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ASU's LGBTQ+ organizations emphasize importance of representation in academia

LGBTQ+ graduate researchers and academics are advocating for more queer people in University leadership positions and increased community emphasis

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Kenro Kusmi, dean of natural sciences and a founding member of LGBTQ+ FSA, speaks at Hayden Library on the Tempe campus on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

A group of ASU's LGBTQ+ students, staff and faculty gathered for a discussion titled "Queer in Academia" to advocate for increased representation, awareness and updated technological features.

Panelists from four ASU organizations — ASU LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Association, GRADient, ASU Rainbow Coalition and ASU library — said they hoped their discussion on queer academia will increase involvement among people in academia.

Zachary Reeves-Blurton, president of LGBTQ+ FSA, aimed for the panel to be an opportunity for graduate students and faculty completing research to connect with each other, share their stories and show students the work being done by the community.

LGBTQ+ FSA has three main objectives: advocate for students and faculty, support students and build a community that provides a safe space.

Reeves-Blurton's past research has examined the development of LGBTQ+ students in a university environment. His research concluded that LGBTQ+ students who are connected to the queer community at their college are more likely to stay enrolled and excel.

According to Reeves-Blurton and his research, some members of the LGBTQ+ community had "changed institutions two or three times as graduate students before arriving at ASU," citing the lack of community as the reason for leaving.

"They couldn't really connect with other students, because they didn't see themselves represented in the student populations that they were working with," Reeves-Blurton said. "Some of them might have still been closeted, or trying to trying to figure out how to come out but didn't really have the support structure built in or see others that were kind of paving the way for how to do that."

Kenro Kusumi, dean of natural sciences and a founding member of LGBTQ+ FSA, has been fighting for equal LGBTQ+ rights and representation since the 1980s.

"Many of us are interested in paying it forward because it's really important that we share what we know, and that we build our certified strengths for our communities and help each other out," Kusumi said.

The LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Association at ASU has been focused on advocating for technology being more geared toward trans individuals and recognizing name changes. Students can now have their pronouns appear next to their name on Canvas and Zoom, and the association is encouraging students to include their pronouns, said Anne Kotleba, lecturer at the School of Community Resources and Development and campus director for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance at ASU.

"It's important for us as faculty and staff, when interacting with the systems, to recognize when there's those disparities, and honor … their chosen name, honor their identity and be able to accommodate what their needs are," Kotleba said.

When Ted Combs, a graduate research associate in the School of Politics and Global Studies, was applying to schools to pursue a graduate program, he said he picked ASU because of the specialized programs on queer studies. 

Combs, whose research focuses on "disparities in transgender homicide victims that are due to institutional factor," said it was difficult to find specified LGBTQ+ data due to a lack of representation in the scientific field. He hopes to help change that through his own research.

"The first trans politics paper I wrote, I had basically no literature. I had to cross-cite a bunch of stuff on homophobia when I was really talking about whether gender marker change is legal in countries," Combs said.

Kotleba said change for more equitable technology and resources starts with more LGBTQ+ people in University leadership positions.

"It is a long road, it always is," Kotleba said. "I think that we can make big, big moments happen through this collective community."

Clarification: This article was updated at April 25, 2022, at 10:15 p.m. to clarify the ASU LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Association's intention for students to add their pronouns to their Canvas and Zoom profiles.

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Caera Learmonth

Caera Learmonth is a full-time reporter for the Community and Culture desk. She was previously the Executive Editor of her high school newspaper and has taken journalism programs at the School of the New York Times and University of Southern California. 

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