The start of the semester ushered in change for several of ASU’s cultural coalitions on campus. The full-time specialist position once assigned to each coalition was replaced with a team of coordinators meant to serve all groups.
The LGBTQA specialist position was one of them, and members of the community have expressed mixed reactions.
Anthony Eftimeo, who was the head intern at the coalition last year, said he didn’t believe the change would be for the better.
“Having a specialist is beneficial to the students, because they have the skills to address specific problems that LGBTQA students have,” he said. “If you don’t have someone who can relate to that, it sends a very confusing message to students.”
Eftimeo said the new model also proved to be troublesome in its push for students to take on initiatives previously headed by a specialist, causing unnecessary stress to an already marginalized group.
“The LGBTQA Fall Welcome was entirely student initiatives this year,” he said. “The students didn’t know how to do this, how to email administrators, or how to book a room. It’s hard for students to navigate just in general, if they don’t know who to ask for help it can be even worse.”
Agribusiness junior Jonathan Sherman, co-president of the LGBTQ Coalition, said Student and Cultural Engagement, which helped facilitate the change from specialist to coordinators, has been of little assistance during the few weeks school has been in session.
“We still have not even gotten a budget from SCE,” Sherman said. “We were told we need to go to (the Undergraduate Student Government) to get our allotment. We don’t know what we have to work with this year. I’m actually going out and getting sponsors, which people at SCE are not thrilled about.”
Sherman said although coordinators have gone through programs such as SafeZone, students still feel they do not have a point of contact to go to or confide in concerning trans* issues.
He said he was also skeptical about ASU’s LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars this year. With a specialist in place last year, the rating was a 2.5 on the scale.
“I don’t believe it,” Sherman said. “I don’t think people are lying, but I do think things are being brushed under the table. They got rid of our one specialist. How could we not have dropped?”
Alonzo Jones, associate dean of students, said he hoped students and faculty would understand that the new model was put in place to better serve the community, as well as increase services and programs. The coordinators aiding students all have some expertise in working with culturally diverse populations and with student clubs and organizations.
“We were operating off a model where a singular person had the full responsibility for a single community,” Jones said. “The expectation to be successful at all things is really becoming unrealistic. It was really this superhero phenomenon that was shouldered not on just one individual for one community, but that was replicated seven times.”
Seven cultural coalitions lost specialists, including the Black & African Coalition, the Womyn’s Coalition and the Asian/Asian Pacific American Students’ Coalition.
Jones said he believed that perhaps the intimacy, or connectedness, that students had with these specialists could still exist. The multiple coordinators available for mentoring could certainly afford these opportunities.
“A coalition member can still have sort of that ‘This is my go-to person,’” he said. “I think all of us as human beings have someone we resonate to. I think they’ll find that among the staff while at the same time having the full team to help.”
Carol Sumner, senior associate dean of students, said the new model attempts to transcend the notion of one person and a place to meet needs.
“We’re making this from an individual responsibility to a departmental responsibility (and) to an institutional responsibility,” she said. “I hope students see that it’s not about taking away. It’s about amplifying. It’s about grounding. It’s about dispersing.”
Jones said he trusted the current LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, despite skepticism from the community. In previous years the specialist conducted the survey for the rating. This year, more people were involved in looking at it comprehensively and in its full depth and length.
Gabriel Escontrias, president of the LGBT Devils’ Pride chapter, said he stood by the rating as well and cited the LGBTQA Fall Welcome as an informative meeting for those who might not be well-versed in the new model and how it functions.
“During that entire event, it was nice because a lot of our students are new and our current leaders all had the opportunity to hear about this new supportive model being put in place,” he said. “I had the opportunity to share with students at a larger view what we’re doing and how we’re recognized nationally and in the state.”
Political science and Chinese junior Will Smith said he thought the new model had affected the LGBTQ Coalition for the better, prompting students to become more involved in areas they may have not been involved in before.
“What I have noticed is that more people in the coalition have stepped up,” he said. “I think that (Sherman) and all the other members of the e-board have done a wonderful job of being proactive since the summer really taking charge.”
However, Smith said that the backlash to the new model did hold partial validity and had to do with more than just an aversion to change.
“What I do know is that people are disappointed, and they have their reasons,” Smith said. “They are scared that these coalitions on a very large campus, in a state that does not have the best reputation with minority politics, are being marginalized.”
Sherman said that in light of the removal of the specialist position he would be advocating for a community center. ASU is the only Pac-12 school without one.
A community center was originally suggested to University officials years ago, though ultimately denied. The compromise was a full-time LGBTQA specialist position.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @katie_calderon