Homophobic Incidents Prompt Official Response

By Ellie Reinhardt

Recent incidents of homophobia on campus have prodded College administrators to unveil a number of planned initiatives earlier than originally intended. The ongoing goals and initiatives, spearheaded by the Office of the Dean of the College, are aimed at enhancing the existing programing in order to strengthen support for the LBGTQA community on campus this year.

While plans for bolstered official College support for the LBGTQA community have been in the works since the summer, recent incidents of homophobia on campus — including an incident in which a member of the LBGTQA community received an anonymous threatening letter taped to the student’s door in addition to the recent controversy regarding Chance the Rapper’s lyrics — have prompted the administration to announce their goals and plans prior to the official implementation of such programs.

Assistant Director of Student Activities and Special Assistant to the Dean of the College Jennifer Herrera is leading the initiatives in conjunction with Dean of the College Shirley Collado, Associate Dean of Students for Student Activities and Orientation JJ Boggs, Director of Health and Wellness Barbara McCall and the board of the Queers and Allies (Q&A) student organization.

“We’ve had these two major incidents occur on campus that have gained more visibility than us being able to share this news about our LGBTQA resources and support initiatives,” Herrera said. “So what needs to be understood is that our effort to strengthen existing support and implement additional programs is not in reaction to those instances … As we made more progress in our work, it was our intention to introduce some of these initiatives later this academic year.”

Herrera made sure to note that due to the recent nature of the implementation of these support programs, she has not yet been able to gather feedback from as many students as previously intended. Q&A, however, has been involved in preliminary discussions.

“I’m glad that the administration is moving forward with tangible goals,” said Q&A co-chair David Yedid ’15. “I think the College is very behind in the way that they support minority student groups and there needs to be a big change.”

An increased focus on addressing the needs of the LGBTQA community at the College began this summer, after the College completed its first assessment through the online organization Campus Pride.

Campus Pride is a national nonprofit run for and by students with the goal of helping campuses “develop, support and give ‘voice and action’ in building future LGBT and ally student leaders,” according the company’s website.

According to Herrera, the assessment provides an LGBT Friendly Campus Climate Index, touching upon eight factors to rate a campus on their LGBT-inclusive policy, programs and practices. These factors include LGBT policy inclusion, support, institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts. Rated on a scale of zero to five, the College scored three and a half points.

Herrera, Boggs and Collado used the results and suggestions of the Campus Pride assessment, along with recommendations from students involved with Q&A and earlier LGBTQ groups on campus to create a list of four goals.

“Obviously [the goals are] not totally comprehensive, there’s still a lot to do,” Herrera said. “We can’t just check off these goals. We’re working on developing sustainable programs and strengthening the current support and resources we have on campus now for students.”

According to Herrera, the first of these goals is the implementation of a sustainable training program on LGBTQA/diversity issues for Residential Life staff and campus constituencies, including Safe Zone training. Secondly, the Campus Pride assessment has led to the development of an accessible, simple process for students to identify a preferred name and preferred pronoun on College records and documents via an electronic Bannerweb request form. Increased programming will also focus on developing LGBTQ-friendly resource materials and the Gender and Sexuality Resources website as part of a broader Diversity and Community website in addition to the establishment of a peer-mentoring program to welcome and assist LGBTQ students in transitioning to academic and campus life.

Yedid expressed concern that although these goals are “sold and fair”, there is currently no staff or faculty position whose job is to specifically act as a contact for the College’s LGBTQA community.

“These goals are positive, but I think there needs to be a larger changing of culture and that needs to happen with the knowledge that that’s someone’s job,” he said.

Along with the efforts to achieve these four goals, the College is looking at initiatives in other areas as well: both the Athletics Department and Parton Center for Health and Wellness are working on their own LGBTQA projects.

This fall, the Athletics Department joined the You Can Play (YCP) project. Through You Can Play, colleges and universities create videos, posted to the YCP website, stating their commitment to “ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation,” according to youcanplayproject.org.

“I certainly liked the message a lot, but I also liked the idea that there is a sustainable element to a video which is more permanent than a speaker or another one-time event,” wrote Director of Athletics Erin Quinn in an email, explaining why he and his staff chose to work on the project.

Parton faculty and staff have started to work with the RU12? Community Center, a Burlington-based organization that celebrates, educates, and advocates for the LGBTQA population in Vermont.

This September, Parton staff participated in a workshop run by RU12? and plan to hold another later in the year.

“Our hope is that through a variety of trainings and discussions over the next few years, Parton staff in health and counseling will continue to gain greater insight and understanding of the particular experiences of any students who may have felt stigmatized, misunderstood or dismissed by health care providers (at home or elsewhere) in the past, and through these trainings to increase our ability to provide excellent care,” wrote Executive Director of Health and Counseling Services Gus Jordan in an email.

The implementation of such programs and the achievement of the College’s LGBTQA community goals is expected to be a slow and fluid process, seeking feedback from students, faculty and staff, alike, along the way.

“We know that there are some holes and there is a lot that we can strengthen and improve but in order to not become overwhelmed by all of the potential work, we’ve narrowed it down to some concrete things to get off the ground and to develop in a real sustainable way this academic year so they can continue to move forward and be successful,” Herrera said. “We realize that new initiatives will surface and develop and we will be thinking about what the next things to tackle are.”