28 April 2011

Director of LGBTQ Affairs

At Lavender Graduation it was announced that the search for Purdue's first Director of LGBTQ Affairs will begin this summer. It has taken a lot of work to get to this point, and I am excited to see things moving forward.

With that being said, our work still continues. We must continue to collect stories. We must continue to push for changes on campus. We still know the issues, and the Director has not been filled yet (and even once they are the students still play some role in activism). I also urge you not to think this thing is done. Purdue Student Government and Purdue Graduate Student Government both passed the Nondiscrimination Policy resolution unanimously, and it still took another unanimous passage, PSG invoking their policy proposing power, and several months to be achieved. I vote we celebrate and hold them to this.

For those of you who were around the last time we were close to a director, know that it is much more realistic this time than before. The accreditation report effectively said we need to hire one, and the students have built up a huge case for it. Dr. Exum has also joined Purdue, and she was part of the reason why the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill has theirs. Yet I also understand your skepticism, and will be joining you in a percentage of that until the position is filled and the person is on campus (btw, if the future director is reading this, schedule a meeting with me, please).

My advise is to celebrate this victory now. Then keep the work up. Confirm every step of the way that things are moving forward. Email them regularly until the job is posted and filled. I have great respect and trust for the people responsible for making this happen, but this is so hugely important to the lives of so many students that we have to keep track and make sure things move forward. I know I will on my own, and I hope QSU, NOGLSTP, and others will do so as well.

Queer at Purdue: Potential Students

Support staff is not just for supporting students who are here, but also for prospective students. While I was Queer Student Union president I received a good number of emails from prospective students. One I remember involved a transgender student. They were going to the length of contacting every Big Ten university to see which would be the most supportive of them. Unfortunately that was at the beginning of this year before Purdue or West Lafayette included gender identity and gender expression in their nondiscrimination policies. They also were already somewhat dismayed that we did not have an LGBTQ center that they could contact, and thus had had to resort to contacting a student organization. Another student I remember was potentially coming from abroad, and wanting to know how Gay men were treated on campus and by the campus community. Not only were they potentially going to a new country, but they had no idea how their sexual orientation would be treated. Neither of these questions are uncommon to receive. I remember before I came to Purdue my high school councilor and I called the university and ended up getting forwarded to the Queer Student Union (due to lack of administrative knowledge) to talk about potential issues facing Gay people in the dorms. I, as an undergraduate, was even contacted by graduate students and postdocs wondering about the campus climate. I can also remember times when the Queer Resource Center has been visited by parents, wondering what it will be like for their children to attend Purdue (not to mention all of the questions when QSU is present at diversity-related events for prospective students).

I find it really odd that students have to offer this informational service. While I understand a student may want to contact other students to find out how the campus really is, when it comes to questions of policy, isn’t that where there should be support staff? Unfortunately, students can’t consistently offer information like this, and many may be unprepared and uninformed on the details a specific individual wants. Plus, with the turn-over rate of students, by time we know the university well enough to really talk to the climate or enforcement of policies, we are gone. Besides, while students will serve this role, shouldn't the university have an interest in distributing this type of information? Especially if it is linked in some way to recruitment (an area Purdue has recently come under fire for with how it is choosing to spend its advertising money).

26 April 2011

Queer at Purdue: AIDS Shout from Meredith

One thing I feel across the board people talk about at Purdue is getting yelled at from cars. If you are on Chauncey at night, regardless of who you are, it is going to happen. Even walking along State Street at night can often be like that. Getting yelled at from a car in the middle of the day is not nearly as common, as I think yet again most anybody would report. Being yelled at from dorm windows is even less common, and I have only experienced that once. Thus, I felt that would be appropriate for the second story I post about being Queer at Purdue.

Nathan and I were walking by Meredith holding hands. We frequently get yelled at when holding hands (I think we counted 11 times in less than two weeks and then we stopped keeping track). Most of them don’t really stick out in my head, but this one does. The people yelled from the window, “Have you got AIDS yet?”

If you have stories or anecdotes about being Queer at Purdue, consider passing them on. We can talk about a reasonable confidentiality in them. I will be collecting them, and I am pretty sure the Queer Student Union is starting to compile them. These stories are an important next step in moving forward on LGBTQ issues at Purdue.

