been. That being said, working in a supportive environment is key for one’s mental health. I’d suggest that students do their research before applying. Does the workplace have a history of supporting LGBT people or causes? Does the workplace have an LGBT affinity group? Are there already LGBT employees one can check-in with? Are there LGBT people in seats of leadership or influence? Does the place of work donate to organizations or politicians who are anti-LGBT? 

It is also essential to remember when an employer is interviewing you, you are also interviewing your employer. If you feel comfortable, you could ask how the employer supports Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and specifically LGBT employees. 

Zoey: Would you suggest students consider to what extent they would like their career to incorporate their LGBTQ+ identity? Do you want your identity to have a major role, such as working for an LGBTQ+ advocacy group? Or expressed differently, like joining the LGBTQ+ affinity group for employees at an organization?

Ryan: LGBT people, like everyone else, should pursue the career or field that they are passionate about. If that means pursuing a job that is directly related to LGBT rights or activism, that’s wonderful, but it isn’t the right fit for everyone. For some LGBT people, they may have a career that isn’t directly tied to their identity (lawyer, teacher, etc.) but allows their identity to be incorporated in a different way. For example, a queer professor who advises a queer student group on campus or a queer physician who does outreach to the LGBT community. Joining affinity groups can be a great way to find support or make friendships at work when they exist. That is not something that interests every queer person and it should never feel compulsory to be involved in such groups. 

Personally, I have always been “out” wherever I worked in the sense that people I worked with always knew that I was gay and partnered (eventually married) to another man. When I was a teacher and a school leader, it was not necessarily something I discussed with students or parents unless it was applicable to the conversation, but that had more to do with keeping my personal life and professional life separate. For some people, that is a very important delineation. Essentially, people should express themselves at the level they choose.  

Zoey: Could you recommend any career-related LGBTQ+ resources that helped you in the job search process? 

Ryan: I have been very fortunate that in every role I’ve held, using career-related resources wasn’t necessary for me to find the job. I will give the recommendation of the Victory Fund as an LGBT resource if you would like to pursue political appointments for an administration. I know that they are working with the Biden administration to increase the number of LGBT appointees. 

Zoey: Have you come out to your employer, and if so, when in the employment process and how?

Ryan: I’ve been fortunate to always work in environments or states in which being LGBT was protected, if not celebrated. In my adulthood, I’ve always felt comfortable being “out.” I’ve never had to “come out” to my employers in the sense that based on my appearance and mannerisms it is usually assumed. Sometimes people are visibly curious but feel uncomfortable asking, so in those cases, I will mention something about my husband to confirm suspicions. I also do this if I find out or suspect a coworker is LGBT, in order for them to find another ally. For example, as a principal, I had the occasion to interview (and hire) applicants who were gay and transgender and I always made a point to drop the hint that I was a member of the community so that they would be less nervous. It gave me great pleasure to hire other LGBT people (as long as they were also qualified and a good fit)!

Zoey: What advice would you give your younger college self?

Ryan: The advice that I would give my younger self would be to apply for everything and not fear rejection. When I was younger, I would talk myself out of applying for programs or jobs because I would convince myself I wasn’t qualified. At a certain point, I started to ask myself, “Why not me?” and pursued everything I was interested in. I wish I had that mindset sooner. I also do not get discouraged by rejection. There have been multiple programs I have applied for and been rejected on the first try. Persistence matters! I have been admitted to nearly every program I have pursued, eventually – sometimes after three tries. In 2019, I was the first Middlebury graduate to ever be admitted into the White House Fellowship, a program with an acceptance rate of less than 1%. However, after applying three years in a row, I eventually made it in. I was told my perseverance was one of the major factors in being offered one of the 15 spots that year. 

Zoey: Is there any other advice that you’d like to share with Middlebury students?

Ryan: Middlebury students are incredibly fortunate – do not waste the opportunity you are being given at one of the most beautiful and enriching schools in the world. While a student at Middlebury, challenge yourself to take classes that will perfect your writing and speaking skills. I have found that those are the most important and universal skills in the professional world. You may be surprised to find out just how few people can do those two things well.

