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Commencement Countdown | Q&A with TJ Serio

Social work grad raising awareness of LGBTQ issues on campus, in community

Steve Jones

Spalding seeks to be inclusive and diverse. TJ Serio is helping the university achieve that goal.

Serio, who is earning a bachelor of science in social work degree (BSSW), will walk across the stage at Spalding commencement on Saturday to celebrate the end of an undergraduate career in which he’s made a considerable contribution to advocating for LGBTQ people and increasing competence about LGBTQ issues on campus and in the city.

It’s been the focus of his practicum work at Spalding with Serio taking on a unique role in presenting to students, faculty and staff about LGBTQ topics and doing Safe Zone trainings. He’s successfully advocated for Spalding to add more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and he’s been a leader of Spalding’s Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) student organization.

He’s also on the board of Sweet Evening Breeze, which will be the city’s first LGBTQ youth homeless shelter.

“I’m very passionate about the LGBTQ and transgender community,” said Serio, who came out as transgender as a 16-year-old. ” … After coming out, it’s always just been a huge part of who I am, and I have plenty of friends who are in the LGBTQ community. Just to know that there’s constant pressure and discrimination, we need people to stand up and fight back. I’m one who doesn’t back down easily from certain things.”

Serio plans to remain at Spalding next year to complete his master’s in social work, focusing his field work on LGBTQ research and increasing LGBTQ resources on campus. He would like to play a key role in Spalding soon operating a LGBTQ office that would offer programming and community outreach¬†for LGBTQ students.

As an undergrad, he has discussed with social work faculty ways that the social work profession could better meet the needs of LGBTQ clients, and he suggested that the School of Social Work add elective courses on LGBTQ issues that students from any major could take while also increasing LGBTQ-related practicum opportunities.

He has encouraged faculty to include their preferred pronouns in their email signatures as a sign of support and acceptance for LGBTQ students.

Serio said that as a transgender person, himself, he’s found the Spalding community to be “super supportive, super understanding.” In some of his social work classes, he said he’s the first transgender person many of his classmates have met, but his openness and willingness to answer questions anyone has lead to good conversations. When Spalding has had incoming LGBTQ and transgender students, Serio has tried to serve as a mentor to help them feel at home.

“I hope with grad school that I’ll be a familiar face for LGBTQ students on campus so that they know there is somebody who understands whatever it is that they might be going through,” he said.

Serio is also an ambassador for the School of Social Work and a former ambassador for Spalding’s BeSU new-student orientation. He has served as vice president of Spalding’s social work students organization.

He came to Spalding as a nursing major but switched after attending a degree fair and being drawn to the variety of professional specialties that social workers can have.

“You could be teaching, you could be a case manager, you could be so many different things,” he said.

More from TJ …

What do you think of Spalding as a place for an LGBTQ student to attend college?

“I’d say Spalding is a very accepting environment for LGBTQ students. Of course there’s always room for improvement, but hopefully I can help be that kind of push to help get some specific things done.”

What do you think about Spalding sort of creating this practicum opportunity for you based on your interests?

“I don’t think you could get this opportunity anywhere else. It’s the ability of knowing that if you’re really passionate about something, they’ll make sure you’re doing your work around that.”

You’re still staying here another year, but so far and into the future, do you feel with commencement coming up that you are leaving a mark and making a difference at Spalding?

“What I always end up telling them in social work is that I made small ripples in the water into big waves. (Smiling.) I never thought I would do something like that. It’s not that I didn’t think I was capable of it or have the ability to. It’s just having the university that stands behind you 100 percent and lets you have those opportunities to make those changes. I don’t know if I’d get that anywhere else.”