24 April 2011

Queer at Purdue: College of Agriculture Awards

It is important in moving forward to begin collecting stories. It is important for people to see what it is like to be Queer at Purdue. The numbers speak volumes about why a staff member is needed, but they alone have proven not to be enough. What we need now are our voices. Stories on every topic, ranging from students being forced out of bathrooms to students asking about relatively common bits of information that Purdue just doesn’t have. I will start to collect these, as I am sure my successors in the Queer Student Union will as well.

So I have decided to start this process off, at least for me. I decided I would start with something I have personally been trying to figure out how it should be handled. I am of course one of the students who should be the most knowledgeable on how to handle something like this, yet I am not really sure (I am not sure what I am personally willing to do. That is the problem with issues like this, is we almost feel limited in what we do about it just because we already feel wronged this far). So I have decided to record this in this way.

For each of the past three years I have been my department’s outstanding student for my year. The first two years I went to the College of Agriculture Awards Ceremony. For everybody, they call your name and read through a short bio. This includes people’s involvement and other information. Yet both times I went, my involvement was cut short. All of my Queer involvement was conveniently left out. At first I just thought it was an accident. I mean I was only a first-year student, and was the secretary of QSU and had been on the LGBTQ Advisory Board, but both of those things were new this semester. I had listed them on the form the department had me fill out though, so I knew people were aware of it though. So the second year I waited. After all, I was Vice President of the Queer Student Union and that was a pretty cool thing to be. I also had the LGBTQ Advisory Board to the Office of the Provost, and Ally Association (where I had even done a panel for the College of Agriculture’s AGR 201!). Yet again, it was left off. I was frustrated, but I didn’t really think to do anything about it.

That of course means this year came around. I got the invitation to go, and of course was glad that my department again nominated me. But this year I decided not to go to the awards ceremony. I was the president of the Queer Student Union, I had been involved in some huge changes on campus, and I decided it wasn’t worth being insulted by having my involvement cut short again. I told people I was busy and couldn’t go, which was a lie (sorry to those of you finding that out now, but I hope you understand). I was just sick and tired of being insulted. It is sad that my lab, my department, the university, and Mortar Board can acknowledge that I have been involved in [successful] Queer activism, but my college can’t mention it when listing my involvement. I would love to find out it was all a mistake, that it was just an accident. Two (likely three) years in a row though, I am afraid I can’t feel that way.

I am also not the only one who has felt this. I now know of another student, involved in one of QSU’s sibling organizations, who is also having his Queer involvement left out of his bio. Why is it that the College of Agriculture refuses to acknowledge this involvement? Especially with the sheer number of students they list off with Cru and XA (those in the Queer community will understand why this is significant, if you don’t just email me and I will explain).

I am sure I should have said something. I know I could have gone and just talked to the Office of Institutional Equity, yet I have not. I don’t even know if they discussed it this year as I did not go (though I have a feeling they did not as a Queer organization was left off of one of my friend’s bios, but he left before the Outstanding Juniors were announced). If that person wanted to push things, then I would definitely step forth. For now, however, I will just start off the Queer at Purdue story telling with this story.

22 April 2011

Purdue Diversity Assessment

Purdue's Diversity assessment was just brought to my attention (http://www.purdue.edu/ethics/contribute_pdf_docs/2007_diversity_assessment_000.pdf and bolding is my emphasis). Honestly, I am surprised nobody brought this to my attention earlier, but I guess that was because it would have been useful in pushing for a change. People might be surprised that people, on a survey, actually exposed what they might be uncomfortable with! Here are some reasons why I say that:

Staff reported being very comfortable interacting with individuals from the eight different groups (more than 94% rated agreement or strong agreement that they were comfortable), with one exception. Although still very high in absolute terms, comfort levels were lower for interacting with someone different in sexual orientation. Given the number of respondents describing themselves as heterosexual in this sample (90.5%), this finding likely indicates less comfort interacting with GLBT individuals, regardless of whether they are a co-worker (87.1%) or one’s supervisor (84.7%)." (Diversity)

13-15% of staff surveyed would be uncomfortable with people who are GLBT? Really?! I think that alone should be a prime example of why we need better administrative support and reporting procedures. But wait, there is more!

