By Kenedy Williams, Staff Writer

The University of Alaska Southeast welcomed the new Dean of Art and Sciences, Carin Silkaitis, to campus in July 2021. Silkaitis uses she/her and they/them pronouns and is a proudly a nonbinary queer person on campus. They/them pronouns in this story will be used to reference Silkaitis. 

Silkaitis and her wife Chrissy Sarch have two children; one is a senior in high school and the other is an accountant. Silkaitis is from Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. 

“I want to be an out, vocal part of this community here and I want students to know that they have me as a resource and a voice,” Silkaitis said about being queer on campus.  

During their first year at UAS they will be splitting the time between Juneau and Chicago. 

Silkaitis came to UAS from North Central College, where they were Department Chair of Art and Theater, taught gender studies, was a Title IX investigator, and a lead educator for the Green Dot bystander technique. They own a nonprofit theater company in Chicago and previously taught at Columbia College Chicago and Roosevelt University. 

Silkaitis said science is the major difference between UAS and North Central. The School of Arts and Sciences includes natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and business and public administration. As Dean of Arts and Sciences they said it is exciting and unique to be able to work with scientists and business faculty. 

“I am totally geeking out that science is under my purview which to me is unique and exciting,” Sikaitis said. 

Silkaitis loves the ocean, camping, and hiking, and now works with scientists who study the ocean, forests, ecology, and glaciology. They enjoyed reading about UAS scientific research, signing off on grant proposals, and familiarizing themselves with what UAS scientists do and may need to be effective.

“On my own time away from theater, which has been a part of my life for 30 years, secretly on the side I donate to ocean causes. I care about the effect of plastics and climate change on our oceans, because the ocean is my peace,” Silkaitis said. 

So far the thing they enjoy most about UAS is feeling happy to go to work again. For the past two years, Silkaitis shared they were struggling with finding that feeling. 

“That feeling stems from a group of humans who want to collaborate with me, and whose overall mission is student centered. Everyone I talk to here has you, the students, at the core of what they do, and I did not find that at my previous institutions,” Silkaitis said.

They have a vision for the antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion work at UAS, broadly known as DEI. During their time spent working with schools on antiracism they noticed that schools approach the work in a very strange way. 

“They approach it as a problem that they don’t have enough faculty and students of color, that they have a problem with DEI. No, no, reframe it as an idea of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. If you look at something as a problem, you are framing it as a negative and you should look at it as a positive,” Silkaitis said. 

They would like to focus on making the resources available at UAS accessible to everyone. Silkaitis would like to create more access to Alaska Native language and Northwest Coast Art courses. 

Another goal is to better educate faculty on the gender spectrum, the difference between trans and gender noncomforming, how people identify or choose not to, and the correct terminology.

“I think it’s also important to have gender conversations. One of the things I am going to do is a workshop for faculty that is exploring the gender spectrum, microaggressions, microinsults, and talk to faculty about how to work with students,” Silkaitis said.