My second piece of advice is to be bold and to reach out. I think this should apply to anyone you want to reach out to, but Midd Kids should feel especially comfortable reaching out to other alums. I have found that Middlebury alumni tend to be extremely loyal to our alma mater. Do not be afraid to reach out (via email, LinkedIn, social media, etc) to Middlebury alums who can help you in your field. You would be surprised just how many will respond and actively want to assist you. The worst thing that could happen is being ignored – and that puts you in essentially the same situation had you not reached out at all. Put yourself out there confidently and respectfully and you will go far. On a related note, always be kind to “assistants” and “schedulers”! If you do it the correct way, you’ll always get a response.

My third piece of advice is to never underestimate the power of written thank-you letters. One of the best investments I ever made was having personalized stationery and envelopes made (with my name, address, and a monogram). I even bought a fountain pen, wax, and a wax-seal. Every prominent or potentially helpful person who gives me a moment of time receives a hand-written and mailed card from me. I cannot tell you how much that sticks out in people’s minds. They simply do not forget it! Something that takes just a few minutes could create a lifetime of opportunity. 


Ryan Tauriainen was most recently a White House Fellow serving in the US Department of Education where he helped to streamline operations, manage education grants, and direct the Department’s response to COVID-19. Ryan also helped to oversee the dissemination of over $30 billion of emergency educational funding. Prior to being a Fellow, Ryan had a long career in public K-12 education. Ryan started his career as a Hawaii Public Schools teacher through Teach For America, where he was among the highest performing teachers in the state. He moved to Washington, DC in 2010 where he would serve as a teacher, principal, and district leader. Ryan became a principal at age 26, making him the youngest in the country at the time. He has won several local awards for educational leadership, including being The Washington Post’s Principal of the Year in 2016, and has national awards from five different organizations. He is the author of five children’s books. Ryan received his bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College while on a National Merit Scholarship and a master of education from Chaminade University of Honolulu. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. 

If you would like to contact Ryan Tauriainen, please reach out via Midd2Midd!

Meaningful Juxtapositions: Reshaping our Permanent Collection Galleries

Since, as a result of pandemic safety measures, the Museum is physically closed to the public until March of 2021, our staff are taking advantage of the continued closure to rethink substantially the ways in which we contextualize and display objects and to reinstall our permanent collection galleries in a manner that advances more meaningful...

Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education-FREE

AASHE Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education
Mobilizing for a Just Transition
October 20 – 22, 2020

Middlebury College is a Host Institution for this virtual conference and FREE REGISTRATION is available for interested Middlebury students, faculty and staff.  Registration includes access to all sessions and events during and for 30 days after the conference.

Humanity faces a series of intensifying and interrelated social and ecological crises. Solving these crises requires a holistic transformation: a shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. With a theme of “Mobilizing for a Just Transition,” this year’s Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education will focus on centering justice within this transformation and ensuring that it leaves no one behind. We seek to encourage higher education sustainability leaders to reflect and act on the Just Transition Principles articulated by the Climate Justice Alliance and to spotlight inspirational examples of institutions championing this work.  (AASHE – Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education)

There are many sessions to choose from, both live and on demand.  Check out the schedules for a list of offerings:
Live Schedule     https://www.aashe.org/conference/program/live-schedule/
On-demand Schedule   https://www.aashe.org/conference/program/on-demand-schedule/

A few of the Keynote Speakers:
Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, will address the need for a just recovery from the COVID -19 pandemic and its associated impacts.
Tuesday, October 20, 10:30 – 11:15a

Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network – International (CAN), will share lessons learned from her efforts to advance the concept of a just transition in global climate negotiations.
Wednesday October 21: 9:00 – 9:45a

Professor Ibram X. Kendi, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and NYT bestselling author, will provide a new frame for understanding racism and provide guidance on how to be an antiracist.
Wednesday, October 21: 1:30 – 2:15p

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Distinguished Teaching Professor, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, will offer reflections and an indigenous perspective on the meanings of a just transition in this special keynote address.
Thursday, October 22: 9:00 – 9:45a

If you are interested in registering for the Conference, please reach out and email Tracy Himmel Isham at thimmeli[at]middlebury.edu.

