Educators, advocates, mentors, facilitators – these words are rarely used to define students, but they are at the core of describing the students who make up Murray State Alliance.
Alliance, an organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and straight allied students, is circulating a petition for an LGBT Resource Center.
The electronic petition is available online at equalityfederation.org. The full link can be found on the Murray State Alliance Facebook page.
Members are also collecting signatures across campus.
Alliance hopes the University will provide an office and coordinator for LGBT services and take the burden off of the students who host approximately 40 to 45 programs a year.
“We’re doing educational work to the whole campus about what LGBT is,” Jody Cofer, Alliance adviser, said. “That is a service to the whole institution and it’s really not fair for the student organization to carry the brunt of that work. There’s only so much they can do because they are students, and the faculty and staff that we have that support the Alliance organization and the LGBT community in general is really stretched.”
Alliance member and former officer Chris Morehead, senior from Paducah, Ky., said having a center could increase graduation rates for LGBT students.
“Students need to be students on campus; they need to feel like they can be a student,” Morehead said. “I feel that some past students have been robbed of being students on campus because they’ve had to be facilitators in educating the community on LGBT issues, which isn’t fair for them because they should be focusing on the paper they have due next week.”
Cofer said having an LGBT Center would provide a foundation for what Alliance has already created in programming and peer support. Cofer said the current efforts are plagued with instability and lack of time.
“I get emails weekly from peers around the country that are running LGBT centers or working in the LGBT movement that say things like ‘I’m continually amazed at how you all pull this off without a resource center,’” Cofer said. “And my response as of late is ‘we’re tired.’ The students are really giving it their all and it’s not sustainable over the long haul and it’s not fair to them.”
With an executive board that changes every year, Cofer said having a center could provide consistency among other advantages.
“We need a resource center to have a coordinator to coordinate these efforts that to some extent we’re already doing,” Cofer said. “Let’s catch up in our infrastructure with what we’re already providing.”
One of the most important aspects of having a center would be the available counseling, Morehead said.
“Having an LGBT Center would be great for students who are LGBT and need counseling because then they can have somebody, a safe place they can go to, to sympathize with how they feel,” Morehead said.
Cofer said providing that counseling is something Alliance members are not qualified to do.
“Our student Alliance gets inquiries from students all the time about they’re having trouble coming out or they need to talk to someone,” Cofer said. “They need an LGBT face to sit down and talk to, and sometimes those conversations do cross a line of not being appropriate for one student to have to deal with another student.”
Will Heath, president of Alliance and senior from Mayfield, Ky., said having someone who is educated in LGBT issues would be beneficial to those who need counseling.
“Students are not trained in counseling so we can offer peer support,” Heath said. “I’m just a student, I’m a McNair Scholar and I work. I don’t have time in a physical day with each and every person to keep up with what’s going on in their lives.”
Heath said he hopes an LGBT Center would provide a central figure and location similar to that of the Women’s Center and Office of Multicultural Affairs. He said it would be important to realize the resources are there for students who need help.
“If you’re gay you don’t have to be in Alliance, just like if you’re a woman you don’t have to use the Women’s Center,” he said. “The LGBT Center would just be there if you need it.”
Cofer said he is confident the University will take action in the future to increase LGBT resources on campus as it is part of the recently passed Murray State Diversity Plan for 2011-15.
In the Campus Climate section the plan states Murray State “will advance education efforts involving sexual orientation and gender identity/expression through programming and campus-based services.” It also mentions providing educational materials, training for the Safe Zone program and establishing an LGBT fraternity/sorority.
Cofer said administration is aware of the LGBT Center support. As former co-chair and current member of the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, he said he plans to continue pushing the need for the center.
“I think we need to have a discussion about how we can prioritize (the center) and how we can get that factored into how we go forward,” Cofer said. “There are lots of things we’ve got to balance in the Diversity Plan and I know that’s something the Commission will be talking about with our new chairperson, but I will certainly be speaking out for the LGBT community.”
Sonya Baker, chair of the Commission, said the committee has not met recently, but expects to discuss the LGBT Center at its next gathering.
“We will talk about it, absolutely,” Baker said. “The president and provost have asked us to look at that.”
Brian Kinnaman, Alliance vice president and senior from Berlin, Germany, said there are approximately 130 signatures written and electronically submitted. Electronic submissions are being sent directly to Sonya Baker, chair of the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion.
A faculty/staff petition for an LGBT Resource Center, started by Jeff Osborne, professor of English, was submitted with 121 signatures to Provost Bonnie Higginson two weeks ago.