Chris Purcell, director of Vanderbilt’s Office of LGBTQI Life since 2013, will leave the position Dec. 31 to become assistant dean of students at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Rob Nelson, assistant director of LGBTQI Life, will serve as the interim director while a national search is conducted to fill the role, William H. Robinson, vice provost for academic advancement and executive director of the Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence, has announced.
The director of the K.C. Potter Center and Office of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt is charged with creating an equitable and affirming experience for LGBTQI+ campus community members. The director serves as a campus expert and resource on issues regarding sexuality, gender identity and social justice broadly. The director is responsible for overseeing personnel decisions, educational and programming efforts, policy implementation, strategic planning, budgeting, facility management, branding and assessment efforts for the office. The position reports directly to the vice provost for academic advancement and executive director of the Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence and collaborates with other campus partners to achieve the mission of LGBTQI Life and support the efforts of the university surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion.
In his seven years at Vanderbilt, Purcell worked in solidarity with staff, students, faculty and administrators to advance LGBTQI initiatives and community. Upon his arrival, he led the charge to extend trans-inclusive health benefits to university employees. Under his leadership, the Office of LGBTQI Life has launched the popular Affinity Groups program and expanded undergraduate housing options and all-gender restrooms across campus. He also worked to develop presentations and resources for the Vanderbilt community, as well as advocated to promote more inclusive classroom environments at the university. Purcell is a graduate of Vanderbilt’s Ed.D. program in higher education leadership and policy. His doctoral research focused on student success networks and academic advising in a small liberal arts environment.
Nelson holds a master’s degree in theological studies with a focus in religion, ethics and politics from Harvard Divinity School. Their academic interests center on the development of American religious identity constructions at the intersections of race, gender and sexuality. Nelson also has a passion for campus and community programming that engages these points of intersection. In January 2020, Nelson was awarded the Promising New Professional Award from the Consortium of LGBTQ Higher Education Resource Professionals. This award recognizes their role in supporting students and innovating campus programs while elevating the work of the K.C. Potter Center and Office of LGBTQI Life.
“I am incredibly grateful to Chris Purcell for his tireless efforts to create educational, cultural and social opportunities for all members of our community over the course of his tenure. We wish him the very best on his future endeavors,” Robinson said. “I also want to thank Rob Nelson for agreeing to serve as director of LGBTQI Life on an interim basis to ensure the continuity of the center’s services as well as its mission as a place of affirmation and support for individuals of all identities at Vanderbilt.”