Dr Theo Gilbert
Meet Dr Theo Gilbert, SFHEA, Associate Professor, Learning and Teaching. Theo is an LGBT+ member of staff and shares his experience of working at Herts
Life at Herts and what I am most proud of?
I joined the university in 2001 and spent the first 14 years as a VL. I transitioned to being male when I was 50, a single parent full of fear. But my children supported me in the most amazing ways taking from it, this - I hope: that we each have one chance to live as who we really are - one chance to be authentic. Their courage and loyalty were and still are, beyond price.
At the university, around the start of my transition, I was new to the School of Humanities and, of course, had to introduce myself to students as the new Academic Skills tutor for the school. There they were, more than 200 of them in Room N001 on de Havilland.
At the end of the session, I explained that I was transitioning to male from female and hoped they wouldn't find that a problem. I saw so many of those very students over the next few years in that post and without even one, single exception, I only ever met respect and inclusivity. It really is an absolute joy and a privilege to be here as a teacher and I'm grateful for the life affirming attitudes of the diverse UH student and staff community to difference and to different perspectives on the world. May that thrive and prosper, always. Wanting to put something back, I went on to help put together UH's successful application for Stonewall membership. Part of my experience overall was a legacy of values here that Prof Ian Campbell helped UH formalise in terms of Friendliness, Ambition, Collegiality, Enterprise, and a Student-facing focus.
What more can we do?
Could we be still more vigilant as eyes and ears for each other's basic freedoms? Here's why. Higher Education communities have an important responsibility to interrogate the ways that division and destructive finger pointing in societies work. Here's a familiar scenario: We can all name powerful politicians and influencers over the decades around the world who have set out to persuade whole swathes of their national populations that their fellow citizens, their neighbours, their friends - are actually, their enemies. From walls built against humans/across entire continents, to gas chambers built to destroy millions, or now, 40-mile convoys of tanks sent to chase 4 million from their homes, we all know how this works. Such individuals have successfully stimulated our 500-million-year-old brain threat systems into mass suspicion and distrust - so not the smartest part of the human brain that now sports a neo cortex that was built to make us compassionate, creative, and critical - i.e. who we really are. In other words, we have choices. Without a moral compass to guard how we interrogate our own thinking, education can be very dangerous. Martin Luther King pointed that out often. Our own university is trying its best to root compassion - simply noticing when you or others are in distress and then doing something wise/smart to help - into the curriculum in practical, observable ways that we can evidence and reward. But it's a long haul and no progress can ever be taken for granted. The freedoms we have maybe lost tomorrow if we see others' freedoms taken and stay silent. That's why the LGBT community and all its intersections with others, are useful friends to us all. Like litmus paper on the front line, they alert us early to backlashes of regressive thinking about who we may be, what we may say, how we may act, what we might imagine. So, it's a huge thank you from me to every single student I have ever taught here - thousands now over the 21 years - for living the UH values in ways that have shown me the way too. You are just, compassionate, and strong. Even a degree can't match that.