Promoting Hope, Love, Happiness, and Success for All: The People Who Inspire Series: Vanity Ellis
Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian‘s “The People Who Inspire series” highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.
Today’s post features Vanity Ellis, Clinical Counseling Student and Graduate Hall Director at Eastern Michigan University. I have had the honor of getting to know Vanity, and look forward to her continued growth and success as a social justice advocate.
Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your current work/interests?
I’m originally from Pontiac, Michigan, and grew up there my entire life. In school, I excelled academically and always knew that I would go on to attend college. I realized early on that education would be my ticket to the better life that my parents and I have always wished for me. After graduating number two in my senior class at Pontiac Central in 2008, I chose to attend Oakland University after being fortunate enough to participate in the Wade McCree Scholarship Incentive Program. At Oakland, I majored in psychology with a minor in sociology.
My first two years at OU were relatively uneventful. I had no problem adjusting to college academically, but getting involved outside of classes was difficult for me. I quickly grew grateful to be a scholar with the Center for Multicultural Initiatives, where I received amazing support and encouragement to branch out and test the waters of everything the university had to offer. During my sophomore year I got my feet wet by becoming a research assistant in the psychology department, followed by becoming both a Peer Mentor for CMI and a Resident Assistant for Housing in my junior and senior years.
Working as a Peer Mentor and an RA were two of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had! I loved the work that I did, the relationships I built, and the fact that I was able to give back all the support, knowledge, and encouragement that I’d gotten from my own mentors. It was my work as a student leader at OU that led me to my current position as a Graduate Hall Director at Eastern Michigan University, where I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Do you have any other issues that you’re interested in working on or working with others in terms of social justice/equity?
I’ve grown very passionate about a number of social justice topics/issues in the past few years! The three issues that are nearest and dearest to my heart are those that make up my own identity. The first issue that has always been important to me is the promotion of mental health and wellness in the African-American community. Growing up, I often witnessed the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking professional counseling in the Black community and how that has had a negative impact on people I know and love, even within my own family. I really hope to dig deeper into the relationship between mental health and the Black community to identify ways to better serve this group as a future counselor and social justice advocate.
I’m also passionate about LGBTQ issues. There are so many wonderful and unique things that are not understood about people who fall under this umbrella—life stories and insight that is silenced, unappreciated, and ignored. As a future counselor, I hope to continuously enrich myself with knowledge and experience of LGBTQ individuals to tie this in to my passion for mental health and wellness. As a queer-identified woman, I hope to serve as a resource to others who wish to understand what it is like to navigate through a society where privilege is given to those who fit into the norm of heteronormativity, not those who butt heads with it.
Women’s rights are the third leg of my passion. I am a firm believer that the opportunities afforded to men must also be afforded to women, that we as a society spend way too much time highlighting the few differences between men and women, instead of focusing on the abundance of ways that we are the same. I often challenge myself and others to consider the ways in which we all demonstrate beliefs and attitudes that women are lesser-than, and to actively work to transform these beliefs and attitudes. This is an area that I have certainly gotten into many healthy debates about, and intend to continue doing so!
What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?
As a Graduate Hall Director, I’m really enjoying the opportunity to continue working and living in Residence Life. I supervise an amazing and talented group of Resident Advisors, and I enjoy building relationships with them and finding creative ways to help them develop as successful student leaders.
What aspects do you find challenging?
It has been a challenge stepping up into the role of supervisor. While I enjoy what I do, it has taken time, sound judgment, and a little bit of trial of error to find my place as a new supervisor and to figure out what works and doesn’t work for me in this role.
What/Who Inspires you?
I am inspired by a number of people and a number of things, often in a very abstract way. I am inspired by my past mentors, supervisors, and people I have worked with who demonstrate compassion, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and a dedication to multiculturalism. I am inspired by all individuals who take the time and effort to shed light on the injustices of our society and the ways in which people are marginalized because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability, etc. Most of all, I am inspired by all those who dedicate themselves to the promotion of hope, love, happiness and success for all.
What have been the Keys to your success so far?
I think the most important key to my success so far has been introspection. Taking time to get to know myself, learn and shape my own values and beliefs, and examining where I fit into the world around me has really helped me to forge my path in life. Recognizing my own strengths and weaknesses, and identifying areas for growth and development, has been a humbling and necessary process for me.
I would also have to say that keeping in touch with the kid in me has been important as well. Much of what I do and what I value stems from a childlike desire for peace, happiness, wonder, and fun. I value creativity and imagination, and always try to incorporate these things in my work and my education.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I am honored to be a part of this fantastic, inspiring series!
Grace & Peace,
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW