Purdue Global Proud

Vice, middle, poses at commencement with two of his colleagues.

Josef Vice is a composition, English and rhetoric professor with Purdue Global. He also serves as the faculty advisor for Purdue Global’s Pride Association. (Photo provided)

How professor Josef Vice takes on an anti-LGBTQ+ world and shows that love wins

When you first meet him, right away you’d know Purdue Global professor Josef Vice as a vibrant, warm, kind-hearted and hopeful person with a charming southern accent and a joyful laugh. Digging a little deeper, you’d find an unrelenting resilience — a particular kind that’s unique to the brave humans who defended LGBTQ+ rights during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.  

It’s been 40 years since then and he’s still working hard to make sure people have the support of a family, whether it’s one they grew up in or one they chose for themselves. In addition to the English and rhetoric classes he teaches, he also serves as a faculty advisor for the Pride Association — one of Purdue Global’s student organizations. 

“I grew up in a time when you were supposed to keep it quiet and hidden. Most of us didn’t have supportive families and we needed each other because of that,” he says. 

He spent years building a community of loved ones and then watched one after another die from AIDS, many of them abandoned by their families in the final stages of their lives. 

“If they didn’t have friends, they had nobody,” he says. “I saw so many of my friends — young, beautiful, talented people, full of potential — waste away and die. Every single one of us knew someone,” he says. 

Despite all he’s been through as an individual and as part of the LGBTQ+ community, Vice radiates optimism and hope, both for himself and those who will follow. 

His story explains why.

The success of my research makes me really, really happy because it means that the LGBTQ+ folks now have a different and better world than I did, and that’s what it’s all about.

Josef Vice
Professor, Purdue Global

Finding a community of his own 

Growing up in a remote farming community in Alabama, Vice says he didn’t know many people like him until he was working on his master’s degree.  

“In graduate school, I started meeting other people and learning I wasn’t the only gay person. There was just no support system whatsoever,” he says. 

And because students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community are more at risk for bullying, homelessness and suicide, that was a gaping hole.  

“All the studies out there tell us if minoritized students join a group like this, they get the kind of psychological and social support they need, and it can impact their ability to do well in school,” he says. “Having a support system reduces the risks that they face.” 

It’s something he wasn’t afforded until he fought hard and sacrificed for it. But knowing he was a part of making the world better for the next generation was a comfort — and it equips him to encourage them when they’re down. 

“I’m there to let the students know that it gets better,” he says. “Things can change. The difference they can make is tremendous. There’s hope for the future because of the progress that has been made and will continue to be made.” 

‘It gets better’ 

What makes Vice’s optimism even more remarkable is the crushing defeat he experienced. In 1987, he’d completed all his PhD requirements except for his dissertation. 

“I proposed writing about the concept of the ‘outsider’ in medieval literature. I was looking at Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’ — some characters have less-binary gender and sexual identities — so maybe there was something there,” he says. “I was shot down immediately. It seemed like what I was interested in was not something to write about academically.” 

Combined with recently having been fired from two jobs for being openly gay and slowly losing his friends to AIDS, Vice felt he couldn’t continue with his PhD and walked away at all-but-dissertation status. He remained in that status for 35 years. 

But times changed.  

“Finally, 2 1/2 years ago, I started meeting with a really strong mentor through another doctoral program. We met every other week for two years, and I got my dissertation written,” he says. “That was my comeback. I felt like it was a reclamation of what should have been. I got to reach back 35 years and finish the doctorate I couldn’t finish back then. It energized me. It gave me a real sense that LGBTQ+ issues (are) something that should be written about, researched and embraced by an academic community.” 

For the dissertation, he conducted a study on LGBTQ+ students, specifically looking at how LGBTQ-related legislation impacts their sense of identity and belonging at college — particularly in first-year writing courses. 

“Those two things, identity and belonging, are two markers that indicate whether or not a student will succeed,” he says. 

Vice, wearing a light pink blazer, types at his desk in his home office.

I’m there to let the students know that it gets better. Things can change. The difference they can make is tremendous.

Josef Vice Professor, Purdue Global

And he continues to push forward with research in the LGBTQ+ space. Currently, he’s engaged in another study with six Purdue Global scholars from across disciplines, having already interviewed many Purdue Global faculty and looking to understand how identity and sexual orientation are relevant in an online environment. And with that information, Vice and his team are seeking to learn how faculty can best support their students. 

“The success of my research makes me really, really happy because it means that the LGBTQ+ folks now have a different and better world than I did, and that’s what it’s all about,” he says. 

Vice encourages students to be patient as they continue advocating for themselves because eventually, they’ll get results. 

“I’ve enjoyed my work more in the last two years, even though I’m doing more work than I ever have, because it’s given me a chance to share my true self in a way that I’ve never been able to,” he says.  

One of the things that gives him the most hope is seeing Purdue Global recognize its LGBTQ+ community members and how it continually makes an effort to learn about them and give them a voice.  

“Students need to know that we support them. Their identities are important to us. We want them to have a sense of belonging and connection with each other because there is a whole community of people who is like-minded. They have a lot of the same goals, the same concerns and worries, and the same hope for the future,” he says.

Vice and his husband, both wearing blazers and bowties, smile at the camera and Vice holds up their marriage certificate.
Josef Vice and his husband, Rob Lewis-Vice, are all smiles at their wedding. (Photo provided)

Global pride 

Now a long way from the farm in Alabama where he grew up, Vice lives on another farm in Georgia with his husband, Rob. They’ve been together 25 years and raised a son, who is now in his early 20s. They have chickens, turkeys, peacocks, dogs and an old farmhouse home, which may be drafty and chilly during the winter, but makes up for it in vibrant personal decor.  

 While he’s built a triumphant life, Vice never forgets what it was like many years ago and invites students — whether they’re sure of their identity or not — to learn more about Purdue Global’s Pride Association. Because, he says, having a solid support system firmly planted at your side can make all the difference. 

“We’re a chosen family of people who know about each other’s graduations, significant others, their upcoming birthdays, how their classes are going, how their jobs are going,” he says.  

And holding the burden for each other is what they do.  

“Being the faculty advisor of this student organization has been really good for me because it reminds me of the fact that despite everything going on around me (things that can sometimes get me down, too), that there are people out there who are still holding the torch. They’re still there, fighting that fight,” he says. 

“Some of us may have survivor’s guilt, but we’re resilient and we’re able to show the next generation that they, too, can overcome. Whatever comes our way, we’re strong. Where there’s discrimination and exclusion, we create. We create humor. We create beauty. And we’re proud of ourselves for that.” 

To learn more about Purdue Global’s student organization, Pride Association, Josef Vice welcomes inquirers to contact him personally at jvice@purdueglobal.edu.