When Ryan Miller arrived on the Forty Acres to pursue a degree he was shocked to find discrimination towards the gay community, but the experience inspired him to push for change and now he’s taking his passion for advancing social justice to Harvard University.
The 2007 journalism graduate and Division of Diversity and Community Engagement staff member received a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in higher education administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education this fall.
He was one of 27 students chosen this year to receive a scholarship from the Point Foundation, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender scholarship foundation.
The road to Harvard wasn’t easy for Miller, who grew up in Round Rock, a community he describes as conservative.
Miller said he knew he was gay around middle school but waited until he was 14 and in high school to come out to family and friends.
“I felt (my parents) would be supportive because I knew they were accepting of different kinds of people but it was still difficult to not be out and living a lie since everyone is assumed to be heterosexual. I’m so glad I told them early,” he said.
While his parents were accepting, outside of his immediate family Miller faced some obstacles.
“I’ve had issues with friends and extended family members,” he said. “My best friend stopped talking to me when I let him know.”
Despite dealing with name-calling and rumors in high school Miller went on to serve as student body president and graduated in the top two percent of his class and was excited to move on to the university where he thought he would find a more accepting group of peers. Miller soon realized it wasn’t as open and accepting as he thought.
“It was a shock to me,” he said. “Austin and UT are known to be more liberal and I was faced with more discrimination here than I was while I was growing up.”
Miller experienced random acts of homophobia such as people yelling things out of car windows when he was out in West Campus or downtown for a night out with friends.
The experiences didn’t send him into hiding but rather motivated him to get involved and work to change things at the university. He soon became involved with the Queer Students Alliance and led the group as its director during his time as an undergraduate.
Miller thinks some of the discrimination he faced was caused by being a leader in the gay university community.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I think I was targeted for being a leader and pushing for change.”
As director of the alliance he would get e-mails and letters from people expressing hatred toward him and the organization.
“I was really surprised but it was a product of being involved with the gay community. Incidents like that inspired me to work even harder for change,” he said.
His hard work paid off and some changes are being made on campus. The changes are a product of a 192-page report Miller co-wrote on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) campus affairs that issued 70 recommendations.
“I am now starting to see things are being done,” he said. “As a student I wanted everything to happen right away but now that I’m on the professional side I can appreciate that it takes more time.”
One of those changes was getting the university’s non-discrimination policy, which already included sexual orientation, to add gender, identity and expression.
Miller has been spending his first year after graduation working for the university and getting a feel for work in higher education. The experience solidified his passion for the field.
“I want to work in higher education to create change,” he said, “and make sure all students get the services and support they need to be successful.”
He is excited to find new challenges at Harvard and move closer to his ultimate goal of finding a career inspiring college students to use their privilege to advance social justice.
He wants to create change not just in the LGBT community but for all social identities.
“There are some people who only look at the LGBT community and not what is good for the whole community. That kind of work is ignorant,” he said. “There won’t be an end to racism and misogyny before there is an end to homophobia so we all need to work together.”