Lack of funding main reason for no formal LGBT mentor program

While there are offices and programs that represent all types of different students, one group of students is underrepresented.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students have almost no representation on campus, except for the PRISM (Pride, Raising Awareness, Involvement, Support and Mentoring) organization.
There is a listserv for faculty and staff who are LGBT or support causes for those in the community.
The list is used to share events and foster collaboration between those on it to help advancement of equality and nondiscrimination. The discrimination toward students in the LGBT differs from the discrimination of other groups of students.
“At a public university in the heart of the Bible Belt, I’m not surprised that the students are underrepresented,” senior Jon Nolan said. “When is last time you’ve discussed the problems homosexuals face in class, as opposed to slavery, the civil rights movement or women’s suffrage?”
Senior Zach Barber emailed multiple UCA staff members March 26 in an attempt to voice his opinions on the representation, or the lack thereof, of the LGBT community on campus.
“I sent [the email]to twenty people who work on the campus, including the president, the vice president, the nine deans, the head of student services, Angela Jackson, and the president of the faculty senate,” Barber said.
The email stated that there is an inadequate amount of support for the LGBT community, with an emphasis on how there is no office or group assigned to deal exclusively with LGBT issues.
“If you look at how populations go, I think that UCA has a higher amount of gay people,” Barber said. “We have a larger than average amount of homosexual students. If you look at minority students, they have programs to help them transition into college life. There are mentors to help you transition to the college atmosphere. But those services don’t exist for homosexuals at UCA.”
Barber also said that while the PRISM organization is available, he feels that they are not sufficiently trained.
“They have become more of a political group than a support group,” Barber said. “I’m sure that it’s still there, but the problem is that they are students,” he said. “It’s students leading students, which is great. I think that they accomplish a lot of things. But when you are dealing with widespread issues that affect so many people, you need qualified people that have degrees with actual experience, not students.”
Dean of Students, Gary Roberts said UCA has been making incremental steps to provide more services for the LGBT community.
“One [program]is PRISM, which is still in action, and which provided support systems,” Roberts said. “For the past few years, one thing we’ve done is campus training. Charlotte Strickland has provided training for faculty and staff and sensitivity training. That’s added diversity training for seven or eight years, which has included topics of sexual orientation.”
Larry Burns, director of special projects and advisor to SGA, said that while there were no specific prompts for replying to the email sent by Barber.
Burns said PRISM is working with the SGA executive staff to promote the addition of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to all nondiscrimination clauses. However, he said an issue of this size is too big for one organization to handle.
Roberts said for the past few years, it has been up to the multicultural services program, which is run by Angela Jackson, the director of multicultural services, to provide support.
“She deals with African American issues, other diverse groups, but also sexual orientation,” Roberts said. “She has the opportunity to provide support, but she lacks resources and staff in particular.”
Roberts also said other measures have been done in order to advance the representation and programs of homosexual individuals on campus.
“Just last year, my office was chosen to be a portal for PRISM,” Jackson said. “To that end, we offered Safe Zone training sessions last fall for all faculty, students and staff who were interested in attending. Some steps are also being taken to include various statements in handbooks regarding nondiscrimination.”
Roberts said, “The university recently hired a specialist on diversity.” Dr. Maurice Lee, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, hired a consultant from an Oklahoma school. He did some research about diversity on the UCA campus, and that report has been submitted with several recommendations.”
While these series of actions have promoted awareness of the issue, Roberts said there still is not a formal mentoring program.
“There are obviously faculty and staff who informally mentor students and other staff,” Roberts said. “Other than that though, student government efforts and multicultural services have operated safe-zones around campus. My guess is that is something down the line that could be established.”
Roberts particularly stressed how a lack of funding has undermined many of the universities efforts for advancement.
“The critical thing is providing staff resources that can coordinate more targeted programs for students of sexual orientation,” Roberts said. “The top priority for this institution, as far as resources go, is to improve the university reserves, and secondly, provide salary increases for faculty and staff. But somewhere down the line, we need to provide resources for particular programs and positions.”
Since most students who are LGBT are not immediately recognized, most of the discrimination goes unnoticed.
Burns said,“for many LGBT students, staff, and faculty there may not be overt forms of discrimination but promotion, tenure, and benefits can be legally and easily denied because of one’s sexuality. That’s wrong and I hope that UCA will take a stand and protect all our faculty, staff, and students.”
Burns said that would include adding protection from discrimination based on gender identity and expression to the university’s agendas.
Jackson said, “LGBT students can raise awareness for their cause by implementing more publicized programs on a monthly basis. Right now, I am only aware of the programs they do during ‘Coming Out Week’.”
While there are no offices in SGA for any specific group of students, it does require all organizations to be nondiscriminatory based on sex, religion, race, nationality, ethnicity or sexual orientation in order to receive funding. It has denied organizations funding in the past for discriminatory policies.
Burns said, “I think students need to let the administration know, through SGA, that they want these students protected.Additionally, they need to work to make sure that UCA follows these same policies for their faculty and staff. They also need to push for mandatory diversity training for all employees, even faculty, as you do in fact, pay their salaries.”

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