Professor submits LGBT center petition to provost

Haley Russell
Assistant News Editor

 With more than 40 educational and social programs involving both the University and community, a Murray State faculty member is petitioning to develop a lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender resource center.

Jeff Osborne, associate professor of English and philosophy, is in the beginning stages of proposing the center’s development, gathering support from faculty and staff Murray State Alliance allies.

Osborne delivered the petition with 121 signatures to Provost Bonnie Higginson Thursday morning.

“Right now my only task is to gather signatures of faculty and staff who would like to see an LGBT center,” Osborne said via email. “The petition simply indicates to the administration that there is widespread faculty support for a center and provides a rationale to create one.”

Osborne said he does not plan on heading the development, but wants to convey need for a center.

LGBT-related services have grown substantially, Osborne said, and a center would provide further resources for LGBT students and community members.

“A center would provide a stable and permanent infrastructure to centralize these activities,” he said. “We need such a center for the same reasons that we need a Women’s Center, for example. It seems the next step in the University’s growing commitment to LGBT students, faculty and staff.”

The idea for the petition came to Osborne through a series of conversations about LGBT issues on campus, the diversity plan’s approval, all leading to a conversation about inviting more faculty and staff to join the more than 160 members of the Faculty & Staff Allies program.

“A bit by accident, I said that we should see how many of them would support the creation of an LGBT center,” he said. “Hence the petition.”

The resource center will mirror those already in place by other universities, Osborne said.

“LGBT resource centers on university campuses typically offer frequent opportunities for students, faculty and staff to participate in educational programming about related issues,” he said.

Along with this, the center will serve as a support system for LGBT and ally students through educational materials focused on LGBT-related issues, internship and scholarship opportunities and a safe space that encourages students to get involved.

The center’s funding, placement and creation has not yet been decided upon because the petition is in preliminary stages.

Jody Cofer, academic program specialist for Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity and Alliance adviser, said the student organization is working to break free of prejudices and stereotypes.

“There’s only so much a student organization can do,” Cofer said. “Even with faculty and staff allies, that are helping a tremendous amount right now, good will and volunteers can only do so much, and there needs to be this resource center with a staff member (whose) individual job is to help coordinate some of these activities on a daily basis.”

Cofer said creating an LGBT center with a full-time staff member would help better the organization.

“There are some things that we could do more and could do better, if we had someone with that institutional history of how it has worked each year and how the University can assist with that program,” he said.

Cofer said Alliance has built a tower, but does not have a strong foundation that comes with a center like the one proposed.

“You can only build the tower so tall, and then it’s going to fall over if you don’t have a foundation under it,” he said. “And I will say, we have built a very impressive tower and we have not done as well on the foundation.”

Cofer said despite the Safe Zones implemented across campus, this is a space specifically designated for LGBT students.

“We have a ton, between Alliance and faculty and staff, of books, videos and general helpful tools that LGBT students find useful, whether they’re contemplating coming out, whether they’re looking at family issues, having trouble with school, all these kind of things can be housed in one location,” he said.

Cofer said he believes there should be one place where students should get help on issues that the LGBT community faces.

“Let’s catch up to what we’re doing,” Cofer said. “We’ve hit a ceiling; we can’t bring anything else on line until we have an infrastructure to support these programs.”

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