ASU struggles to spread knowledge of LGBTQ issues, resources

Gender Neutral A view of a gender-neutral bathroom located on the Tempe campus. This year, ASU's LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index score jumped up to 4.5 stars from its previous score, which was 2.5. (Photo by Cierra Eubank)

ASU experienced a dramatic jump in its LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index score this year, raising it from 2.5 to 4.5 stars.

The index, which is administered by the nonprofit group Campus Pride, assesses the inclusiveness of university policies and services for LGBTQ students. Campus officials complete the 59-question assessment and receive an overall rating out of five stars, as well as ratings out of five stars for specific areas, such as campus safety and student life.

ASU’s 4.5-star rating brings it in line with other state universities. UA has a 4-star rating, and NAU has a 5-star rating.

Correcting the Record

Students expressed skepticism about the rating in September, but Maria Allison, vice provost for Academic Excellence and Inclusion in the Office of the Executive Vice President and University Provost, said the low rating was the result of incomplete research.

The rating improved this year, because officials went back and did more research about the resources ASU actually offers to LGBTQ students, Allison said.

“My sense is that the University is as sensitive as ever,” she said. “It’s not the negative place that some have portrayed it as. In fact, I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Concerns over inaccuracy led Campus Pride to investigate ASU’s improved rating. Allison’s office complied with their follow-up questions, and Campus Pride verified that the 4.5 star rating is accurate.

In addition to improving its Campus Climate rating, ASU also received a 2013 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award, Allison said.

She said the University is actively trying to improve support and services for LGBTQ students, despite the negative reactions of some to the elimination of the LGBTQ specialist position in May.

Allison described LGBTQ issues as one of the last areas that could still see major improvements in transparency, openness and respect.

Students who identify as trans* are among the most difficult groups for which to provide services, because they have only recently started to be recognized, she said.

Trans* is an umbrella term that encompasses transgendered and transsexual people, as well as other individuals who don’t fit into traditional, or cisgendered, male and female identities.

Marisol Diaz, coordinator senior in the Office of Academic Excellence and Inclusion, said administrators are trying to learn as much as possible about LGBTQ issues.

One of the services the Office of Academic Excellence and Inclusion is looking into creating is an area of on-campus housing specifically themed around LGBTQ students, she said.

Allison said the high demand for housing at ASU puts space at a premium, but that her department has sent information about the idea to Jennifer Hightower, the associate vice president for Student Services.

Allison and Diaz both said creating more services is a priority, and Diaz emphasized that the office places high value on intersectionality, or the ability of a campus resource to serve people who cross groups when it comes to their various identities. For example, a lesbian Asian-Pacific woman could fit into LGBTQ groups, women’s groups and the Asian/Asian Pacific American Students’ Coalition.

“None of us are single-identity people anymore,” Allison said.

For this reason, the Office of Academic Excellence and Inclusion will try to avoid creating group-specific centers as a sort of cure-all, Allison said.

The biggest problem facing the Office of Academic Excellence and Inclusion is communication, Allison said.

Her office tries to distribute information through all existing channels, but it is difficult to reach all the students who need the information, with ASU being as large as it is, she said.

She said she would like to create a central website that compiles all the resources available to students, adding that it would need to be created under an advisory committee made up of student leaders and university administrators from multiple departments.

“As a university, we haven’t done as good of a job as we could raising awareness about our services,” Allison said.

Communicating Resources

Kamala Green, executive director for the Office of Equity and Inclusion, said her office hopes to include more information about available accommodations on its website after its redesign, which should be completed in 2014.

The front page of the current site already includes maps of all four campuses marking every building with gender-neutral bathrooms, but the maps don’t give specific directions on where the bathrooms are located within the buildings.

On a university campus, gender-neutral accommodations are places such as dorm rooms, bathrooms and locker rooms that can be used by anyone regardless of their gender. They can provide safe spaces for students who face discrimination on the basis of their gender or sexuality identity. They can also be comfortable spaces for students who don’t identify with conventional gender concepts.

Green said she gets more questions than complaints about ASU’s accommodations, adding that OEI prefers to put students with questions in touch with resources that can provide expert answers.

Students who have complaints about ASU’s accommodations are referred to the Disability Resource Center, she said.

Green said OEI’s main job is to investigate claims made under Title VII and Title IX.

Title VII is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and forbids discrimination in employment; Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and forbids discrimination in education on the basis of sex.

OEI also provides training for ASU employees on maintaining an inclusive environment, she said.

In 2011 and 2012, ASU was awarded the highest rating possible for employee equity from the Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Green said.

Raising Awareness

Womyn’s Coalition Facilitator Shelby-Lynn Dunkel said it is important to have more awareness of gender neutrality issues among people who may not deal with them on a daily basis.

Womyn’s Coalition is an umbrella group that unites ASU’s various women’s groups but seeks gender equality for all people, she said.

Dunkel, a global and women and gender studies junior, said she was very interested when she first learned gender could exist on a spectrum, but many people do not have that reaction because it is such a different way of looking at gender, she said.

On top of that, many people just aren’t aware that gender neutrality is an issue, Dunkel said.

“If you’re not aware of it, then it’s kind of a non-issue,” she said. “It’s not something you think about.”

Dunkel said Womyn’s Coalition plans to hold events this year to raise awareness about different gender identities.

“We recognize that people who are non-gender-conforming or gender-neutral tend to be stigmatized,” she said. “Womyn’s Coalition tries to be inclusive for everyone.”

Clubs have a responsibility to address these kinds of issues, Dunkel said.

She said ASU is trying to address these issues and that it is a working effort, adding that one of the biggest things the University could do to help would be to openly discuss the variety of identities students may have.

“I wish there was a place for people to get more info; that way, it (isn’t) so foreign to the general public,” she said.

Gender-neutral accommodations are an important part of creating a comfortable campus environment, Dunkel said.

“If they don’t necessarily identify as male or female, you want them to have a space where they feel comfortable,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable.”

Reach the reporter at ammedeir@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @amy_medeiros.

This is the first in a series of stories about ASU's gender-neutral resources.


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