Growing up in a conservative household in Southern Indiana, Shane Whalley was always taught to not speak about religion, sex, politics and money outside of the home. Looking back at those days, Whalley laughingly points out that hir long and rewarding career has been entirely devoted to speaking about these topics—and more.
In addition to teaching undergraduates at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, Whalley is busy leading Daring Dialogues workshops and consultations for nonprofits and organizations that aspire to ramp up their social justice trainings around the issues of LGBTQ+ identities. We caught up with the UT Austin alum (MSW, ’03) to learn more about hir good work—and how we can all do more to make the world a more equitable place.
The joys of teaching…“In the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, I teach Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare—and I love that my students are all new undergrads. For many of them, I’m the first older nonbinary person they’ve ever met—and I get to be boldly and honestly me. This is great for trans students who have never met a faculty member like me before. It’s also great for students who were taught that people like me are wrong. As a teacher, I feel that it is a very sacred thing to help people realize that what they learned growing up wasn’t right.”
Doing the work… “In social justice work, which hopefully most of us are doing on some level, we have to do it as a community. Rather than burdening one person to do the training and communication, this work needs to be carried out by the entire community. That’s why I do these workshops, so nonprofits and organizations can train their staff to do the work. And it’s great to see that more people see the value in these workshops and are willing to work it into their budgets rather than asking me to do it for free, which was often the case in the past.”
Poking the bear…“The Gender and Sexuality Center was where I landed my first dream job. Teaching social justice around LGBTQ+ identities was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I loved it, but after a while I realized I couldn’t do this forever because I’m not set up to work inside systems. I’d rather be poking the bear from the outside. To make a change, we need people poking the bear from the inside and the outside. There’s a huge continuum of ways to do this work; you just have to figure out who you are.”
Pulling up a chair… “Diversity without justice is dangerous for those who we invite in if we don’t prepare the space well. For example, just talking about diversity alone is like inviting people to the room and making them sit on a one-legged stool. But when you talk about inclusion, you ask the people whom you invited what chair they’re most comfortable sitting in. It’s easy to do diversity work and give someone a one-legged stool, but when people don’t stay, don’t blame them for leaving a space that made them uncomfortable.”
Building relationships… “At a previous job, I put a big banner on my office door that said, ‘Relationship Before Task,’ meaning before we get into the agenda, stop and check in with each other. These check-ins should be a part of the meeting before we can even start the work. We need a paradigm shift from this sense of urgency—this incessant need to jump straight into business—to building relationships with one another.”
Joining the dream… “I often ask, how do we get people to think beyond the Band-Aids? How can we move beyond the patchwork of quick fixes and dream toward equity? That means undergoing a culture shift which involves change. Change is hard, especially if you’re afraid you’re going to lose something. Sure, you may lose some things, but you will gain so much more. I feel like we’re going to get there, but we need more people willing to take on some level of risk to join the dream.”
Staying in conversation…“I grew up an only child in a very conservative, religious family. My mom went on quite a journey with me, politically, and continued to love me for who I am because I stayed in conversation with her. When I came out as a lesbian in 1984 and declared my gender identity in 1994, my mom said, ‘But you had so much potential.’ I didn’t lose my mind; I just figured out who I was, but she didn’t understand. When I started receiving awards for teaching and activism, she saw that I was successful because of who I am—not despite of who I am. This really helped her see that it wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of the world.”
Ways to celebrate Pride… “For Pride Month, I recommend watching a series called ‘Pose,” which is amazing and gives a historical view of trans folks of color from back in the 1980s. I also encourage you to look up a major activist named Urvashi Vaid, who sadly died just a few weeks ago. Watch her speak and you’ll see that she is just awesome.”