Campus re-evaluates LGBTQ needs, resources

By ARIA JONES
@AriaJonesETC

The recent vandalism of LGBTQ safe zone stickers on campus has prompted Eastfield College’s administration to take another look at its commitment to supporting LGBTQ students, faculty and staff.

“Going forward, my goal is to establish an access and equity center, where there would be support for LGBTQ [people], for any appropriate resources that anybody might need to be successful in college,” said Associate Vice President Rachel Wolf, the college’s Title IX coordinator.

In addition to federal Title IX regulations, the Dallas County Community College District has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

However, Wolf said she wants to create a physical, visible place for students to go on campus.

Another resource she wants to make available is LGBTQ safe space training.

Before spring break, LGBTQ support stickers on the doors of several faculty offices on the second level of the C building were defaced with a black marker.

Some faculty members were hesitant to speak about the incident, because they were uncertain if the stickers were allowed on campus.

“[The safe zone stickers] started with the faculty wanting to be sure we had a way to indicate places that were, for lack of a better word, safe spaces for people of the LGBTQ community to be able to have questions and get support if need be,” said Jean Conway, Eastfield College president.

Conway said she’s supportive of the message and added that they were made in-house as part of a grassroots movement.

“Showing support for something and having somebody deface it can be upsetting and demoralizing, but I also don’t think it means that we need to stop doing it or question it,” Wolf said.

The only support for LGBTQ students on campus now is found in the counseling and health centers and this can be problematic, said Katy Launius, associate dean of the Office for Student Engagement and Retention.

Launius, who identifies as queer, said there is a stigma and history behind relying on counseling and health services as a resource for
LGBTQ people. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association until 1987.

Launius said it’s can be unsettling to an individual to hear that they require counseling to receive support.

“I’m not disordered,” she said. “The world around me is disordered, and I’m just having to navigate a world that’s hostile toward me.”

Launius said people shouldn’t avoid counseling, but that using counseling as a primary resource can reinforce an idea that something is wrong with a person for being
LGBTQ.

Eastfield has other schools nearby that it can look to as examples. Richland and El Centro colleges have both participated in safe zone training from the Resource Center of Dallas, a non-profit that provides LGBTQ-friendly counseling and healthcare.

The Campus Pride Index, which evaluates how LGBTQ-inclusive a college is, recently gave the University of Texas at Dallas a 4.5 rating out of 5 stars.

LGBTQ clubs have existed at Eastfield, but they are student-run and several faculty members have said the clubs are hard to maintain because Eastfield is a two-year commuter college.

“When I came into OSER and began working with the student engagement team, it was an area where I saw a gap in programming and services,” Launius said, who has a background in diversity education and has facilitated safe zone trainings.

Launius said that it’s important that the institution uphold and support programs for LGBTQ students so that the programs don’t die when students and staff move on.

“I can step in and say, ‘Oh, I see a gap.’ I’m gonna offer some trainings. But it’s not in my dedicated job description, so if I leave that’s just something I was doing as a passion project.”

Launius said OSER has plans to celebrate LGBT history month in October, which is also the same month as National Coming Out Day.

According to the Campus Climate Report produced by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 20 percent of students, faculty and staff at colleges across the country reported fearing for their physical safety because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Over half of the people surveyed said they concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid intimidation. The report says victims of anti-LGBTQ violence may suffer from chronic stress, depression, low self-esteem and other negative effects.

Leslie McMurray and Rafael McDonnell from the Resource Center visited Eastfield on March 26 and spoke about issues affecting the
LGBTQ community.

As a transgender woman, McMurray was able to share her experiences and explain the barriers she says she faces in society.

“You look at the inability to use a bathroom outside the home, no housing protection, no job protection, access to healthcare, and serving in the military,” she said.  “When you pull away hope, people can start thinking bad things. You get desperate.”

A comprehensive anti-bullying policy is important for schools to emphasize, McMurray said.

“You can’t learn if you’re scared to death, or if you don’t feel welcome,” she said.

The safe zone stickers around campus provide visibility of LBGTQ support for students, but there are more steps colleges can take, McDonnell said, who serves at the Resource Center’s communications and advocacy manager.

“It’s good to have stickers, but I think you’ve got to have the training that goes with it.” he said. “[Colleges should] encourage people to go through the training to get the stickers.”

More training on how to better support LGBTQ students is an idea several faculty and staff are behind.

“Most of it is actually having a safe training for our staff members and our faculty to make sure that we are servicing our students and our colleagues and making sure that we are a safe space and not just giving it lip service,” said Courtney Pickens, the Providing Hope, Awareness, & Suicide Education Project Program Coordinator.

Launius said training plays an important role in creating an environment that is supportive of LGBTQ students.

“Training creates visibility,” she said. “So it’s important for there to be visibility around the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity because I think that there are real gaps here on campus in the services that we’re providing to students, in the support and even just in knowledge.”

Knowledge of the LGBTQ community is what can help create a better environment on campus, said Niko Robbins, a medical engineering student.

“I think a lot of the time the problem is not that people are transphobic, but sometimes they just don’t have the information they need,” Robbins said.

The administration’s response when attention was called to LGBTQ support on campus has given David Willburn, an art instructor, hope that progress is being made.

“I feel encouraged by the fact that, prompted by faculty, the administration is recognizing their role,” he said. “And in cases of creating this sense of institutional equity and equality, it has to start at the top. It has to come from the administration.”

Willburn said Eastfield could be the leader for putting DCCCD’s anti-discrimination policies into practice, and Eastfield has the right administration to do it.

He said the messages that student media, the administration and Eastfield send need to be considered to create a space where students can seek support.

When a recent opinion piece was published in the Et Cetera about sexuality being a choice, Willburn said there was a larger, far-reaching social impact.

“It felt like it was just not a First Amendment issue,” Willburn said. “Does the Et Cetera have a higher standard to say… ‘We’re not going to shine a light on things that are just meant to cause harm for the sake of causing harm?’”

Willburn said the opinion piece was reflective of old ideas.

McMurray said there are steps that students, faculty and staff can take themselves that don’t require a club or a program provided by the administration.

“Be a gentle listening ear if someone wants to come out to you,” she said. “For me, coming out was very difficult. It was a secret I’d held my whole life. I didn’t feel safe telling it to anybody. If you’re the type of person that someone feels safe talking to, you’re worth your weight in gold, and you don’t have to do anything other than just listen and make it a safe space.”

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