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Task force addresses LGBT fears

In August, the University Task Force on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Student Concerns submitted its final report and recommendations to the Division of Student Affairs.

Since then, changes have been made that appease LGBT students’ concerns on campus.

According to Camille Consolvo, chair of the Task Force, the group was formed to assess LGBT student concerns in order for the University to make informed decisions about how to answer them.

The report said that most LGBT students fear for their physical safety on campus, feel unsafe and uncomfortable mentioning their sexual orientation, and feel they lack sufficient role models among faculty, administration and graduate assistants.

Consolvo was pleased the concerns were discovered when they were, she said.

“I was pleased that we got students to talk about these issues and glad that we have a better sense of how to address the needs of this population,” she said.

The findings were the result of interviews with faculty and administration, an online survey of the student population and focus groups of students.

Bettina Shuford, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and director of the Center for Multicultural and Academic Initiatives, formed the Task Force in October of 2002 and was quite pleased with the work they did.

“The committee worked for over a year in terms of collecting information, interviewing individuals and conducting the campus climate survey,” Shuford said.

The data collected during that time, which the report was compiled from, led the Task Force to recommend several changes for the Division of Student Affairs to implement.

The recommendations include developing a LGBT resource center, providing at least one gender neutral bathroom (GNB) in every building and ensuring campus policies are equitable for all students, faculty and staff.

The campus policies that the Task Force mentioned in their recommendations included placing gender identity and gender expression in the University’s non-discrimination policy, treating male and female guests similarly in the overnight guest policies and extending full employment benefits to domestic partners.

Some of the recommendations drew from a comparison study conducted by the Task Force. That study compared the University’s LGBT resources and programs to 12 other institutions of higher education, including Ohio State University and The University of Toledo.

A recommendation that is in the process of being implemented is domestic partner benefits, which have been given to full-time faculty and staff at Miami University, Ohio State University, Ohio University and more than 70 percent of the universities in the Association of American Universities.

Cleveland State University has announced plans to implement such benefits.

At the University, Faculty Senate has formed a Domestic Partner Benefits Ad Hoc Committee, which is currently conducting a survey to determine the cost of implementing such benefits. It will submit its final report in the spring.

According to Shuford, since the report was released, there has been movement towards at least three of the recommendations.

“Since the report has come out, there’s certainly been lots of people on campus really beginning to focus on LGBT issues,” she said, “and so one good thing that came out immediately after the report was released was the development of a LGBT resource room.”

The LGBT Resource Center–which is currently in the process of purchasing materials that can be used across campus to educate students, faculty and staff–is located in 404 Saddlemire.

Another offspring of the report, the Division of Student Affair’s LGBT Advisory Board, will be looking at developing short- and long-term goals for improving LGBT students’ University experiences. The board will meet for the first time in the next few weeks.

The Center for Multicultural and Academic Initiatives is also expanding its Safe Zone LGBT educational programs, which are already administered to Resident Advisors, to include training for members of f raternities and sororities.

The University begun introducing gender neutral bathrooms (GNBs) in the spring, which protect LGBT students. LGBT individuals who use a restroom, but who do not appear to be of the correct gender for that restroom, have reportedly experienced trouble because they appear of the wrong gender.

University senior and LGBT community member Andy Jones is familar with the problems surrounding gendered restrooms. According to Jones, a friend of his was once jailed overnight, because a security official believed he was entering the wrong bathroom.

“I think GNBs are a good idea, because it allows anybody to use a public restroom without fear of discrimination, bodily harm, incarceration, or mental anguish,” Jones said.

The implementation of these restrooms on campus has been rather simple, according to Shuford.

The restrooms, are in the Kreischer and Residence Halls and Jerome Library.

“Some restrooms on campus have been designated as gender neutral, particularly bathrooms where there was just one stall and there was a lock on the door, making it really easy for that transition,” she said.

The bathrooms, which are quite similar to guest restrooms in Residence Halls, provide a private and clean — due to less use — restroom experience for students.

Sophomore Jared Mills is thrilled with the new restrooms.

“The more bathrooms, the better,” Mills said, “I think that because I am a pleaser. If one group isn’t happy, I’m not happy until they’re happy.”

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