LGBT at Union College: Union receives 4 out of 5 stars for LGBT climate

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By Ryan Semerad

Union College received a score of four out of five on the Campus Climate Index (CCI), which assesses the quality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusive policies, programs and practices on college campuses across the country. The recent evaluation was conducted by Campus Pride, the only national nonprofit organization supporting campus initiatives to protect and accept LGBT students.

The evaluation was handled by Union’s Senior Director of Campus Diversity and Affirmative Action Gretchel Hathaway, in conjunction with a committee of administrators that included Assistant Director of Student Affairs Kerrie Wolf, Director of the Counseling Center Marcus Hotaling, and faculty ally Professor Charles Batson. The process took approximately two years.

The goal of the evaluation was to get “an outsider’s perspective on where we are now as a college [with regards to LGBT polices],” Batson said. While Union’s administrative stance towards LGBT students has improved in many ways over his tenure, Batson says “we’ve got a ways to go—we should be a 5.” The aforementioned committee is reconvening to discuss exactly how to achieve that perfect score.

Union’s score was imperfect due to two key areas where its subscores were particularly low: transgender and campus safety policies. The transgender score, which is referred to as Gender Identification and Expression on the CCI, was low because of insufficient “gender-neutral” housing options and a deficient insurance policy, which does not provide coverage to transgender students for hormone replacement therapy and other procedures.

According to Batson, the campus safety score was not an entirely accurate depiction of the department’s true stance towards LGBT issues because Union was in the process of phasing in a new director of campus safety. Batson is confident the current director, Christopher Hayen, will improve Union’s score. “[Hayen] gets it,” Batson said.

Despite the need for continued progress, Union does provide a wealth of resources to LGBT students. Wolf cofounded Union’s Ally program in May 2006. The Ally program trains faculty and staff to promote acceptance of LGBT students and provide safe spaces for LGBT students. Approximately one-third of Union’s faculty and staff participate in the Ally program, and all residential advisors attended a presentation giving educational information on LBGT issues. In addition to the Ally program, Union also has a theme house dedicated to LGBT students and their allies called Iris House, and a student-run club called Spectrum that promotes acceptance and hosts events concerning LGBT issues.

Many students still feel that LGBT issues on campus are improperly handled, not administratively, but by their fellow students. “[LGBT issues] are not talked about enough,” Hallie Pace ‘12 said. Allie Wicker ‘12 echoed Batson, saying “Union has a long way to go.” Wicker, Pace and their classmate Christina Mazzei ‘12 all felt that Union’s CCI score should be lower. While Nancy Romero ‘12 felt Union’s score was “appropriate,” she said “the issue is not discussed [by the student body].” Two other students, who wished to remain anonymous, had similar feelings about Union’s score with one saying the score was accurate and the other believing it was too high.

Iris House President Jessica Sarrantonio ‘12 said Union’s CCI score was “not the best depiction of how things really are.”

“Union should be about a 2.5 or a 3,” Sarrantonio said. While the score is supposed to be reflective of Union’s policies, not student opinions, it is still used by many LGBT high school seniors when selecting where to attend college. “I feel comfortable at Union, but I’m not sure how others feel,” Sarrantonio said. “[LGBT students] are tolerated—tolerance is good; but, we want acceptance.”

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