Dr. Juli Burnell

Written by Lisa Rismiller

One shouldn’t be surprised that Dr. Juli Burnell, Psy.D. was drawn to the University of Dayton, for she is a teacher at heart. Aspects of UD’s Catholic and Marianist foundations, particularly commitments to inclusivity and to the dignity of every individual, were likely part of the appeal. Ironically, though, it was disconnects between those very principles and the lived experiences of some in the UD community that fostered Dr. Burnell’s “trailblazing” here.

With a B.S. in Health Education and Physical Education from Miami University and a Psy.D. from Wright State University, Dr. Burnell spent several years in private practice before joining UD’s Counseling Center in 1991. Over a 17-year career at UD, her official duties included serving as the Coordinator of Group Therapy and the Coordinator of Clinical Training, in addition to seeing a full caseload, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, and serving as a UD Diversity Fellow.

Dr. Burnell’s caseload over the years included many UD students struggling to understand, accept, and live their non-heterosexual identities. Even as she worked with and supported them individually, it became apparent that UD lacked institutional support and appropriate role models for these students. This gap awakened Dr. Burnell’s “teacher heart,” and set her on a quest to help make UD a place where all students could reach their full human potential.

During this time, the only visible support for LGBTQ+ students at UD was a group called Student Allies sponsored by Campus Ministry which was the forerunner of today’s Spectrum. It filled an important void, but its mission wasn’t institutional change. Dr. Burnell, among many others, actively supported Student Allies, but she also worked to raise institutional awareness of the existence and unique needs of these students. For example, she developed and taught a mini-course called Sexual Diversity and Human Development. Initially envisioned as a course to help LGBTQ+ students’ self-awareness and acceptance, it instead attracted primarily “straight” students who wanted to better understand sexual diversity. Many course alumni became active and outspoken allies for their LGBTQ+ students, friends, and family members, effectively magnifying Dr. Burnell’s educational efforts.

But her impact at UD didn’t stop there. Dr. Burnell also initiated and led a voluntary faculty and staff group, the LGBT Steering Committee, which focused on awareness-raising and advocacy for change in official UD policies and practices, including adding “sexual orientation” to UD’s employment non-discrimination statement (2004).

Today, Dr. Burnell’s advocacy and “teacher heart” have honed in on another group. Always interested in supporting the important roles humans and animals play in each other’s lives, she started one of the area’s first pet food pantries and was instrumental in the creation of Greene County’s first public dog park. Most recently, she founded and leads Ellie’s Rainy Day Fund (ERDF), a non-profit that assists financially stressed families in treating their medically challenged pets. Once again, Dr. Burnell is steering into “uncharted territory” with ERDF, continuing the trailblazing she began at UD so many years ago.