By Meredith Camel
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 30, 2015)—Being a college student can be stressful—even more so for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) students, particularly those who struggle with self-acceptance and who might not have support from family or friends. That’s why the University is introducing several new programs to ensure LGBTQ students thrive on a safe, inclusive campus that nurtures their academic and personal goals.
“When I first came to campus, I realized there weren’t any resources for LGBTQ faculty and staff. Then on a broader scale, I realized the resources for LGBTQ students were confined to one organization that could not provide for the needs of the entire community,” says Andrew Wiemer, advisor for the undergraduate LGBTQ student group UPride, co-founder of the UM LGBTQ Faculty-Staff Network, and director of the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development.
Prior to the 1991 launch of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community (GLBC) student group, there were no official campus resources for non-heteronormative students. Today there are undergraduate and graduate student organizations, but to feel truly supported, students need advocates among faculty, staff, and administrators. For the past two years, Wiemer and Gail Cole-Avent, executive director for student life and assessment initiatives, have led a task force created by Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia A. Whitely to identify students’ most pressing needs.
Advocacy is the mission of the new IBIS (I Believe In Solidarity) Ally Network. The first IBIS Ally Network training session, held in April, enlightened 17 UM employees about issues LGBTQ students face and how to be a source of trust, encouragement, and guidance. The next session is scheduled for Thursday, May 21, with additional sessions taking place throughout the summer. Participants can sign up at firstname.lastname@example.org, and upon completion will receive a certificate that affirms their support of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. The Miller School of Medicine has a similar program called SafeSpace.
Making campus life better for LGBTQ students aligns perfectly with the University’s Culture Transformation initiative, which unites all employees under the common purpose of transforming lives. Protecting and celebrating the diversity of UM students, including diversity of gender and sexuality, is a key directive of the Building a Better U campaign.
“I was an undergraduate student in 1999, a time when I was exploring my own sexuality. I thought that coming to UM would be an open world, but that wasn’t the case then,” says alumnus Steve Priepke, assistant dean of students and director of Greek life. “I was so blessed to have good relationships with faculty masters who could connect me with role models and mentors.”
Recognizing the value in mentorship, the UM LGBTQ Faculty-Staff Network launched a program this year that pairs its members with LGBTQ students. Mentors offer insight on being out and proud at work and navigating the realm of being an LGBTQ adult. Another positive addition is this year’s inaugural Lavender Celebration, which takes place on Wednesday, May 6 and celebrates the accomplishments of our LGBTQ graduates.
The LGBTQ task force and a team of students, faculty, and staff meet several times each semester to continue driving progress. They have released a set of guidelines for LGBTQ inclusion in the University’s digital, print, and verbal communications and are developing a website with information about student resources and opportunities, including scholarships. They are also investigating ways to designate gender-neutral bathrooms and housing on campus. The UM Alumni Association has created an affinity group to engage LGBTQ alumni and allies. For more information on LGBTQ initiatives, email LGBTQ@miami.edu.
But these are not the only ways ’Canes can help LGBTQ students feel welcomed and respected.
“When we as faculty and staff attend student events, such as Coming Out Week, students really notice our presence and feel they’re part of a much bigger world,” Priepke says.