Staff Profile: Dorothy Fillmore, Department of Psychology

Dorothy Fillmore (MA ‘84/H&S), director of academic operations for the Department of Psychology, is retiring from VCU after 35 years.
Dorothy Fillmore

During her 35 years, Dorothy has held advising and administrative roles in the College of Humanities and Sciences, the Division of University Outreach and the Office of Academic Advising and Nontraditional Studies. We caught up with Dorothy to hear about her reflections of her time at VCU and what she is looking forward to next.

You've worked for VCU for 35 years! What is the biggest or most noticeable change since you started at the university?

One of the biggest changes has been VCU’s transition to a more traditional campus. When I started at VCU, the physical campus was certainly smaller (less buildings) and not unified. Since then, the campus has grown and the intentional branding through signage, landscaping, architecture and design have created a more cohesive place—a small city (two campuses) within Richmond. This came with losses—the infringement into neighborhoods and the loss of Grace Street’s uniqueness. At the same time, it has strengthened the relationship between VCU and the city, creating opportunities for both.       

We also became less of a commuter school with the building of new infrastructure, such as first-year advising, University College, new dorms and the decentralization of evening and summer studies. When I came to VCU, there was a separate evening school, which served primarily non-traditional aged adults who were returning to college to complete their degrees. The evening course schedule was published as a stand-alone (no day classes were included) and that schedule was inserted into the Richmond Times Dispatch in order to reach its market. Majors at VCU advertised which degrees were fully achievable through evening study alone. VCU had traditional-aged students in day and evening classes, but there was a focus on the returning adult student.   

VCU is more welcoming and inclusive of its LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, staff and alumni. Like the culture around it, VCU was homophobic and a lot of amazing, strong queer people and allies worked to change that environment. Equality VCU developed a VCU LGBTQIA+ timeline which shows the history of this evolution, and allows us to add to that timeline in real time. In the timeline, you can see many ups and downs. VCU continues to work on dismantling racism, homophobia, transphobia and the isms where identities intersect. When I started at VCU, sexual orientation and gender identity and its expression were not included in the non-discrimination policy. We were unable to add domestic partners to our health insurance (gay marriage was not legal yet), and while there were gay student-run organizations, the gay student community was not included in any university programming like it is now. It was not until 2005 that VCU established programming for LGBTQIA+ students. Now VCU has an office and a vice president devoted to equity and inclusion and last year that office launched the Q Collective, an LGBTQIA+ center devoted to research and advocacy!

You've been a writing assistant, adjunct faculty member, a coordinator, an advisor, an assistant program director, a director. What was enticing about the different roles you have held?

I love that I’ve had so many titles. I even had a supervisor once who required us to drop our titles! I enjoyed that experiment. Whatever my title, I identify as an academic advisor. That is my profession, and I have loved it. Academic advising empowers and assists students in the design of their educational/career plans. It assists them in navigating university policies, procedures and provides resources and advocates for them if needed. I’ve been very lucky to be part of this profession. Working with students and faculty and staff is a privilege. Even as I moved in to more administrative roles, academic advising remained central to me, and being part of that community (which is strong and proud at VCU) has been such a pleasure.  

What is your favorite memory at VCU?

I have so many great memories, but one which comes to mind is the first graduate course I took at VCU in Shakespearian Tragedy with Walter Coppedge. I had just broken up with my partner of the time and thought I would never recover from that heartbreak; Shakespearian Tragedy seemed the perfect anecdote and it was! Coppedge was a dynamic, engaging instructor, and I was introduced to the power of language and story. It was great medicine for lovesickness.

What will you miss most?

I will miss the people the most, especially sidewalk conversations; I love running into colleagues and students and catching up. I will miss students and faculty and staff. I will miss walking down Franklin Street in the fall when the leaves are red and yellow and, in the spring, when those white azaleas in front of Founders Hall are blooming. I will miss walking in Shafer Court and being surprised and thrilled by what is showing on the library’s display board. I will miss the chaos and energy of the first week of the fall semester. It is not easy to leave VCU.

What are you looking forward to in your retirement?

I have a research and writing project which I started working on several years ago. It is about Stephen Lenton, a gay HIV/AIDS activist, who was very important to our Richmond LGBT community. Stephen Lenton was also important to VCU during the 1970s when he served as the faculty advisor of the student group which sued VCU in order to be allowed to have a gay student organization. There are many people still living who knew Stephen, and I hope to interview them to include in my project. I had the great fortune to attend the Voces Oral History Summer Research Institute in 2018, and I was introduced to how to conduct oral histories. I hope to be able to conduct some of those for this project. I would like to assist in bringing more LGBTQ stories and voices to the table.   

I also look forward to spending time with friends, walking in Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, taking poetry classes, reading and camping. My wife and I will celebrate our 30th year as partners this fall. We have two dogs, Willow and Rascal. It will be great and possibly scary to spend more time with them without the structure of a full-time job.

recipients of the burnside-watstein awards in 2012
Dorothy Fillmore (second from left) and recipients of the Burnside Watstein Award in 2019

You are a past recipient of the Burnside Watstein Award. What did that honor mean to you and why is that recognition important for the university community?

I am privileged to be a recipient of this award. I know the faculty members for whom the award is named and witnessed the scope of their work in improving VCU’s climate for LGBTQ students, staff and faculty. The Burnside Watstein LGBTQ Awards allow the university to honor and to hear the stories of how the climate at VCU has been improved by its recipients. There are many who doing this work who have not yet been recognized by the award. That’s why we need to have it every year. We have a backlog. Each year, one student, one faculty/staff member and one alum/community member are honored at this award ceremony. Here are just a few of the stories: an alumnus who consistently advocated with the VCU president for change (at a time when this was not welcome by administration) and who directed his financial gifts be used for LGBTQ programming; a student who wrote and advocated for a stand-alone LGBTQ resource center (which resulted in VCU part-time programming for LGBTQ students and later morphed in to the Q Collective); a faculty member who created trans health resources on campus. There are many more stories.

What is your biggest accomplishment during your time at VCU?

I hope it is that I loved the people and the work. That’s not to say there were not difficult and painful times with people and the work. You can’t work anywhere for 35 years without those experiences. VCU and the College gave me multiple opportunities to do meaningful work—to integrate my interests in active listening and story (academic advising), social justice (Equality VCU) and academic operations (building/supporting infrastructure). I am so grateful!

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