Meet JoeHahn, the new director of LGBTQ+ Western

JoeHahn, the new director of LGBTQ+ Western, arrived on campus in August, and he recently chatted with Western Today about the new job, goals, and their vision for the office moving forward.

WT: Tell us a little bit about yourself!

My name is JoeHahn. I use a mononym of my first and last name. I use he and they pronouns. Outside of work I’m likely hiking the Bellingham trails with my partner, enjoying some good food, or at home reading or playing video games.

WT: How do you think your background and experience have helped prepare you to take on this role at WWU?

I grew up in Sacramento, California where my love for diversity started and I took that to my undergraduate institution Western Oregon University. I was a Resident Assistant there and loved my work. I originally wanted to be a high school English teacher, but my career path changed after a conversation with a student in the laundry room one random Sunday afternoon. A resident walked in, and we were talking about our weekends, she came out to me in that moment and discussed how coming out to her family went poorly. I referred her to resources and shared my own experience as a fellow Black queer person. That conversation stood out to me, and my supervisor suggested at career in ADEI work at a college level.

I was involved in every LGBTQ+ program including our annual drag show and I carried that experience into my master’s program in Student Affairs in Higher Education at Colorado State University where I focused my portfolio on student activism and equity. This background focus on ADEI helped drive my work as a Resident Director and Black Student Union advisor back at Western Oregon University from 2017-2021. I left higher education to work as the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordinator for Benton County, Oregon for a year and half before coming here. I think my time honing my skills and knowledge around LGBTQ+ topics and issues have prepared me for the LGBTQ+ Director role.

WT: Why were you interested in coming to Western?

A former student of mine Jay Granados is now an Assistant Resident Director here and he told me I would love this position. I’m so glad he suggested it because everyone I told about the job said it was made for me! I was excited about all the new growth the ADEI unit was starting and impressed by WWU’s programs such as the Gender Affirming Care Team and Black LGBTQ+ Thriving Collective. So, after getting the offer my partner Caleb and I packed our home up and moved here with our dog Atticus and cat Pixel.

WT: You are the second staffer at Western to hold this role, and are taking over for Litav Langley, who is now the assistant vice president for Accessibility, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADEI) at Western.  What is different now about LGBTQ+ Western than when Litav started in the role?

LGBTQ+ Western is now part of the ADEI unit that Litav supervises with the Disability Access Center and Multicultural Student Services. LGBTQ+ Western has grown with this restructure, allowing us to expand our student staff roster and absorb the previous Associated Student Queer Resource Center and Gender Liberation Center. Now that those offices and programs are under LGBTQ+ Western, we are currently redefining our office. We’ll likely increase our campus programming while also continuing support for the holistic development of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, staff, and community. I’m hoping to expand the department further through regular meet and greets, workshops, and long-term co-curricular programming.

WT: You haven't even been on campus for two months yet, so this may almost be an unfair question: But when the students who just arrived on campus this fall graduate in four years, what do you think you will need to have accomplished while they were here to feel like that period was a success?

Four years at a university is so much time and paradoxically also so little time! I’m hoping in the next four years LGBTQ+ Western will have made an impact in every student’s life in some capacity; whether it be through our programming, supporting LGBTQ+ student clubs, or improving the classroom and lived experience of our LGBTQ+ students. I would love to see LGBTQ+ Western expand with more professional staffing so we can add programs and traditional events many other institutions have such as Safe Zone training and Lavender Graduation.

This first year will be spent assessing our current programs and adding smaller events, and I’ll build upon it with feedback from our community. My work centers the student experience, so I won’t be making any major decisions without seeking student and community feedback. I also hope to expand LGBTQ+ Western’s involvement beyond the campus so that the LGBTQ+ community feels interconnected with the larger Bellingham and Whatcom County communities.

WT: What is one thing that the University needs to know about you that you haven't already told us above?

Our community is filled with LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff. Inclusive practices such as introducing yourself with your pronouns, respecting people’s lived names, and providing research and activities centering queer voices will really impact the experiences of our LGBTQ+ community. We all have a responsibility in ensuring our LGBTQ+ population are supported and thriving here at Western.

JoeHahn smiles at the camera; behind him is blurry leaves and greenery