The Crisis for GLBTQ Students: A Call for Action at Temple
—Scott Gratson, Associate Professor, Department of Strategic Communications
Department of Strategic Communication, Director of Temple's Communications Program and SCT Undergraduate Studies
Recently, well-warranted attention has been placed on situations affecting GLBTQ -- or Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer -- students. The needs of this population, considered to be one of the most vulnerable student sectors in the United States, became tragically resonant with the suicide of Rutgers’ student Tyler Clementi. Tragically, Tyler’s death did not occur in isolation. In tandem with his own suicide, brought on by negativity toward his sexual orientation, were no less than four others nationwide in the space of one week, including a student as young as thirteen. This exclusion and collective othering of GLBTQ students has reached new plateaus. Indeed, this population is four times as likely to commit suicide as their straight peers, and over 90% report harassment in high schools, often to the point of physical attack but also as a general exclusion that may fly below the visual radar.
Concerns for safety and personal and psychological empowerment are paramount in our institutions of learning, as well they should be. In the case of the GLBTQ population, there is clearly just cause. In fact, in a recent nationwide survey from this year that assessed the climate of college campuses toward GLBTG populations, a clear majority of respondents, including students as well as faculty and staff, noted that much work remains to be done.
Of course, national trends and particular situations do not necessarily cross apply to Temple’s community. One can easily assert that all is fine concerning the GLBTQ population on this campus and any focus on better investigating this population would be misguided. That contention may indeed be true or it may not be. Simply put, the particular needs of this community and reactions to it have never been systematically assessed on this campus. Comparatively, and quite clearly, Temple does not offer the same level of public support to the GLBTQ students as do our peer and aspirant institutions. For example, Penn State has one the most highly regarded programs in the United States, offering a full range of support for students, faculty, staff, and alumni that is staggering. Other schools in our region, such as Penn, offer extensive student services.
When this discrepancy has been publicly noted, the response has often been that Temple is not concerned with focusing services on any particular populations’ needs, but instead will focus on either the intersection of a variety of identities or on the concept of diversity as a whole. That has been Temple’s position since I started investigating this situation seven years ago. Since then, I have sat on at least six committees charged with understanding GLBTQ outreach services, had oodles of meetings, and ultimately been faced with the situation that has even been noted by the Dean of Students Office: seven years ago, Temple had two student groups and an occasional write up in the Temple newspaper concerning GLBTQ needs. Currently, Temple has two student groups and an occasional write up in the Temple newspaper concerning GLBTQ needs. Despite the fact that concerns have been raised repeatedly about the levels of inclusion, very little systematic change reflecting an understanding of GLBTQ peoples’ needs and issues has resulted.
It has been suggested that GLBTQ issues, which affect a sizable portion of our campus community, are indeed effectively managed by two student groups. This has been the position of various administrators in the past. In drafted letters from those same students, however, that contention seems erroneous. Responses were collected in the 2009 – 2010 academic year from the Queer Student Union, the largest GLBTQ organization on campus. In those surveys, which were previously hand delivered to the Dean of Students office, concerns were raised about the practicality, and fairness, of placing the primary burden on two student groups. Other findings suggest a clear lack of campus resources and a general apathy toward GLBTQ outreach, support, and presence outside of the deep, admirable dedication of these two student organizations and their advisors and allies.
Some efforts have been undertaken. For example, inclusion efforts concerning GLBTQ populations are mentioned in residence hall training. Yes, there is a GLBT studies minor, yet academic programs do not typically entail student services and outreach. Of course, the legal standing and inclusion of this population suggests very different needs compared to other campus groups. As students and others have noted, it is still legal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to discriminate based solely on sexual orientation, and harkening back to the statistics previously mentioned, campuses have emerged as at least somewhat chilling environments for GLBTQ people. Indeed, recent events seem to suggest that such an environment is the case here.
One fact is incontrovertible: There has not been a systematic evaluation of the levels of GLBTQ inclusion on this campus, save for a survey orchestrated through Campus Pride, a nationwide organization dedicated to increasing GLBTQ inclusion. That survey was taken approximately five years ago. Those results were not positive, with Temple garnering a below average rating. Since that time, Temple has not participated in, nor has the University committed itself to, a climate survey or a systematic means of evaluation.
Temple has always regarded itself as a bastion of diversity, a place where all people, regardless of who or what they are, worship, or love, have and will always be welcome. To further and deepen an appreciation of that lofty goal, we must first understand the foundation of our campus environment, including assessing reactions toward a population that historically has been maligned. I hope that the entirety of the campus community will join with and further the progress undertaken through these and other initiatives, finally ensuring that Temple’s mission of education and empowerment is fully achieved.
 See Sue Rankin, S, Blumenfeld, W., Webe., G. Frazer, S. (2010). The State of Higher Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People. Q Research Institution for Higher Learning. Electronic Publication.