Shining Light on Campus Discrimination
New UT Queer Student's Alliance report says administration hasn't done enough to discourage homophobic behavior
Ryan Miller, co-director of the QSA, says he experiences regular verbal harassment. "It seems like it's been getting worse," Miller says. "About every week or so, I'll be walking along campus with my friends, and people will start yelling at us out of car windows. It's clear that they feel safe harassing us. They're not worried about facing any consequences."
The QSA board of directors decided that issuing a report would be more effective than taking on individual issues one at a time. So they surveyed the UT LGBT community to get a sense of how gay and transgendered students felt on campus. A majority reported having a positive experience overall, but Miller says some have had horrible experiences. "Many did not feel comfortable being affectionate with their partners on campus," he says. "Some had even been discriminated against in classes, by professors."
The QSA's report is almost 200 pages and has around 70 recommendations about what UT administrators should do to make LGBT students feel more comfortable. Miller says the most important step is for the top UT administrators to make it clear that homophobic behavior will not be tolerated. "There should be a message of inclusiveness that comes from the top," Miller says. "I want to end the silence of LGBT issues on campus. This has to come from the president of the university, and he can direct other departments to make changes."
The report recommends everything from creating LGBT fraternities to providing benefits for domestic partners of faculty and staff. A few of the recommendations are simple and could be easily implemented, Miller says. "The lack of individual, gender-neutral restrooms on campus is a huge issue for the transgendered students," he says. "There are already many single-stall restrooms that could easily become gender-neutral and have a lock on the door."
The university appears to be listening. Miller and other QSA members have met with UT President William Powers Jr. and other top administrators. Gregory Vincent, the recently hired vice-president of diversity, says the university is still considering which recommendations can be adopted. "We've been meeting regularly to figure out the best approach," Vincent says. "One important structural change is that the Gender and Sexuality Center will be reporting directly to my office, which will help us work together." The Gender and Sexuality Center is funded by student fees and provides workshops for gay and transgendered students, as well as a safe space to hang out.
Vincent sees these concerns as part of a bigger challenge. "We are planning to create a diversity institute that would offer workshops and classes on diversity," he says. "I would like to partner with the Greek organizations and see if they would make diversity training part of their orientation. I don't want to mandate classes for student groups, but I can provide opportunities and try and partner with them."