It is 2016 and I still cannot believe that I live in a country where racism, prejudice, and homophobia plague this place that I call home. It is apparent when I watch the news and browse through social media outlets and I often feel disgusted and saddened at the amount of ignorance and bigotry that is showed by so many people.
On June 13, 2016, I logged into Facebook. As I scrolled through my timeline, my entire body felt numb after learning about the tragedy that occurred in Orlando, FL the night before. I was horrified at what I was seeing, especially people’s comments in response to the shooting. Instead of the majority of people sending their condolences and trying to find ways to help the victims, I saw comments filled with ignorance, hate and anger. I witnessed colleagues within our very own field attempting to discredit the significance of this issue. Some were even trying to compare the struggles of the LGBT+ community with those of the black community. All people from marginalized communities have a struggle of some sort, but to discredit one in the light of another doesn’t help to educate and improve our communities. Fellow colleagues, we have serious work to do and we MUST do better.
As a Student Affairs professional, I have been working at my current institution for a year. Up until last semester (Spring 2016), I rarely heard anyone talk about “homosexuality.” For a period of time, I thought that this community was non-existent on my campus, but I knew that this was impossible. My team within the Campus Life department and I often discussed ways to incorporate social justice into our leadership development curriculums, but the conversations felt so narrow. I felt that there was more focus placed on educating students about race, religion, and socioeconomic status. These are all essential parts of the social justice conversation, but there was not much talk about the LGBT+ community. One day, early Spring, a student came to my office inquiring about the process of starting an LGBT+ club. I had never met this student before, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to provide as much support and advisement to this student as I could so this club could have longevity and be successful on our campus. The student was a first-year and he wanted other students who identified as LGBT+ on campus to feel that there was a place for them to feel safe. He didn’t want this club to only be for LGBT+ students, though — he wanted this club to be open to anyone and to serve as an outlet to educate the community.
Since this initial conversation, I have been working with this student and other colleagues at my institution on this new initiative. Our Vice President for Student Affairs and other members of the senior leadership team are in full support of this club. There was no opposition to this by the senior leadership team, but I would assume that since no student had ever brought this to their attention before, it might not have been something on their radar yet. Nonetheless, I am excited to be working with this student and supporting him every step of the way. My team and I have already made significant progress and will be doing the following during the 2016/2017 Academic Year:
- We are planning on conducting formal and informal assessments with our student community this Fall.
- We are working with experts specialized in this area to consider strategies to introduce this club to our campus community.
- We are reaching out to more faculty and staff for support. We even have a faculty member in mind that will be a really good campus adviser for this club.
- We are researching LGBT+ clubs at other colleges and universities to see how they function, as well as the types of programs and initiatives they provide.
- We will be very sensitive to the privacy of our students. Some students may not feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation with their family and peers, and as an administration, we will respect this decision.
- We have to understand that the needs of students within the LGBT+ community varies and cannot all be treated the same.
- We need to be aware that some students are at different stages in their life in terms of accepting their identity and being comfortable around others that may or may not understand their struggles.
While we are in the early stages of developing this club, I am proud that our campus has taken this step. The tragedy in Orlando, FL has shed more light on pre-existing issues within the LGBT+ community that people have either overlooked or are not aware of. Students need to feel valued and reassured that their campus administrators care about them and want to take the necessary steps to create a safe space. This new club will definitely be a step in the right direction for us to strengthen and educate our community.
This post is part of our #SAprosContribute series, which aims to answer the question: How can you contribute solutions or actions when a tragedy like Orlando occurs as a Student Affairs professional? We will hear from Student Affairs Professionals of all backgrounds on their take on contributing to make positive change on campus after a tragedy. For more info, please see Mehtap’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series