Faculty members reported being very comfortable interacting with individuals from the eight different groups (percentages of agreement all in the upper 90s), with one exception. Comfort levels were lower for interacting with someone different in sexual orientation. As with staff, the high number of self-identified heterosexuals in the sample (95.5%) probably indicates respondents were less comfortable interacting with GLBT individuals, regardless of whether they are a co-worker (89.9%) or supervisor (88.2%). Still, these percentages remained high, in absolute terms." (Diversity)

10-12% of faculty surveyed would be less comfortable working with people based on their sexual orientation! One more category to go:

Students also described themselves as very comfortable interacting with individuals from the eight different groups (percentages of agreement all around 90%) with two exceptions. First, the percentage of students agreeing that they feel comfortable was lower for sexual orientation. Given the number of students who identified themselves as heterosexual in this sample (96.3%), this finding likely shows less comfort interacting with GLBT individuals, whether as a classmate (78.8%) or as an instructor (77.7%). Second, the percentage of students agreeing that they feel comfortable is lower for disability status. Given the number of students in this sample describing themselves as having no disabilities (97.3%), lower rates of comfort probably reflects somewhat fewer respondents being comfortable interacting with people with disabilities as a classmate (88%) or as an instructor (87.7%)." (Diversity)

That is like 22-23% being uncomfortable! That is over 1/5th of the student population based on these numbers. To make matters worse, LGBTQ individuals aren't to only ones. People with disabilities are also looking at 12-13% of the students who are uncomfortable working with them!

What is worse is I am kind of going easy with you on these numbers. They get worse. Go to the section about harassment and discrimination. Only 66.6% of staff say they have NOT experienced discrimination, and only 54.5% say they have NOT witnessed harassment! Faculty report worse numbers yet with only 57.1% NOT experiencing harassment. Only 40.5% of students are NOT concerned with being discriminated against. So wait, Almost 60% of our students are worried they may be discriminated against?! That is clearly a huge problem! I realize there are a number of categories here, but that doesn't sound good for saying we have an inclusive environment!

To sum it all up for this report, let's jump to the key findings, where we can find that, "Moreover, approximately one-half of the students report witnessing discrimination or harassment largely on the basis of race/ethnicity and sexual orientation" (Diversity). Clearly there is a problem on campus.

The question, then, is whether or not anybody with a voice notices. If nobody calls Purdue out on it, it is clear they won't do anything. But wait! People have. Not just Joe Shmoe either, but the Accreditation Report mentions the problem (http://www.purdue.edu/accreditation/PDF_Files/PurdReportMay062010.pdf and bolding is my emphasis)! Let's just look the section entitled "Aspects of Diversity":

"Purdue University should continue to make concerted efforts to advance a diverse and inclusive learning environment by integrating cultural competencies into the core curriculum and other learning opportunities across the institution; providing support for centers and other resources for underrepresented racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender and sexual orientation groups; partnering with community leaders to create an inclusive climate for diverse faculty and staff; tracking the progress of diverse students; and establishing or strengthening pipelines from various regional communities to the campus.
Attention to Lesbian, Gay Bisexual,Transgender (LGBT) issues were not well represented in the self study nor in conversations team members had on campus. When asked, campus representatives acknowledged the lack of organized and visible support for the LGBT community. A fully inclusive university would embrace the LGBT community and enhance the lives of all of its constituents.
Finally, as the nation experiences rapid growth among Latinos and retirements by the Baby Boomers, the economy will face major labor market changes. Latinos are projected to increase from 15% of the population to 30% and Latino youth are projected to surpass the number of White youth by mid-century. As the same time, they are one of the most marginalized and undereducated population segments in the nation. Taken together, these shifts present a major challenge for the nation, and Purdue University, like other institutions must begin to consider its role in addressing this challenge. In the current context, Purdue has to continue to embrace the important role that a public research university of this stature has in advancing educational opportunity and equity for all students." (Accredited)

Oh look, the people responsible for Purdue's accreditation notes it doing very poorly with LGBTQ issues. Purdue, we got a lot of work done this year. We got gender identity and gender expression added to the Nondiscrimination Policy. We got single-use bathrooms on academic campus updated. We got your survey's fixed. We moved you closer to online discrimination and harassment reporting (hopefully that can also get numbers on non-persecutory offenses like yelling from cars). We got the first university recognized National Coming Out Day celebration and will soon have the second Lavender Graduation. A foundation has even been laid for a strong safe zone program. But let's jump to the chase. Can you just do us all a favor (that includes yourself, Purdue) and finally hire a Director of LGBTQ Affairs? Somebody who can focus on these issues so the students don't have to keep doing it. Vice President Exum wants to make it happen, at least the last zillion times I have talked to her. Give her the power to do it. Please. For all our sake? If you want numbers, if you want an important group saying we need it, you have it. If you will keep being stubborn the students are going to keep moving on you. We might have high turnover but we are picking up steam and have fixed some continuity issues. The advice from IU is that you need stories. If stories are what you need, we will deliver.