UNCG, the UNC-System & LGBT students


In the past few days news has come about two North Carolina schools which made a list of the top-100 LGBT-friendly colleges and universities in the United States. Both Duke University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill made the list. Duke University made the number two spot, in fact.

This post is an attempt to address the problems within The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, The University of North Carolina (entire System) and The University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments. Beyond just “pointing out the problems,” this post will also seek to provide for possible solutions and actions which can be taken by the three entities.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Unfortunately, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a school with a state-wide reputation of being LGBT-friendly, welcoming, safe and accepting, failed to make the recently released list of top LGBT-friendly schools, as did the majority of other UNC System institutions. UNCG, or “UNC-gay” as it is fondly referred to by LGBT students and community members across the state, needs to actually live up to its University propagandistic reputation of “valuing diversity” and being a “gay-friendly” school. UNCG must take substantial action in order to ensure the safety and welcoming of all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender-identity/expression.

While UNCG has taken awesome steps in regard to campus diversity and campus awareness on a number of multicultural, racial and ethnic issues, it has yet to take many official or far-reaching steps or actions regarding what may be one of the smallest and most socially and legally vulnerable minorities in the State of North Carolina and United States of America.

Non-Discrimination

UNCG must add gender-identity/expression to its non-discrimination statement (as the Student Government Association has already done). Certain members of the University community are currently working on this, but more must be done and students and student groups must join together in order to let the University Administration know that this is something needed and wanted. To the University’s credit, sexual orientation was added to the policy in 1996 by Chancellor Patricia Sullivan. UNCG’s non-discrimination statement applies to both student admission, enrollment and programming as well as employment.

LGBT Student Affairs

UNCG must provide official, University support for LGBT students and student affairs. At the very least, UNCG’s Office of Student Life and Multicultural Affairs should assign to one, specific staff member or director the responsibility of working directly with LGBT students and on LGBT student affairs. A better movement by these two offices, however, would be the establishment of an LGBT Student Resource Center (Like Wake Forest University has done with their GSSA Lounge) or an Office of LGBT Student Affairs (similar to UNC-Chapel Hill’s office or Duke’s office).

UNCG SafeZone Program

UNCG’s SafeZone program is in desperate need of a re-vamping and re-working. Although I’m sure it accomplishes some good, it does not currently have enough official support and does not have enough trainings (currently one or two per year) to make the program reach a substantial number of UNCG faculty, staff, or, most importantly, students. SafeZone should expand its program to be more like that of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke.

The UNCG SafeZone program must focus more on outreach and provide more trainings throughout the year in order to reach a more substantial number of people. At the same time, the trainings must not be so long (currently a full day), so that more students, faculty and staff will be able to attend them and not miss out on valuable course time (or work for faculty and staff).

The UNCG SafeZone program should also consider re-vamping the way in which trained SafeZone allies display their SafeZone certification. SafeZone stickers, to be placed on the outside of office or dorm room doors (as compared to wall-hung certificates) should be more plentiful. If the trainings are shortened and more are held, with the addition of more visible stickers as compared to certificates hung inside an office or dorm, the program would have a better chance of reaching more people and creating a larger campus impact.

On-Campus Housing, Gender-blind/neutral Housing, SOAR

The UNCG Office of Housing and Residence Life must provide for gender-blind/neutral housing options and policies for those students for whom such measures are needed. These policies would allow safe and comfortable housing options for transgender students or other LGBT students who find it difficult to live in the traditional housing options provided by the University. Like the addition of gender-identity/expression to the University non-discrimination statement, members of the University community are also working on this.

From what I have been told, no written policies currently exist within the Office of Housing and Residence Life in regard to gender-blind/neutral housing, although there has always been extra space and an un-written, but understood, procedure for dealing with such special circumstances (which, despite its flaws, is better than no procedure at all). A group of people from the University community will be working this fall semester toward drafting a written policy in a much needed step toward ensuring that all students have safe, equitable and welcoming housing options.

UNCG’s summer orientation program, SOAR, must begin to offer a more substantial and adequate coverage of the University’s policies and expectations regarding the respect of other students, especially in regard to expectations of on-campus living. “Diversity trainings” or other workshops to introduce students to the value of community living and respect of human diversity is a must. When I attended SOAR in the summer of 2004, diversity issues and the discussion of the University’s expectation on non-discrimination and anti-harassment was hardly discussed.

The extent to which it was discussed in my “small group” discussion following a skit (in which diversity issues were hardly covered) could likely be attributed to my personal insistence upon its discussion. Many people in that small group, including the person with whom I was assigned to spend the night and a future hall-mate, stated how they would “never room with a gay guy” and how they were afraid such a person might “make advances” toward them. Needless to say, I did not stay on campus that night.

Many on-campus students report regular anti-LGBT harassment in residence halls. As has been my personal experience as well as the experience of numerous people I know, anti-LGBT vandalism upon residents’ doors and harassing anti-LGBT language directed toward residents is a common occurance. When brought to the attention of residence hall officials, insignificant action is taken and the harassment often continues. Although support from straight students is often common after these incidents (as has also been my personal experience with room-mates and hall-mates), the officials with Housing and Residence Life must take more proactive steps to ensure the safety of on-campus residents.