A Roomful of People, Thinking and Talking

Last week, the College held a panel discussion about affirmative action and the case currently before the Supreme Court, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which could overturn affirmative action in higher education. We hoped that the discussion would be sincere and honest—and that people would feel comfortable enough to express themselves, even if that meant saying something unpopular. We also hoped that the audience would remain open-minded and give consideration to the diverse views surely to be expressed.

I think that is exactly what happened. Audience members voiced many differing opinions, sometimes disagreeing with one another, sometimes heatedly so. Yet, for the most part, the audience, panel, and moderators navigated a difficult, deeply personal topic with civility and tolerance. I want to thank those who were challenged by this frank conversation for coming and participating.

Here are some of the questions that were raised:

  • How does the number of students of color compare to other groups on campus?
  • Once students of color have come to Middlebury, is the College doing enough to help them stay at Middlebury?
  • If the Supreme Court overturns affirmative action, how will Admissions be able to achieve a diverse student body?
  • Should admissions decisions be colorblind?
  • What other types of identity groups (e.g., athletes, legacies, cellists, etc.) are targeted in the admissions process?
  • Can admissions decisions be more transparent?
  • How important is Posse to Middlebury?
  • When do we stop taking race into account?
  • What is the fairest way to handle college admissions decisions?
  • What is the collective impact of affirmative action on campuses?
  • Does Middlebury have a standard for diversifying faculty?
  • Is there a conflict between two goals of action: repairing past segregation and discrimination through affirmative action and taking steps to create a diverse campus?
  • By choosing someone based on their race, could they be less qualified?
  • What is the true definition of a Middkid?

For those who were unable to attend, you can view the panel discussion here.  It is clear that more listening, learning, and engaging needs to take place on our campus.  We have work to do, so let’s keep communicating honestly, openly, and respectfully.

I wrote about this topic in an earlier post, and encourage you to read the brief that Middlebury filed along with 32 other colleges, in support of affirmative action, diversity, and inclusion in higher education.

Please add your voice to the conversation. I’d love to hear from you.








Factoring-in Race

On October 10, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the University of Texas exceeded its right to consider race and ethnicity in its admissions decisions (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin).  Institutions of higher education flooded the Supreme Court with amici curiae briefs supporting the University of Texas. Middlebury joined with other liberal arts colleges in filing a brief because the court’s decision could have significant ramifications for higher education.

Many—and as time goes on, more and more—consider it imperative to create diverse campus communities using as many facets as possible (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religion, worldview, country of origin, gender identity, and so on), so that our students can engage others who reflect the real world, and so experience the global environment they will live in for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, as our brief notes (see pages 27-30), researchers have demonstrated that diversity improves learning outcomes, resulting in significant gains in educational attainment for both white students and students of color; it also leads to curricular and pedagogical innovations. Achieving wide-ranging diversity on campus requires us to look at, among many things, race and ethnicity. Not only must we admit students who can excel academically but also who, taken as a group, will make our community well rounded.

The Supreme Court affirmed in 2003 that colleges may use race and ethnicity in a limited way to ensure diversity on their campuses. Because Texas University, as a public Texas institution, must admit any applicant who graduates in the top 10 percent of his/her high school class, and because many Texas high schools are composed of large populations of various ethnic groups, the university can achieve racial diversity almost automatically.

The attorneys for Abigail Fisher, the student who filed the complaint, contend that race should not be considered for students who fall below the top 10 percent because the university already has a means to achieve racial diversity.

The court may decide to rule narrowly about this question—just focusing on Texas and the 10 percent policy. Or, as some fear, it could decide the issue more broadly and overturn its 2003 decision.

At Middlebury, we feel very strongly that our extraordinary liberal arts education is anchored in having the rich diversity we have on our campus. October 10 will be the beginning of a national discussion about this topic, and I encourage you to pay attention.

This issue is not without complexity, and both sides have honest and sincere reasons for their positions. You can read more about this in an article in Inside Higher Ed, which contains numerous links to other documents and articles. It’s a subject that is highly relevant to all of us, and I welcome hearing your views.

—Shirley M. Collado






The World According to Irving

Not many things will distract the more diligent Middlebury students from their midterm exams, but thankfully an internationally famous author is one of them.

