Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression at UIS

[NOTE: Dr. Ronni Sanlo is the director of the UCLA Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Campus Resource Center. Her research area is sexual orientation issues in education and higher education. Before joining the staff at UCLA, Dr. Sanlo was the LGBT Center director at the University of Michigan. She submitted this report to UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen, who decided to make it a public document.]

November 15, 2007

Final Report: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression at the
University of Illinois Springfield

By Ronni Sanlo, Ed.D.
sanlo@ucla.edu

I was invited to visit the University of Illinois Springfield for the purposes of examining campus issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression and to offer suggestions for practice.

On November 8th and 9th, 2007, I met with members of the campus community including students, faculty, staff, and administration, all of whom I identify as stakeholders in the well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally people at UIS. These are likely among many of the same people who would be identified as stakeholders in the well-being of the entire campus community at UIS.

I met with the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs both at the beginning and at the end of my visit. In both meetings I heard issues related to the following:

  • An understanding of the presence of LGBT people at UIS
  • A concern for the LGBT community at UIS
  • A desire to understand and acknowledge the issues of LGBT people at UIS
  • A desire to move forward as is feasibly possible to create a safe and inclusive environment for students at UIS.

I met with people of the LGBT and Ally community at UIS in a variety of settings and sessions, some of which lasted only 45 minutes. Several of the meetings were in gatherings of 15 to approximately 40 people. People had the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about their observations of or participation in the UIS LGBT community.

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone at UIS wants to do the right thing for the LGBT community and specifically for LGBT students. All agree that the most important issue is that all UIS students, including LGBT students, persist to graduation in the most positive manner as they successfully complete their education at UIS. Many professionals in higher education agree that while we want the best experience for our students, not all of our students will have that excellent experience regardless of how intentional we are about creating safe campuses. However, we as professionals also agree that we must do everything in our power to help create institutions in which all students, including LGBT students, know without a doubt that they are part of our valued campus community. They must know from their first day on campus that they have institutionally-provided avenues of assistance if they perceive an unsafe environment.

There are considerations with which campuses must deal as they determine what will be available at any given institution. The most critical, of course, is financial resources. Without funding, institutions may not be able to provide the same types of opportunities found on similar campuses in a system or in the country. While UIS is a vibrant, exciting institution as agreed by all with whom I met, it is also a small university with 4800 students and therefore with fewer resources available than its sister institutions in the University of Illinois system. Therefore, to provide services specifically to the LGBT population, the members of UIS need to work collaboratively and creatively if they wish to move forward.

The following are recommendations for the UIS community as they address LGBT issues on campus. The recommendation appear in stages: immediate action, action for the near future as funds are made available, and future action.

I. Recommendations for immediate action (in no particular order):

Select a neutral person (perhaps selected by both the Chancellor and the Chair of the Academic Senate) to monitor the suggested activities prior to their initiation.

Find a way to heal the conflict and mistrust that exists within some of the campus communities. The conflict is obvious and caustic. It has and will continue to hamper UIS’s ability to move forward, regardless of the areas of concern. I strongly suggest the use of an outside objective mediator who is selected by all parties. The following website may offer assistance in conflict resolution work: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8945/links.html

Conduct an extensive climate survey for all students, faculty, and staff. The following website may offer assistance in climate survey work: http://www.provost.wisc.edu/climate/external.html

Conduct an assessment of LGBT needs at UIS to begin to lay the foundation of building a strong program of inclusion. Use the CAS standards (http://www.cas.edu/) to help develop the assessment. Another useful tool may be the Sanlo, Rankin & Schoenberg (2002) book entitled Our Place on Campus, available through Greenwood Press (http://www.greenwood.com/).

Utilize Springfield or UIS LGBT faculty/staff/graduate student volunteers who are skilled in group facilitation or UIS counselors who are skilled in group facilitation to develop and maintain a weekly support group for students dealing with issues of sexual orientation. The LGBT office (not during its already limited hour of operation) would be an appropriate location for a weekly group. It’s possible that a second group for those dealing with gender identity/expression issues is needed but a needs assessment will help make that determination.

Make the QSA and other campus LGBT resources immediately available and easy to locate on the UIS website.

Support LGBT student organizations in their growth and programming, and encourage other student organizations to collaborate with LGBT groups in campus program presentations.

Develop an immediate strategic plan for the current LGBT office with the current GA, students, faculty, and staff so that there is some direction in that work.

II. Recommendations for action as funds are made available:

Hire a qualified professional to direct the new Diversity Center. Be sure that all stakeholders of a Diversity Center are included in the hiring process.

Hire a full time professional to coordinate the LGBTQ office within the Diversity Center. (note: due to limited resources, very few institutions are able to afford a free-standing LGBT center. The trend now is to include LGBT work collaboratively within larger multicultural/cross-cultural/diversity centers.) Once the LGBT coordinator is hired, all campus LGBT issues must go to and through that person. (The Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and the chair of the academic senate should not be involved unless so requested by the LGBT office coordinator.)

Use the CAS Standards (www.cas.edu) to provide guidelines for the work of an LGBT office. The office should never be the campus closet but act as an active resource office that provides training, education, information and referral, and advocacy. (Programming should be done by the LGBT student organizations.)

Once a coordinator is hired, utilize all stakeholders (LGBT office coordinator, Diversity Center director, LGBT student organization leaders, faculty, staff, alumni) to develop a strategic plan for the LGBT office.

III. Recommendations for future action:

Develop an ongoing dialogue that focuses on intergroup relations and conflict resolution. (University of Michigan and Arizona State have IGR offices.

Begin creating a plan for fundraising specifically for the LGBT office with the UIS development office.

Host the annual Lavender Graduation celebration to honor the lives and achievements of graduating LGBTQ and Ally students and to honor the faculty, staff, and community volunteers who assisted and/or donated during the academic year.

Augment LGBT campus visibility through the offering of LGBT-related courses that address LGBT history and literature.

Create an ongoing student leadership program for all student leaders that includes diversity training. The focus should be first on the student leaders and then on the membership of the organizations, and how to make their organizations welcoming for and inclusive of all.

Hire an external training program that addresses multicultural competence, organizational effectiveness and strategic planning. One Ummah Consulting in Minneapolis is an excellent company. The contact is beth@oneummahconsulting.com

Once again, it is important to reiterate that I truly believe that each person I met at UIS, from the Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the Chair of the Academic Senate, and every faculty, staff, and student wants only the best for every person at UIS. I also truly believe that the issues are evident and that they are not at all irresolvable. Each person wants to do the right thing. With much open communication and a certain amount of mediation, I have no doubt that everyone will soon be on the same page.

Thank you for inviting me to come to the University of Illinois Springfield. I hope my visit and this report is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I may be of further service.

Sincerely,

Ronni L. Sanlo, Ed.D.