by CRAIG COLEY
Lemuel Watson feels like everything is coming full circle for him. Last year, he left his position as dean of Indiana University’s School of Education to accept two other roles at IU. As senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute, he leads research related to LGBTQ+ lives, and in the newly created position of associate vice president for diversity, equity, and multiculturalism, he spearheads a number of anti-racism initiatives across IU’s campuses. A gay man in a mixed-race marriage, Watson says, “What I love about it is it’s all of me.”
Growing up in rural South Carolina, Watson, 57, worked on his grandfather’s farm and in his father’s trucking business. His mother’s side of the family stressed education. “Between those two, I learned to not be afraid to work with your hands, but get something for your head and let your heart guide you with both of those,” he says.
With a bachelor’s degree in management from the University of South Carolina, Watson came to Indiana in 1987 as a systems engineer for a company in Kokomo. His career shifted after he took a job teaching technology and business skills in Indianapolis. “I never forget how rewarding it was,” Watson says. “These people had never touched a computer, never knew how to type. I thought, ‘I can make a difference.’”
He earned a master’s degree in adult/student development from Ball State University in 1991, and then earned a doctor of education degree from IU. He held positions on the faculty and as dean at several universities, including the University of South Carolina, before returning to IU in 2018 as dean of the education school.
While caring for his ailing mother, who would die of cancer in 2008, Watson began a search for the meaning of life, and came to see his calling as a bridge between genders, races, and generations. He feels that his roles at IU embody that calling. “I don’t have a budget and I don’t have staff, but my job is to make sure that we continue to honor this vision of being an anti-racist institution,” Watson says. “Sometimes my patience to form another committee wears on me when I look outside and see the real world and people are suffering. Our younger generation doesn’t want any more talking.”
In addition to academic books and papers, Watson has published two works of poetry and a book of advice for new professors. His husband of 23 years, Gerard Erley, is a fine-art painter, and the couple maintain homes in Bloomington and in Columbia, South Carolina. “It’s a beautiful thing to just live your life and have the capacity to do that unapologetically,” Watson says.