Evaluating MU’s progress on LGBT issues

There has been a lot of talk since last spring’s failed dean search and the resulting turmoil. Students have spoken out about a campus where LGBT-identified students don’t feel comfortable or welcome. Faculty members have voiced similar concerns, and the administration has pledged to make changes.

When it comes down to tangible and successful results the university can show for its efforts, the jury is still out. The university has talked the talk. But have they really walked the walk?

What has been done

As fitting as it is, talking about what happened and how to move forward was the first thing the university needed to do, many students said. At the start of the fall semester, the university set up a series of discussions held to connect students, faculty and administration.

One such bi-weekly discussion, “LGBTQ Student and Allies Discussion Group,” co-sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Counseling Center, was designed to provide a safe and confidential forum for LGBT students and allies.

Erin Ruckoldt, senior in the College of Communication and president of the Gender Sexuality Alliance, formerly the Gay/Straight Alliance, said the group conversation is helpful.

“The LGBT discussion that they put on is awesome,” Ruckoldt said. “I know they are sincere in helping those who want to further discuss issues surrounding the LGBT community.”

Steve Blaha, assistant director of Campus Ministry, and Angela Zapata, diversity coordinator of the Counseling Center, hosted the sessions.

Chris Miller, vice president of Student Affairs, said continued discussion and conversation on LGBT issues is the key to progress.

“The only way we can move forward is by listening,” Miller said. “We want to hear people’s opinions, either if we’re doing something right, or if there’s room for improvement. Discussion is vital to success.”

Besides the discussions sponsored by the university, Miller said other programming and events show the university’s dedication to providing for LGBT students.

New programming introduced for this academic year include: the LGBT Orientation Welcome Reception held at the beginning of the academic year, LGBT awareness week, LGBT Respect Life month and observance of the Day of Silence. The Ally Program will also be implemented at Marquette starting next semester.

The programs were designed to not only show Marquette is accepting and welcoming of LGBT-identifying students, but also to raise awareness and educate the campus on LGBT issues.

But students aren’t the only group on campus who have been the focus of university efforts.

During its monthly meeting held last February, the University Academic Senate passed a motion advising the university to extend benefits to the partners of university employees in domestic partnerships.

Although Marquette lauds itself on being all-inclusive of students and faculty, the university currently lags behind several other Jesuit institutions — Georgetown University, DePaul University and Seattle University — in extending benefits for those in domestic partnerships.

Nancy Snow, professor of philosophy, has been unimpressed by the perceived lack of university leadership and effort, and said providing benefits for adults in domestic partnerships would signal real intent to improve conditions for the LGBT community on the university’s part.

Miller said extending benefits is something the university is “very carefully considering.”

What is, or is not to come

One of the specific reforms Ronni Sanlo indicated in her report on the state of the LGBT community at Marquette, the Ally Program could be enacted as it is used at several universities nationwide.

This campus-wide program is directed at educating a campus on LGBT matters, providing a “safe zone” for LGBT students and training students and faculty — “Allies” — who want to help and guide people who identify as LGBT, Miller said.

Another of the recommendations Sanlo made is the hiring of a single university employee focused on coordinating LGBT matters on campus.

However, Miller said although the university has a part-time employee who spends most of her time on LGBT issues, hiring a sole coordinator is not in the university’s immediate plans.

“The university is not looking to hire an LGBT coordinator,” Miller said. “But we will continue to incorporate various departments and people in planning.”

Nate Schultz, a senior in the College of Education, said overall, the university has responded to the needs to the needs and issues of the LGBT community on campus.

“The new initiatives and programs put in place this year have been great,” Schultz said. “I have definitely seen improvements, especially in the amount of openness and willingness to simply talk about LGBT issues. The Division of Student Affairs, especially, has responded well, and in a serious manner.”

Other students, like Ruckoldt, don’t feel the university has taken enough action.

“I think the university could be doing a lot more,” Ruckoldt said. “I believe they’re trying … but most of the LGBT discussion programs on campus are completely student-run.”

Ruckholdt said while the university is making an effort, the steps taken have not had enough of an impact.

One group trying to do its part is Revitalizing Marquette, a group of students and administrators engaging in open dialogue on LGBT issues at Marquette.

Hilary Braseth, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, has helped organize meetings both last month and upcoming on March 31. However, she said student-run programs alone won’t help Marquette.

“There was a great turnout for the first meeting, and a lot of productive discussion came out of it,” Braseth said. “That being said, while I’m sure concerned students will continue to work and organize events, the university also has to continue, and step up, their efforts.”

A common sentiment among students is that, no matter their opinion on the effectiveness of university efforts, the level of communication between administration and students needs to be improved.

Schultz, who believes the steps taken have been effective, still sees room for improvement in terms of communication.

“I know that the Division of Student Affairs has been working very hard, but has not informed the students of their plan,” Schultz said. “Informing the students of any progress being made would help the students realize that the administration is attempting to meet the needs of all Marquette students, including those of the LGBT community.”

Braseth said not only communication, but also transparency is important to students.

“Students should be informed throughout the entire process of what’s being planned and how, not just after the fact,” Braseth said.