Class of 2021 BEQ Pride LGBTQ Leader Under 40
(She, Her) is 32
The year 2020 feels like a worldwide wake-up call in so many ways. As a leader, I realize the most important thing I have learned and will take forward is…
Adaptability is key and having the willingness to face your team’s challenges is essential. Then sometimes you need to remind yourself you are also deserving of a little grace while you manage the unknown.
Elizabeth (Liz) Desimone is an assistant director, student centers at Rutgers University. She earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. Desimone has developed a number of diversity and inclusion programs intended to make student and employee life more welcoming on campus.
Desimone works with students every day serving as a mentor and leader in student development at Rutgers University. She has an open-door policy and has mentored hundreds of students. She is an active member of various university committees including the student protest committee. Her research includes exploring ways to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities on campus.
Desimone’s passion has always been for creating “space” for college students to engage with each other, experience new things and challenge old beliefs in order to grow as people within a campus community. Fortunately, this has been her vocation for nine years in the higher education arena. She realized her calling as an educator and Student Affairs professional, most recently, at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
The concept of creating space for others, regardless of background or identity, is a belief she holds dear and aims to instill in her students. Wherever her students end up in the world after graduation, she hopes they too will hold space for each other.
Most recently, she created a program to make space for college students on the autism spectrum after attending a workshop that presented “staggering” and “unfair” statistics about how people perceive their differences. Of adults on the autism spectrum, only 15% will obtain meaningful employment after receiving their college degree.
Studies show the obstacles and impediments to achieving gainful employment for adults on the autism spectrum can be attributed in large part to perceived social differences and classification as “unemployable” because their behaviors, social instincts or other interpersonal characteristics lie outside social norms.
Motivated in part by identifying with the feeling of being socially ostracized or otherwise “outside the norm” as a member of the LGBTQ community herself, Desimone created the Abilities at Work program at Rutgers University to address the issue. The program reserves a number of on-campus employment opportunities for students on the spectrum.
Besides gaining employment, students in the program are paid above minimum wage, receive additional counseling as well as helpful support services to aid with processing their work and learning experiences. The most important benefit of the program is students gain meaningful, relevant and tangible work experience that increases the likelihood of landing future career opportunities. For Desimone, the biggest surprise has been the unplanned benefit to neurotypical students whose hearts and minds are opened to working alongside students on the autism spectrum.
Desimone hopes and truly believes that her student employee participants graduate knowing how meaningful and fruitful it is to create space for each other’s differences. Desimone wants to translate these wins to addressing white supremacy within the LGBTQ+ community. Her personal hope for the LGBTQ+/SGL community to do more anti-racism work as a whole. She believes the community is uniquely positioned to embrace differences, roll up their sleeves to do the work on themselves so they can be better allies within the community.