Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, a professor of practical theology and director of field education and supervised ministry at the Brite Divinity School, said TCU struggles to promote inclusion of LGBTQ students.
“I think TCU as an institution means well, but in terms of having actual encouragements for LGBTQ people on this campus, I don’t think so,” Sprinkle said.
Sprinkle, who in 1994 became the first openly gay professor at the Brite Divinity School, said he has seen progress of inclusiveness toward LGBTQ students on campus.
“It’s less and less permissible for faculty and staff, even for students to express open discrimination and bigotry against LGBTQ people,” he said.
TCU Spectrum, previously known as TCU Gay-Straight Alliance, is a student organization that focuses on creating a safe environment for LGBTQ students on campus.
“When I first decided to come to TCU, I heard from my friends that TCU is called a ‘closeted campus’,”said Spectrum President Isaac Portillo, a sophomore psychology major.
Rachel Heffelfinger, a sophomore habilitation of the deaf and hard of hearing major and vice president of Spectrum, said she was nervous about the way TCU would treat LGBTQ topics and include the LGBTQ community.
Heffelfinger said the limited presence of LGBTQ students on campus causes those who identify with the community to fear rejection.
“I think a lot of times when people see other people doing it, it makes them feel safer,” she said. “We don’t want people to feel forced to be out, but we want people to feel like they can be if they want to be.”
Spectrum works closely with TCU Allies, who are TCU faculty and staff who “welcome, affirm, and celebrate persons in the [LGBTQ] communities” at TCU, according to its webpage.
The Office of Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services provides a Safe Zone training for TCU Allies, which is offered per semester for faculty, staff and students to increase understanding and awareness of LGBTQ issues and to create safety for the LGBTQ community on campus.
“I think it’s a phenomenal program,” Heffelfinger said. “I think now with more student support, we can make the program even better.”
This semester, Sprinkle, who has worked on preventing LGBTQ hate crimes, is teaching a course about ministry in the LGBTQ community.
“It has the largest enrollment now that it’s ever had,” he said. “That shows you that the interest in the contributions in the LGBTQ community is high here.”
Sprinkle said TCU should have a LGBTQ resource center to improve on the lack of resources for LGBTQ students.
“There has been calls for such a center for a very long time,” he said. “Many colleges and universities have these centers.”
Portillo and Heffelfinger both agreed the increasing number of resources and allies makes the LGBTQ experience at TCU more welcoming.
“I’m learning how many friends we have in different places,” Heffelfinger said. “It makes me more proud to be a Horned Frog to know that I can also be proud of who I am.”