Why Reaching OUT?
Diversity defined - Increasing and supporting diverse students and faculty, and expanding our notions of what constitutes a diverse college campus are priorities at SUNY Fredonia and most institutions of higher education. In mid-2000, the Association of American Colleges and Universities launched the “Making Excellence Inclusive” initiative in an attempt to have universities embed diversity into the core of their academic missions. By taking this approach, the AACU is emphasizing that diversity is not an “add on” or something that is done solely through Student Affairs or Residence Life. Rather, diversity is woven through curriculum, pedagogy, research, student affairs, faculty recruitment and retention. One of the AACU’s goals is to expand the definition of diversity to look beyond race as the sole or most important factor when thinking and talking about diversity.
LGBTQ -Although Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) students are not widely considered an ‘underserved’ population (like students of color, low-income, first-generation, etc.) and a paucity of research exists that focuses on LGBTQ issues on college campuses, these students are often the focus of anti-gay violence, harassment and homophobic slurs. They also experience classroom and housing situations where they are silenced and invisible as LGBTQ-identified persons. In 2003, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force surveyed more than 1,600 students, faculty, and administrators identified as LGBTQ on 14 campuses. More than 20% of those surveyed feared for their physical safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation and 51% concealed their identity to avoid intimidation. As for institutional responses to LGBTQ, 41% of those surveyed indicated that their college/university was not addressing LGBTQ issues and 43% believed that the curriculum was void of contributions from LGBTQ people. LGBTQ faculty and staff also may be harassed, forced to maintain their silence, or discouraged from accepting employment at a perceived hostile or unwelcoming university. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (1/29/10, Hanson) outlined a few of these issues facing LGBTQ faculty: “Issues such as housing and health care policies, the use of non-inclusive language in university publications (print and electronic) and by other university personnel, the lack of social networks for LGBTQ individuals and couples. Such issues are not solely relevant for LGBTQ individuals but some elements may be more import to LGBT than to straight.”
Campus Climate - Many institutions of higher learning are assessing their campus climates for diversity. However, the way climate is conceptualized and measured varies a great deal across studies. In general, a campus climate refers to behaviors, policies, and practices that influence individuals’ perceptions of the extent to which they feel safe, included, and respected in a learning environment. Thus individual level factors (e.g., behavior, representation) as well as institutional level factors (e.g., policies, practices) both shape a campus climate. Most studies of campus climate focus on aspects of diversity such as ethnicity and gender as opposed to sexual orientation and many limit their analysis to students’ perceptions. There is very little published literature on the impact of perceptions of campus climate on academic performance and quality of life. It appears as though perceptions of a hostile climate for students may predict depression, substance use, and disengagement from academics which would certainly have an impact on students’ learning outcomes and psychological well-being. Clearly, there is a need for campus climate surveys that assess the climate for LGBTQ individuals across campus and to consider opportunities for growth that may arise from that survey that benefit everyone (e.g., changes in curriculum, student activities, diversity training, policies, programming).
Lack of Resources -Specific resources to assist and support LGBTQ faculty and staff are often not available on university campuses. Very few SUNY institutions have the means or relevant knowledge to support centers or offices that are specific to LGBTQ. In fact, most SUNYs house support for LGBTQ in Offices of Multicultural Affairs that may be staffed by one individual who must oversee numerous student organizations. For example, at SUNY Fredonia, our Center for Multicultural Affairs is staffed by a director and a graduate assistant and oversees more than five student organizations, and our Pride Alliance is the only multicultural affairs student group that is not affiliated with an academic department or program which can be more challenging to build coalitions with academic affairs. However, our Pride Alliance is the largest multicultural student group and is tied to our interdisciplinary Safezone committee which has allowed for some integration with academic affairs.