Alumni Highlight: Brian Buford


Q&A with CEHD alumnus, Brian Buford

Brian Buford is a graduate of the M.Ed. in Counseling and Personnel Services, with a concentration in Vocational and Community Counseling, and works at the University of Louisville where he is the Assistant Provost for Diversity and Director of the LGBT Center.

Brian Buford

Q: What skills, knowledge and resources did you gain during your degree studies that better prepared you for a successful career?

My master's degree was in the Department of Counseling and Human Development (ECPY) with a focus on counseling psychology and, without a doubt, it gave me the solid foundation for everything else I have done in my career and life since. I learned how to actively listen to others and ask good questions. I learned to challenge my assumptions about people and to be aware of how my own lens of identity can change the way I think about people and situations. And honestly, I learned how to be part of a diverse community and to appreciate the strength that comes from welcoming other points of view to the table. That's a lifelong journey so I still work on it, of course, but I can trace my personal beginning to my experience in the College of Education and Human Development and the things I learned there. The people I met there are still the people I look to for leadership and encouragement. Some of my classmates are still close personal friends and colleagues. I graduated from UofL, but my home has always been the College of Education and Human Development.

Q: How did your experience at the CEHD--working and studying with faculty and fellow students--impact your career/career choice?

You know, I moved to Louisville in 1988 to get my master's degree at UofL and I had laid out a pretty solid career plan. I was going to finish my degree, leave Kentucky, and join a counseling practice somewhere...that was the plan. But then I was offered a graduate assistantship working with Dr. Nancy Cunningham on drug and alcohol prevention and everything changed. I fell in love with the experience of working on broader community and social justice issues, and also I found in Dr. Cunningham my first mentor. She was someone who helped me see my own potential and challenged me to think more deeply about who I was and what I wanted to do. And I also found myself falling in love with working at the University and embracing the unique climate here. So after I graduated, I continued working with Dr. Cunningham several more years on our prevention grant, and then transitioned to Human Resources after that ended. And as they say, the rest is history. This year I'm celebrating 30 years as a member of the University community.

Q: Tell me about your work. How are you making an impact at UofL and in the community?

Well, here again is just another story of happy accidents that have led me to some amazing places in life! While I was a grad student, I started my own personal journey of coming out of the closet as an LGBT person and shortly after that, I found myself doing a lot of teaching and speaking about my identity. I think awareness of LGBT issues was still pretty meager then and it was sometimes really intense and scary to be talking publicly about my identity. But there were some courageous professors like Dr. Cheryl Kolander who invited me to talk to their students about my journey. Here in Louisville, there were also big efforts to make our city more inclusive and I was there for many of those early Fairness rallies and conversations. So in 2007, when the opportunity arose to start UofL's first LGBT Center I was eager to take on the challenge. It's been the greatest blessing of my life and the kind of job you just dream about getting to do. The LGBT Center has grown so much since 2007 and now we have offices on both the Belknap and Health Sciences campuses and the University is celebrated as one of the most LGBT-welcoming schools in the country. The shift has been incredible! For example, we recently hosted a campus visit day with the Admissions Office that was aimed at celebrating the University's LGBT inclusion. We had high school students visiting from places like Chicago, with some driving four or five hours to get here, because they heard about our reputation and wanted to go to a school that was welcoming. We have the first themed housing community for LGBT students in the South, scholarship opportunities, campus-wide celebrations, and a national model for medication education that sets our school apart from others. In fact, a national index called Campus Pride has named UofL one of the most inclusive schools in the country for the last three years…and the highest ranked public institution in the South.

Along with my work at the LGBT Center, I am also assistant provost for diversity and have been able to stretch in all kinds of new ways and support broader expressions of diversity. I especially love teaching my course on Multicultural Issues for the ECPY department because it's a homecoming for me. I am teaching in the same classrooms where I took classes as a student 30 years ago and I get to be there for our amazing graduate students as they discover their own career paths. I think about the people, like Dr. Cunningham, who encouraged and mentored me and try to pay it forward to the students I work with in the classroom.

Q: What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I am really proud of the LGBT Center, of course, but to me the center is really the staff and students who come there every day. We have the most dedicated, passionate, committed team of people who give 100% to the vision of inclusion and support we've created. They are the dream team I think I always wanted to be a part of, and it's what makes me so proud. I know that no matter what, the center will continue to do great things because Lisa, Katy, Stacie, Emily, and Aaron are there--along with our student workers and interns and volunteers--and they have dedicated themselves to making life better for LGBT people…well, better for everyone actually. When we make life better for the most disadvantaged among us, we make things better for everyone.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are just beginning their degree programs? Their careers?

I guess because my career path was so full of unexpected turns and twists that ended up taking me to wonderful places, I encourage students to remain open-minded and flexible. If I had followed my plans to the end, I would have missed some of the most amazing people and experiences of my life. While it's good to have a road map so that you know which direction you are heading, just remember those little diversions in life sometimes reveal a whole new set of adventures that you could never have imagined.