When John Irving stepped up to meet the crowd in Mead Chapel this past Wednesday evening, his good humor, casual plaid-shirted presence and magnetic narrative style made all else slip away for a good part of the following hour. A core audience of students, as well as other campus and community members, enjoyed a mix of personal musings, historical perspective and even a little political rallying along with the highly engaging reading from the author’s current book in progress.

Though he didn’t realize it, Irving was pleased to be reminded during the welcoming comments by Chellis House director Karin Hanta that this is National Coming Out Month, a notable celebration given the recent media focus on bullying and homophobia among young people. The reading, co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Creative Writing Program, the Department of English and American Literatures, Wonnacott Commons, and the Office of the Dean of the College, dovetailed meaningfully with some of the current issues on people’s minds. Irving often interlaces themes of sexuality and prejudice throughout his novels, and spoke passionately about the fundamental right for people to be accepted, tolerated and welcomed for who they are, no matter what the differences among us may be.

Irving’s writing—he has published 12 novels with his 13th underway—has always embraced the normality of difference. As example, he recalled for the Mead audience characters such a Frank Berry from Hotel New Hampshire and John Wheelwright from A Prayer for Owen Meany, among many others who have questioned or confronted their sexuality. His latest narrator is a bisexual man looking back on his formative childhood and sexual awakening via a local librarian, Miss Frost, who is later revealed to be transgender. The unfinished novel’s working title, In One Person is a reference to Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” when in Act V, Scene V, the protagonist says, “Thus play I in one person many people/And none contented.”

With a voice both breathy and expressive yet clipped and direct, Irving brought these new characters to life—the unguarded boyishness of young Billy, the crisp aloofness of the aptly named woman. The issues at hand were deeply serious; the writing—and Irving’s delivery—was unabashedly humorous. When asked later in the Q&A about his habit of blending humor and tragedy, Irving said, “You can’t choose to be funny or not—you either are or you’re not. But the downside is that you also can’t control when it comes out. When you know something really bad is going to happen—and I always do because I am a methodical planner of my plots—sometimes you just can’t help but make a little joke of it.”

Speaking of his methodical plotting, Irving was straightforward and clear about his writing style as a process, almost to the point of being a science. “I always write the ending first,” he explained. “I need to know where I’m going, which probably hearkens back to my early and ongoing influence by such character- and plot-driven writers as Dickens and Hardy. Now that’s not to say that the ending I write can’t change,” he added with a telltale grin. “But it hasn’t yet in 12 novels, so don’t hold your breath.” In fact, he even began his excerpt from In One Person by reading the last line of the chapter first—“So you’ll know when it’s over,” he deadpanned. But in doing so, in all seriousness, he clearly wanted the audience to know—and feel the process of knowing—exactly where we were going.

Irving was first published in 1968, with Setting Free the Bears. Though his career began slowly, he received immediate worldwide attention in 1980 with The World According to Garp. He has won the National Book Award, an O. Henry Award and an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. He’s no stranger to success, and yet he presented himself that evening in Mead as just another writer diligently—and daily—honing his craft.

After his reading, he took questions from the audience. Though he was fond of beginning with a deceivingly short answer—“yes,” “no,” “both”—there was no stopping the author on a roll of elaboration. When a question arose regarding his experience with control issues on the movie adaptations of his books, Irving took a wide tangential turn to politics and in the process expressed his support for Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin, adding that “if you care about people who care about respecting sexual differences, then don’t vote for Brian Dubie.” Not minding at all that he seemed to have wavered off topic, the crowd responded with a healthy round of applause. And, to his credit, Irving adroitly managed to bring the whole thing back around and satisfy the questioner by saying, “Basically, it’s a two-way street: I respect you, you respect me, and together we can collaborate on something really great.”

Following questions, and nearly 90 minutes after his introduction, Irving enthusiastically moved toward the front of Mead to sign books for a growing line of fans. Seated with pen in hand for nearly 30 minutes, John Irving carefully took each offering, whether a crisp new book just purchased or a tattered paperback from years ago, and signed them all with characteristic style and aplomb.