Editor’s note: This story is part of ‘Meet a UChicagoan,’ a regular series focusing on the people who make UChicago a distinct intellectual community. Read about the others here.
In 1987, Kathy Forde met her future wife at a comedy show in suburban DeKalb, Illinois. Their relationship story was typical in many ways: They dated, they got a house and dogs together, and they got married.
Yet, when she was an academic adviser for the University of Chicago in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Forde realized her experience resonated with LGBTQ students in a way she didn’t anticipate—as a valuable glimpse into what life after graduation could look like for undergraduates in the College.
“My wife Yvonne and I used to say, ‘We’re the most boring people ever,’” said Forde, the senior associate dean of students and director of academic advising in the College. “We are part of our community, and we go to work, yet we're not doing anything super exciting. But in a weird way, that's mostly what students wanted to hear.”
Twenty years ago, Forde launched what is now known as the Office of LGBTQ Student Life mentorship program at UChicago, pairing LGBTQ students with LGBTQ faculty through regular one-on-one meetings and group outings, and connecting students with valuable guidance and resources.
Diana Doty, AB’02, was one of the first student mentees in the program. Originally from a rural town without any other queer adults in her life, she came out in 2000 as a third-year student. What appealed to her about the mentorship, she said, was simply having someone with whom she could be “her full self.”
“My experience in the program was lovely, warm and so remarkably important to me but also so strikingly mundane,” she said. “Mostly, my mentor and I had coffee every couple weeks and got to know each other. What I learned was the lesson I needed the most: Queer grown-ups can build lives of love and joy. It sounds so simple, but it changed my life.”
Doty went on to work as an activities resource coordinator with the Center for Leadership and Involvement through 2006 and served as a mentor in the program to “pay it forward.”
The program is still going strong today, and is one of many ways Forde has meaningfully impacted the UChicago community during her three decades at the University. Additional achievements include helping establish the Center for Diversity + Inclusion and winning honors for her diversity leadership and work with scholar-athletes.
In her current role, Forde works with a team of academic advisers and deans who provide support to undergraduate students. But ask her about all she has accomplished, and she is quick to give her colleagues most of the credit. The people of UChicago, and their willingness to support students at every opportunity, Forde said, are the reasons she has stayed here for so long.
“In our office, there's a level of trust,” she said. “There's this knowledge that we all really want the best for students, and we're all working together in different ways to get there.”