The University of North Carolina System and The UNC Association of Student Governments

While many of these problems are occuring at UNCG, one can have no doubt that such problems exist in every UNC System school. To address these problems, The University of North Carolina Board of Governors should be taking strong, proactive stances and actions to make the entire System a place in which LGBT students are safe and welcomed. At the same time, The University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments (UNCASG) must also take a role in stepping up to address these problems with the UNC Board of Governors and General Assembly of North Carolina, advocating for LGBT students, a legally and socially vulnerable minority for whom advocacy within the state’s University is sadly lacking.

The UNC System does have a state-wide, system-wide “Equality of Opportunity” statement (PDF), but it does not include sexual orientation or gender-identity/expression. The same holds true for the constitutional equal opportunity statement of UNCASG (MS Word).

The UNC System and the UNC System Board of Governors, which is now headed up by new UNC President, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff and former North Carolina Democratic US Senate candidate Erskine Bowles, must take quick action to protect LGBT students by amending its equality of opportunity statement to include sexual orientation and gender-identity/expression.

The same must be done by the General Assembly of the UNC Association of Student Governments, which just last April voted down a proposal to add sexual orientation, gender, gender-identity/expression and socioeconomic status to its equal opportunity statement. In that April vote, only six out of approximately sixty-four delegates from each UNC constituent campus voted in favor of the proposal (four of whom were delegates from UNCG, the school from which the original, more far-reaching proposal had come and two of whom were delegates from Western Carolina University which had just recently added sexual orientation to their University’s non-discrimination).

After an overwhelming defeat of the proposal (90% voting against it), caused by an erroneous statement that the Constitution of the State of North Carolina would prevent such an action, the UNC Association of Student Governments General Assembly then decided to “table the issue” until the beginning of their 2006-2007 session, at which time the General Assembly would be able to further research the issue and decide upon the most appropriate course of action.

The UNC System’s Equal Employment Opportunity statement (PDF) is also inadequate in protecting LGBT employees, some of whom who are also students of the University. The statement does not include sexual orientation or gender-identity/expression. This must also be amended to include sexual orientation and gender-identity.

As for past issues and actions, on February 25, 2005, openly gay UNC-Chapel Hill student Thomas Stockwell was attacked on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Franklin Street, during the time at which Stockwell was attacked by three or more men, was of course busy and full of UNC-Chapel Hill students, community members and most likely other individuals in some way associated or affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill. No one stopped the incident, which was investigated as a hate crime, and no one intervened. During the investigation no one out of the hundreds of possible witnesses spoke out to help find any suspects.

The response from the UNC-Chapel Hill LGBT and straight allied community and Chapel Hill town community was overwhelming. But as you can probably guess, the response from the UNC System and the UNC Association of Student Governments was astoundingly silent.

One UNC System consituent school, that being UNCG, did draft and pass a resolution concerning the event. The Thomas Stockwell Resolution (MS Word) “condemn[ed] any and all violent actions and crimes against any person when motivated by personal bias, prejudice or hate” and “urge[d] the (sic) University of North Carolina Board of Governors to mandate that all UNC-system schools adopt non-discrimination and non-harassment policies that protect students on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

A hate crime against a student of one of The University of North Carolina’s constituent schools, combined with the result of a silent UNC System and the outcry from Chapel Hill’s LGBT and straight allied community, should have been enough for the UNC System Board of Governors and other members of the Administration of the UNC System, as well as the Administration of UNC-Chapel Hill, to take notice of the climate and atmosphere in which LGBT students live, learn and work. To this day, despite numerous, overwhelming calls to do so, the UNC System and the UNC Association of Student Governments have yet to amend its non-discrimination statements.

Amending the policies versus Enforcement of the same

The above problems and inadequacies in addressing LGBT student issues and protecting LGBT students cannot be solved simply by amending policies or creating them. Enforcement of newly amended or newly created policies must follow and close scrutiny should be given to any actions thereafter.

Policies, laws and regulations are no good unless the governing bodies which issued them have the power to enforce the policies and regulations and then use that power to take the necessary courses of action when such policies and regulations are broken or violated.

The UNC System, the UNC Association of Student Governments and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro must take substantial action to address these problems and enforcing policies which should be amended to include sexual orientation and gender-identity/expression. The UNC System should commit itself to ensuring that each of its sixteen constituent schools, as well as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, follow state-wide, system-wide policies regarding non-discrimination and equal opportunity in admissions, programming and employment.

Conclusion

LGBT students of The University of North Carolina must have the same access and protection as other minorities. As what could be described as one of the smallest and most socially and legally vulnerable minorities in the State of North Carolina and United States of America, our colleges and universities (as well as other public institutions such as the K-12 public school system, health-care institutions, and local municipal, county and State governments, not dealt with in this writing) should be taking steps to protect their students and employees until such a time that state and federal law begin to recognize the rights and needs of LGBT people.

Institutions of education must be safe and welcoming of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender-identity. All persons must be ensured of their safety and protection while pursuing their goals of furthering their education and bettering their lives.

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Comments
2 Responses to “UNCG, the UNC-System & LGBT students”
  1. Ryan says:

    Define “access and protection,” and distinguish it from special treatment, if you don’t mind.

  2. Matt says:

    You and I are destined to disagree with many, although definitely not all, of these issue Ryan. Since we discussed some of your reservations earlier, privately, and we both know that neither of us are changing our minds, I think it is best if we just leave it alone. That is unless, of course, you want to discuss issues other than those focusing on gender-identity/expression and gender-blind/neutral housing.

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