When it comes to providing resources and a safe environment on campus for students, Michigan universities vary- some give full support for LGBTQ’s while others give no support for the “LGBT…Who?”
But with events such as OUTober (a series of events in celebration of Coming Out Day,) Transgender Day of Remembrance, World AIDS Day, Pride Prom and the Lavender Spring Celebration, as well as a very visible and supportive LGBT and allied staff, there is no doubt that Eastern Michigan University is a great university for queer students.
The highly traversed Student Center is home to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, which is one of four centers that make up the Department of Diversity and Community Involvement. The center receives funding to cover programming expenses, resources such as books and DVD’s and the attendance fees for LGBT-related conferences. The center is well-staffed with eight undergraduate student employees, one graduate assistant and program coordinator Mary Larkin.
Larkin’s efforts have earned her a great deal of respect and authority at EMU in terms of LGBTQ affairs. She trains and communicates with just about any person in the administration that you could think of: the ombudsman’s office, public safety, health services and housing. Larkin also serves on the advisory board for the president of Student Affairs.
Incidents of LGBTQ harassment are “absolutely isolated,” said Larkin. “Those who are active and engaged in student life on campus, Greek life, or student leadership are more than supportive. It’s difficult to account for students not as active or present on campus, but I would definitely say that campus life is absolutely an accepting environment.”
Jess Mulcahy, undergraduate student representative on the advisory board to the president of Student Affairs and student program coordinator for the resource center, spends much of her time working on a five-part initiative to create a “gender- inclusive campus.” Her latest project is an LGBTQ and allied theme option for housing, which would place queer or allied students with like-minded students.
“Currently students can choose to identify as transgender (when filling out the housing application,) and you would be placed in a single room dormitory,” said Mulcahy. “Now the conversation has moved to beginning an LGBT-themed floor or dormitory.” Mulcahy is working in a team to distribute a survey to learn if students would use LGBT-themed housing. If so, she said the housing department is ready to make changes.
But the resource center has not been the only driving force at EMU. Two student organizations also work towards a more inclusive campus: Queer Unity for Eastern Students and the newly formed Student Alliance for Gay Athletes and Allies.
SAGA, formed in the fall of 2010, is run by student athletes Maggie Manville and Austin Hendrix. The organization’s main purpose is to combat anti-gay sentiments and slurs throughout EMU athletics. SAGA consists of eight active and consistent members, with a much larger following on Facebook. So far, much of the organization’s focus is on startup, but Manville said it’s starting to work with other athletic-focused organizations. “They’ve been really supportive so far,” she said.
But the queer students at EMU do have their share of obstacles.
In 2008, the resource center and some other groups were chastised by an organization that visited campus. Known as the Soul Winners, it staged a loud protest against sinners, especially LGBTQ’s. After the harassment subsided, center employees found a letter from another Christian student organization, His House, on the door. They were initially apprehensive, but the letter expressed support for the resource center. “We still have that letter today,” Mulcahy said. “They make a point to come to our events as often as they can. It’s really fantastic.”
Not every obstacle has been resolved, though.
The University chose to include “sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression” in their employment/affirmative action policies in 2007, but revisions in 2009 include some suspicious language that might imply that entire protection is not provided. Chapter 3.1.3 of their employment/affirmative action policy reads:
“…(E)xcept where approved by separate action of the Board of Regents the sexual orientation provision of this policy shall not apply to employment benefits, family housing, financial aid packets and student residency status.”
John Palladino, who chairs the advisory board of the president of Student Affairs, said the board is looking into changing the policy language. BTL is also investigating the story.
Policy language aside, the majority of EMU and its administration is supportive of LGBTQ students, providing a variety of resources and programming to build a fully welcoming community.
BTL Rating: 4.5 Stars.
– Active LGBT Resource Center, student organizations, and supportive student body.
– Strong support from student organization “His House Christian Fellowship”
– No LGBT studies department; four LGBT themed courses through the WGST Department.
– Student initiative to create an LGBT/Ally themed alternative to current housing options for future students.
– Unsatisfactory non-discrimination policy.