The UNC system student government, diversity & LGBT students

As many of you know, I have served in the Student Government Association of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, since my freshman year here.

I started out in August 2004 as an at-large Senator and then became the Organizational Senator for UNCG PRIDE!, our campus LGBTQA student organization. During my time in Student Government and even now while I serve as Chair of the Student Senate Legislative Committee, I have made sure to represent the very often overlooked needs and concerned of the most marginalized sections of the student popultion. By marginalized students I mean African-Americans (especially males), Hispanics, Low income students and, of course, LGBT students.

To me, the most marginalized student group in that broad category includes those students who are LGBT.

I was fortunate enough to attend the General Assembly meeting of The University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments this weekend. The Assembly was held at UNC-Charlotte and, astonishingly, all 16 campuses of The University of North Carolina were present at the meeting.

For those of you who don’t know, the UNCASG serves as the UNC System Student Government. On top of advocating for the students within the North Carolina State Legislature, UNCASG also serves to represent the concerns of all of its 16 constituent campuses and all the students within the system.

During the beginning portions of the General Assembly meeting on Saturday morning, UNCASG President Zachary Wynn held an open discussion on where UNCASG has been, where we are now and where we should be going. Sadly, much of the debate that morning surrounded diversity and the inclusion of marginalized students. It seems to me as though the issue of diversity would have been resolved by now.

Since all 16 campuses were at the meeting, all of UNC’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were also present. Many of the HBCU representatives and their guests were concerned about inclusion. Many of them voiced concerns that the issues of HBCUs were not being adequately or appropriately addressed within the UNCASG General Assembly.

I also took my turn in speaking during the Assembly meeting, although I could not vote, as I was only a guest of our UNCG President. I stood up, as one of very few openly LGBT persons there that day, in support of advocacy for LGBT students and their issues.

The Association, no doubt, is a wonderful and effective group when it comes to lobbying the Legislature on issues surrounding tuition and fees. What the Association fails at is advocacy and lobbying pertaining to issues which affect and are important to marginalized sections of the UNC student population. Of course, as mentioned above… I feel most strongly about advocating for LGBT students (big surprise there).

The Association needs to pay more attention to the needs, issues and concerns of LGBT students. One thing that the Association could do in its attempts to address these issues would be to first accept and include LGBT students in their own group. The Constitution of the UNC Association of Student Governments includes an equal opportunity clause. Two things missing from that clause are sexual orientation and gender.

The General Assembly of the UNC Association of Student Governments should take immediate action to correct their equal opportunity clause. LGBT students and even students who are straight but are perceived as being LGBT need protection, inclusion and advocacy in the organization which is designed to advocate for students and get their issues and concerns heard by the State Legislature.

The Association also needs to take more pro-active stances on issues surrounding anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination at our 16 campuses of The University of North Carolina. Just last year a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, Thomas Stockwell, became the victim of an anti-gay hate crime when he was attacked on Franklin Street in the early hours of the morning. It is nothing short of a miracle that more damage wasn’t done to him and he is lucky to be able to claim that he is a survivor. Few others get that opportunity.

As a student who is heavily involved in my campus Student Government and now that I am involved with the Association of Student Governments I pledge to all of my fellow LGBT students and straight allies that I will do all I can within the power and ability granted to me by the Constitution of the UNCG Student Government and that of the Association’s Constitution in order to ensure that LGBT students are protected from harassment and discrimination.

The ideals which make America great are the same ideals which are broken and destroyed when harassment and discrimination takes place.

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