Ask the Experts: Bill McCoy discusses LGBT issues on college campuses
February 02, 2012
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Question: What is the current climate for members and supporters of the LGBT community on college campuses, and how has it evolved over the years?
Answer: Offices that work with LGBT students on college campuses have varied histories. The first was officially created in 1971 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and universities continue to establish LGBT offices every year. Most of these spaces have an ally development program similar to Bucknell's Safe Spaces program. These programs tend to serve two purposes: one, to educate members of the institution's community on some of the identities within and common issues of the LGBT community and, two, to provide a supportive network of individuals willing to stand with the LGBT community in openly confronting homophobia and heterosexism.
There's been progress, and things are certainly better now than they were 10, 15, 20 years ago. Many variables affect how a particular office operates, such as an institution's size, geographic location or religious affiliation. Additionally, the LGBT community itself is incredibly diverse and different identities have very different needs.
Q: How do Bucknell's size and rural setting impact how you address the needs of the LGBT community and its allies on campus?
A: I've lived in Washington, D.C., and New York City. There, the LGBT university students had these major metropolitan areas and huge LGBT organizations as resources. Because of the difference in population here, I believe this office and my position really need to be seen as a community center in a much broader sense.
Bucknell is fortunate to have a lot of people invested in the topic and invested in making sure that this is a welcoming place. As part of that, I have a lot of folks asking "What can I do for you, and how can I help?"
Q: What advice do you have for people at Bucknell when it comes to being an ally to the LGBT community?
A: I think folks who generally will say they are supportive — who don't actively oppress the LGBT population and who want to be seen as supportive — could be pushed to the next level of truly being an ally. One way to be an ally is to use inclusive language to talk about partners, rather than assuming in casual conversation that a man would date a woman and a woman would date a man. We have to be critical of assumptions we're making about one's sexual or gender identity, even when those assumptions are unintentional or, perhaps, especially when they're unintentional.
Any individual or campus entity can be an ally to the LGBT community. Continually striving to understand more and critically evaluating your actions is fundamentally the process of being an effective ally. When I do trainings, I often tell potential allies that even with the best of intentions, they might not get it right all of the time. It's a learning process, and being open and able to accept feedback without rationalization is a true trait of an ally.
Q: Through your office, how do you plan to promote a safe, inclusive environment on campus?
A: I think it is the responsibility of this office not just to make LGBT students feel included, but also to ensure that they are included and to educate the campus community on how to be inclusive.
On a basic level, offices and campus entities can assess their activities, policies and procedures and think critically about specifics, even down to language on the forms they use. Institutions, including colleges and universities, sometimes ask for information that has little or no relevance to related decisions, or may not ask simple questions that would foster inclusion. For example, the Office of Admissions has begun this process by looking at the various ways it collects prospective student information and whether those forms show any bias, particular with regard to transgender identities.
While students are our main focus, we are also beginning to work now to separate out a group of out LGBT faculty and staff to create some social opportunities, to create some discussion opportunities, maybe to program specifically to their needs.
Some of the work done before I got here — in terms of laying the groundwork to make sure the Office of LGBT Awareness, the Women's Resource Center, Multicultural Student Services and International Student Services work together — is really great. It has poised us to move forward in a really inclusive atmosphere, both in all of our individual spaces and throughout campus as a whole, and really broadens the definition of diversity.
Interviewed by Andy Hirsch
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