Chelsea Gilbert, former director of the Pride Center, sits at the Pride Center table during the club fair. Gilbert has decided to pursue her doctorate in education at Ohio State University. (Courtesy of Chelsea Gilbert)

Gilbert leaves in pursuit of doctorate in education


Chelsea Gilbert, who has been the director of the Pride Center for five years, will be leaving Lehigh at the end of the summer to pursue a full-time doctorate at Ohio State University.

The third person to ever hold the role, Gilbert was appointed in summer 2015. Five years down the line, she attributes her success to the support from students, faculty and staff members. 

“All I can say is thank you,” she stated in an April 10 email from the Pride Center. “Thank you for your trust and your care, your challenges and your questions, for allowing me to be a part of your lives and stories.”

Jesse Seaverns, ‘21, and Gehar Bitar, ‘20, got acquainted with Gilbert upon joining SPEAK  — an undergraduate peer education group that provides workshops on gender, sexuality and inclusion.

Bitar said she has only met a few people in her life who care so much about so many people.

She works so hard to make you feel like you’re an equal to her, even though I’m an undergrad student and she’s director of an office.”

Bitar said she respects the self-education Gilbert does on topics of gender, race and ethnicity to ensure she can connect with students whose identity might differ from her own. 

“She always does her best to lead by example,” Seaverns said. “She really stands as a model for being a good human first and foremost, and then doing the work that you need to do.”

Gilbert reflected on a tragic yet significant memory of her time at Lehigh — losing her house to a fire in spring 2017. 

The community provided Gilbert and her partner food after they were displaced to a hotel, where they were unable to cook for themselves. A coworker bought them a Target gift card for clothes that didn’t smell like smoke. Students helped salvage what survived the fire and moved these things to a new home. 

The experience was devastating, but the stories remain tender and evergreen. These are reminders to Gilbert that she is surrounded with kindness and compassion, even on dark days. 

“The outpouring of support was amazing,” she said. “It was members of the Lehigh community who really held and carried us through that time.”

Gilbert’s departure collides with a time of fear and uncertainty, with the number of COVID-19 cases soaring past 20,000 in Pennsylvania. In her announcement, she applauded members who have looked out for their community’s most vulnerable population. 

The Pride Center takes root in the same mission. 

The center progressed from Student Affairs to the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in 2017. With the transition came different opportunities for student involvement and education, Gilbert said.

From Spectrum to SPEAK, Greek Allies to T.I.D.E. and PRISM, the Pride Center’s initiatives  work to foster an equitable and inclusive community for LGBTQ+ students and allies — whether it be at Greek life or the NCAA athletics level.

“Our scope got to be institutional in nature,” Gilbert said. “I’m really proud of everything that we’ve done together.”

Gilbert and her team advanced Lehigh’s progress with the Campus Pride Index, the national benchmarking database for institutional commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policy, program and practice.

Lehigh’s Pride Index rating rose from 2.5 in 2015 to 5 out of 5 today. 

“I’m deeply excited and proud of Chelsea for pursuing her passion,” said Scott Burden, the Pride Center’s associate director. “She has already changed the face of higher education by being who she is, so this is only going to open up even more opportunities for her.”

In the wake of the pandemic, the search to fill Gilbert’s position is inconclusive, Burden said. 

That said, Gilbert and Burden, along with staff members, are working to strategize and plan for how the Pride Center will carry on its mission in the following term.

“I have trust in our leadership, which includes Donald Outing, vice president for Equity and Community,” Burden said. “He will ultimately be supporting us through this transition.”

Gilbert’s next chapter will be in educational studies. She said she is looking forward to contextualizing what she has learned with literature on themes and trends in higher education. 

I count myself so lucky to have had the privilege of leading the Center through these years of growth, change and continued progress,” she stated in her email. “I am forever changed for the better as a result.”

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