Transforming a Community: Mykell Miller


After four years at Northwestern most seniors might think they are accepting of most people, even wise to others' struggles.

But when it comes to gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual individuals, senior Mykell Miller thinks Northwestern students have more to learn.

He knows the struggles firsthand. The computer science major was born Alice Miller. At the age of 17 he began to identify as a transgender individual.

Coming to Northwestern as a freshman, the Bellevue, Wash., native was placed in an all-female suite in Slivka Residential College. It was his first dose of "awkwardness" as a transgender student and the first time he found a lack of awareness at Northwestern regarding the complexity of gender identity.

Miller says he even "wondered what proportion of the student body knew what transgender meant."

Last year Miller, who now lives off campus, helped launch the Gender Protection Initiative, a student group that, among other things, successfully petitioned the administration to include "gender expression" and "gender identity" in the University's anti-discrimination clause.

"The initiative exists to make Northwestern a positive environment for everyone, regardless of gender identity or expression," explains Miller, former president of the organization. "A lot of people on campus are now thinking about issues they weren't thinking about before."

Now the Gender Protection Initiative plans to work toward implementing some gender-neutral housing and adding more unisex bathrooms. More than 650 students signed the petition in favor of instituting gender-neutral housing, and 129 students expressed interest in living in such a situation.

Miller has made his mark academically at Northwestern, too. Once a computer engineering major, Miller is now a computer science major interested in designing software and creating more user-friendly computers.

Miller, who made his first web site when he was 11, just finished his third quarter as a teaching assistant. Like his work for the Gender Protection Initiative, computer work allows Miller to achieve concrete goals. "I like creating something," he says. "I like putting effort into something and having something real and tangible come out of it that people will actually want to use."

Miller, who will graduate next December, plans to eventually teach college courses on building software.

"I've come to realize through being a TA this year that I really want to teach," he says. Some might say he has already taught the Northwestern community a great deal, though most of it not about computers.

— Elizabeth Weingarten (J10)