DLP co-founder strives for more tolerant campus
While most students are bundled safely in their dorms during the long winter months, James Kaechele chooses to occupy his spare time in a very chilly way – ice fishing.
But this isn’t out of the norm for the junior environmental and nature interpretation major in the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who says he’s been a fan of the great outdoors since his days as a Boy Scout. Kaechele loves to be outside, whether he’s hiking, fishing, camping or swimming. And now that he’s stepped down from his position as president of Delta Lambda Phi – SU’s first and only gay fraternity – he’ll have more time for all of these things.
‘It’s good to see a change in leadership; it’s good to see other people stepping forward and taking a leadership responsibility,’ Kaechele said. ‘It’s also a unique opportunity for me to see what directions other people can take the organization in.’
DLP, which has yet to gain chapter status at SU, was partially set into motion by Kaechele’s efforts. The colony, which currently boasts 11 members, has worked over the last year and a half to meet the university’s standards for a greek chapter, as well as the national DLP requirements. This process, Kaechele said, is nearly complete.
‘At this point I feel very good about where I’ve left things exiting my office as president,’ Kaechele said.
Kaechele’s modest assessment of his work in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at SU is an understatement. The soft-spoken man with messy brown hair and sparkling eyes has accomplished a huge goal – the creation of a safe space where members of the gay and straight community can come together. As the colony’s first president, Kaechele banded his brothers together in a way no one else could have, said Scott Huegelmeyer, a senior English and textual studies major and vice-president of DLP.
‘He has a natural charisma for leading people,’ Huegelmeyer said.
Huegelmeyer and Kaechele first met through Pride Union, an undergraduate organization for gay, lesbian and bisexual students and their allies, but became friends when both became interested in founding the fraternity. The process of starting DLP was crazy, Huegelmeyer said, but Kaechele, who his fraternity brothers refer to as ‘Martha’ because of his cooking skills, found his place instantly as a leader. And though Kaechele will be missed as president of DLP, he’ll still be leading from behind the scenes, and bringing the same contacts and relationships to the table.
‘It’s almost like having two presidents,’ Huegelmeyer said.
DLP is only a small part of Kaechele’s vision. Some may describe him as an idealist, but that’s a part of dreaming big. He sees a time of acceptance in the future, where he can walk into any situation, with any group of people, and feel very welcomed. Call him crazy, but he feels it coming just around the bend.
Acceptance and love often stem from one important place – the family. While home over Winter Break, Kaechele discovered three important photographs, which he describes as the summation of his childhood. In the first, he sat on a tractor in his New Town, Conn., backyard, a small boy with his father. He smiled coyly at the camera in the second photograph while talking on the phone at age one and a half.
‘And do you remember those My Buddy dolls?’ he asked. ‘My Buddy and Kid Sister. I had one, and for a long time he was the same size as me, and you know, you eat lunch with them and they watch TV on the couch next to you.’
He flipped over the last photograph, a close-up of him kissing his sandy brown haired My Buddy doll full on the lips.
‘Apparently, My Buddy was my first boyfriend,’ he said. ‘So coming out? I dunno.’
Kaechele said he first realized he liked boys in the sixth grade. Boys were interested in girls, girls were interested in boys, but he just didn’t see what the big deal was. He managed to avoid most of the cruel teasing that can come with adolescent homosexuality because he tends not to transgress too many gender boundaries, and is honest and open about his preferences.
However, he didn’t come out to his parents until he was 14, a freshman in high school. But Kaechele didn’t tell his parents he was gay – he told them he liked boys.
‘My mom cried. And my father got angry,’ he said. ‘And my mother has stopped crying… and my father, I think his anger has waned.’
The person Kaechele said has always unquestionably been there for him is his sister, Sarah, a freshman at Southern New Hampshire University. The two like to go shopping, watch movies and hang out with their common friends when they’re both home, Sarah Kaechele said. She described Kaechele as more of a best friend kind of brother than just a normal one, and found her brother’s exit from the closet to be entirely a non-issue.
‘As long as he’s happy, I’m happy for him,’ she said, ‘so it didn’t really make a difference to me.’
Sarah Kaechele said adjusting to Kaechele’s departure for college was a difficult period, but Kachele knew SUNY ESF was right for him from the start. He visited the school and was pleased to find ‘Safe Space’ stickers on nearly every door of the Sadler 8 learning community. The marriage of SU and ESF also drew Kaechele in, and he was accepted to the school by way of early admission.
The thing Kaechele hates the most about Syracuse is also one of the things he loves – the oppressive cold.
‘It’s great in that it drives people to spend time with each other, but I think that it can serve to isolate people who don’t live geographically close to each other on campus,’ he said. ‘You take the good with the bad.’
Kaechele’s next calling may bring him full circle, back to the great outdoors. He would snap up the opportunity to live in Wyoming or Montana after graduation in a heartbeat. It may be difficult to view such a passionate advocate for community and togetherness as a forest ranger giving a presentation about a geyser, but Kaechele said he’d love to move out west. However, his family ties – biological and otherwise – are too strong to keep him there forever.
‘You can talk about family in a lot of contexts,’ he said. ‘If you have gay friends, you know that we refer to it as ‘the family,’ and I think there’s power in that.’
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