Roxie (Jessica) Patton, Wittenberg class of 2009, refused to become just one more statistic. She set out to beat the odds and did just that.
Patton, who majored in theatre and dance at Wittenberg and later received a master’s degree in student affairs in higher education from Wright State University, recently accepted the position of associate director of the Center for Student Diversity at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
There she will be combining her passions: working with marginalized students and creating original theatre pieces with the Inside Out Theatre program.
Patton, the first person in her family to go to college, is thrilled to be where she is right now, especially considering she is among the less than two percent of people with her socio-economic background to attain a master’s degree and among the less than 57 percent of people from the Central Appalachia area that will even graduate high school.
“I bring a unique perspective to the work that needs to be done in higher education,” said Patton, who was a member of the Gay Straight Alliance and started a student organization called the Body Beautiful Project during her time at Wittenberg. “As a first-generation college graduate from a very low socio-economic background, who happens to be queer and disabled, I faced a lot of obstacles to success. I got into this field to provide educational access for every person who had a desire to go to college.”
Many people didn’t know or understand what Patton was experiencing as a student living off of $10 a week and coming from a family that made $11,000 a year and even less after her father passed away in her freshman year.
“Her father and I would have never had the money to send her to college and so she worked hard on her grades all through school and earned an academic scholarship, theatre scholarship and a music scholarship,” said her mother, Carol Patton-Steele. “In her first year at Wittenberg, her father died and she took two years off to take care of her brother and me before going back to get her degree in theatre. I still can't believe how far she has come from our run-down trailer to working at the College of William and Mary. But what makes Roxie special isn't her ability to work hard. It's her ability to care, see the best in everyone, and work toward a better world.”
Patton came to Wittenberg knowing very little about how to navigate financial aid or career development, but found many willing to help her along her journey. She loved her time at Wittenberg and feels that the university shaped her into the person she is today. One of her many mentors included Wittenberg Professor of English Robert Davis.
“I’ll never forget when my car broke down, and I wasn’t even sure how I would be able to make it to my classes,” Roxie said. “Dr. Davis offered to pay for my car repairs. He would remind me that I had too much to offer and to not give up, and most importantly in his class, he gave me an opportunity to tell my story. While logically it might make sense that the theatre department would be where I found my voice, it was actually in a uniquely wonderful experience.”
She took a course with Davis called Literature and Madness. It was in his class that she realized that stories change the world.
“It was in his class that I knew I wanted others to feel that empowered, that heard, and that sense of belonging,” Patton said. “Not only was the class profound and eye opening, but I found a faculty member who supported me, challenged me, and believed in me. He certainly wasn’t alone. There were others around campus who listened to my struggles and offered encouraging words, but he definitely went above and beyond. Wittenberg changed my life, and I am grateful for that every single day, but it also gave me a mission and purpose that has guided me to my career path that I am on now.”
Patton was the first employee of Kent State University’s LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning) Center, where she helped create programming and developed the first Lavender Graduation, as well as the nation’s first formally recognized Trans Student organization.
“After a few years, I wanted to challenge myself around the types of social justice work that I do and so I accepted a position at East Carolina University where I worked on their social justice, diversity, sexual violence and equal employment opportunity education,” she said. “While I have loved all of the work that I have been able to do, I always had to work really hard to incorporate my passion for theatre. As I began thinking about the next steps in my career, I stumbled upon this position at the College of William and Mary. In this position, I get to work hands-on serving students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, students of all races and ethnicities, and of marginalized faith backgrounds.”
“In this new position, I get to bring all of the parts and pieces of myself to work every day,” Patton added. “I have the support to not only assist students with their production, but to write and produce my own original works. I want to provide students with the opportunities that I had at Wittenberg - to find [their] voice, to feel empowered, to feel the fire of passion, and to pass their light on to whomever they encounter. For many of my students, majoring in theatre isn’t an affordable choice and so the programs I create will be their only opportunity to be heard. My hope is that as we grow and expand, my students will have new opportunities to perform and share their pieces at other institutions or to even go on to have them published or produced.”
atton, who values opportunities for radical authenticity, plans to develop an education and training program to aid faculty, staff and students in their understanding of power, privilege and oppression through interactive and engaging workshops. With the Inside Out Theatre, Patton will work with students to share monologues, spoken word, dance and short plays to give voice to their experiences as marginalized people. She is also working on the development of a documentary film about the lived experiences of Central Appalachian people and how they are affected by historical and modern systemic oppression.
“The film is also a celebration of our culture, history of collectivism, activism and hope for our futures,” said Patton, who is busy planning her wedding to David Allgeier. “I have always held true that theatre does not belong to one class of people, one way of speaking or one type of performance. Theatre is a living breathing entity with the ability to change the world.”