Kent State faculty, staff, students discuss the LGBT-friendly campus atmosphere
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LGBTQ students and allies at Kent State celebrate National Coming Out Day on Friday, but the university’s overall LGBT-friendly campus climate Index score might not be an accurate reflection of the campus’ inclusiveness.
Currently, Kent State has an overall pride rating of 3.5-out-of-5, which puts the university in a slightly above average range, according to information from campusprideindex.org.
The rating is based on a number of factors including academic life; student life; housing and residence life, policies and practices; campus safety; counseling and health services and recruitment and retention efforts.
Roxie Patton, program coordinator of the LGBTQ Student Center, collects data for the campus climate score. Patton said the data is supposed to be updated annually, but a couple of inaccuracies are present because of confusion, ignorance and change.
Much has changed, for example, since Christina McVay, associate lecturer of Pan-African Studies and then-faculty associate for the LGBTQ community, submitted the information in the winter 2012. The LGBTQ Student Center has gained a full-time faculty member with Patton, the LGBT Studies program has expanded, and the overall student life has changed, Patton said.
Molly Merryman, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Sociology and co-coordinator of LGBT Studies, said students can expect more initiative to come out of the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion’s office this year.
She said the office is inviting a leader of the Pride Index to come to Kent State and have a workshop to help faculty and staff create effective changes.
“I do know that this year there is going to be a more concerted effort (for LGBTQ equality) institutionally,” Merryman said. Still, the campus climate score for policy inclusion is a 3-out-of-5 because of Kent State’s lack of recognizing transgender identities.
Merryman said although students, faculty and staff are protected from discrimination by Kent State based on sexual orientation, there is no language for transgender students.
“I would believe something we need to do better is policy,” Merryman said. “Particularly the integration of transgender students because if you look at the protection status on nondiscrimination, we don’t have language for transgender students, faculty and staff. And I think that is a major problem.”
Faculty and staff also do not currently have to attend training to be educated and aware of LGBTQ culture, which the campus climate score inaccurately indicates, Patton said.
“I do think (having LGBTQ faculty training) would help (the LGBT-friendly campus climate),” said Lauren Vachon, instructor of Introduction to LGBT Studies. “But I would also say that most faculty are aware and try to help the diverse needs of students.
It’s wrong to say there are loads of ignorant faculty out there.”
Academic Life and Accommodation
LGBT Studies faculty is predominately made up of volunteers from other departments because it is not a funded program, Merryman said. This in turn impedes progress to create new classes and have more control of the program.
The lack of funding and control may have resulted in a 3.5-out-of-5 rating for academic life, which Merryman said shows how the LGBT Studies program both helps and hurts the score.
“I think it helps that we have the program, and we were the first in Ohio to have an LGBT Studies program. (There are) only a handful in the country that exist,” Merryman said. “I think that, particularly as we are changing our curriculum, we are going to be one of the more vibrant programs again.“
The program only receives funding from leftover funds and class enrollment fees, which helps pay term faculty such as Vachon, Merryman said.
She said because LGBT studies isn’t well-funded, “it is not a strong program.”
Other changes faculty and staff would like to see include more accommodation for LGBTQ people at Kent State.
“From what I’ve heard, when issues are raised accommodations happen and happen quite well in terms of finding documentation of standards,” Merryman said. “I know that is not really easy to find, and so the concern becomes what is happening to students who don’t feel comfortable enough or assertive enough to ask for things if there isn’t a presence (for help).”
The campus climate score for housing and residence life of 3-out-of-5 implies Kent State has gender-neutral housing, but Patton said that is inaccurate. The university only has accommodation for students who raise concerns, and must be approved to live with people they feel safe with.
Safety and student life
Merryman said she thinks Pride! and the local police department play key roles in making Kent State a safe space for LGBTQ students — and a 5-out-of-5 campus safety and student-life score — thanks to a strong presence of students who have already come out.
Issues risen from bullying LGBTQ students have been handled seriously and efficiently, Patton said, but often LGBTQ students are afraid to go to police because of preconceived notions of police brutality against the LGBTQ community.
“Pride! Kent is also a safe space for the community, and I think we do try to provide as safe of an environment as possible,” said Amelia Skidmore, junior psychology major and Pride! Kent allies chair.
Pride! provides students with a welcoming mix of LGBTQ-identifying students and allies, who meet every week to discuss issues in the community, Patton said. The organization, she said, also works closely with the LGBTQ Student Center, which was established three years ago.
“I was surprised to see that we had a five (in student life) when I came here (last year) because we were lacking a lot in student life,” Patton said. “But I know that we’ve earned that five now in that we have programs, we have the general student group (Pride!) and LGBTQ Student Center programming,”
The LGBTQ Student Center offers events open to all students to learn about LGBTQ culture and awareness such as the Queering History series, where student can learn about the history of LGBTQ cultures. The center also has inclusive discussion groups to help LGBTQ students find support such as Trans*former, Womyn Loving Womyn, Sons of the Spectrum and Queer People of Color.
“Pride! Kent provides to overall student life because our meetings are a mixture of social, informational and educational in any way possible,” Skidmore said. “We shape our organization around the members, so who we are is a direct reflection of who our members want us to be.”
Though Skidmore said she believes Kent State is a safe space for the LGBTQ community, she thinks there is always work to be done.
Last year, Kent State made changes to create a Lavender Graduation ceremony for LGBTQ students and allies, but more gender-neutral housing efforts and LGBTQ policy are still in the works.
“I think it is hard to put a (safe space) label like that on an entire university,” Patton said, “especially a university of this size. I would say we have pockets of safe spaces, and I think each person each student has a different student experience depending on their major, which residence hall they live in and what student groups they are involved in, their religious background; each of those depends if they will find a safe space on this campus.”