Matthew Abtahi starts new position for LGBTQ students, reconnects with Chicago


Source: Multicultural Student Association

Matt Abtahi is the new director for LGBTQ issues at Multicultural Student Affairs. Abtahi is a Chicago native.

Yunkyo Kim, Reporter

Starting his new position as the assistant director for LGBTQ issues at Multicultural Student Affairs, Matthew Abtahi said he felt like he was coming home.

“Illinois has always been home for me,” the Chicago native said. “Coming back to Illinois has been like rewatering the roots that I’ve left here.”

Evanston wasn’t the only reason why Abtahi decided to work at the University. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Abtahi has extensive experience assisting marginalized students in higher education.

However, his development in social justice education and self-identity happened out of his home state. After obtaining his master’s degree at the Loyola University Chicago, Abtahi worked as a residential administrator at the University of Colorado Boulder and Purdue University.

Abtahi most recently worked as interim director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at DePauw University. In his time at DePauw, he assisted domestic students of color, students in the LGBTQ community and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students to create welcoming communities for marginalized populations on DePauw’s campus.

DePauw junior Pia Ocvirk interned at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion with Abtahi. As a member of the LGBTQ community herself, she said working with an administrator who shares her experience improved her college experience.

“It’s definitely nice to work with someone who you know is supportive of you,” Ocvirk said. “It’s nice that you know that your supervisor is not fundamentally against you having your basic human rights.”

As interim director of CDI, Abtahi was receptive to ideas, Ocvirk said. She said she always felt respected by Abtahi.

DePauw senior Katherine Umana, who worked with Abtahi for two years at CDI, said she felt that he was “one of the few adults who actually wanted to improve the campus.”

“(Abtahi) had a very big impact,” Umana said. “He is definitely going to be missed.”

Abtahi also helped develop the Prism Leadership Program, an LGBTQ advocacy initiative at DePauw. He also consulted the university on the diversity recruitment process and collaborated to relaunch its Inclusive Excellence Campaign, which provides funding for diverse student activities, faculties and leadership opportunities.

Abtahi said he aims to interact with students to determine the kind of support and community he can help them develop.

Elynnor Sandefer, former Rainbow Alliance senator and ASG vice president of campus life, said she first met Abtahi during his MSA welcome event.

“I am very optimistic about this person in this role,” Sandefer said. “It seems clear that he’s the most experienced and qualified candidate for the position … I’m happy so far with the center reaching out to different students and communities on campus.”

Working for students at Northwestern felt like the natural next step from his work at DePauw, Abtahi said. He wanted to return to the Chicago-area and engage with the local community.

He encouraged incoming LGBTQ students to reach out to campus resources and the MSA.

“It’s a pretty amazing team of assistant directors here, so I’m excited to join in on the work,” Abtahi said. “I’m excited to work with particularly the LGBTQIA+ community here at Northwestern and helping reflect on those points and figure out how we’d like to move forward.”

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