Study: Campus lacks support for LGBT community

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    Representatives of the TCU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community expressed a lack of unity within the gay population in addition to the broader campus, according to a study on the support of LGBT students within the university.

    A research project led by sophomore social work major Shelly Newkirk and her mentor Tracy Dietz, associate professor of social work, extensively surveyed five students from the gay community.

    The participants, who were kept anonymous, were asked to relay their experiences within the college community. Questions asked ranged from comparing high school experiences to college experiences and their opinion of the level of advocacy and support within campus grounds.

    The study, conducted between December 2007 and April 2008, examined the effects on the fear of hate acts, the undertones of heterosexism, the assumption that there is no need for progression in gay rights, and anti-homosexuality in accordance with beliefs based in religion.

    All five students exhibited levels of cautiousness and discomfort attributed to the campus atmosphere, according to the report.

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    According to the research, four out of the five participants said they had experienced at least one instance of harassment on campus, mainly derogatory comments concerning their sexual orientation.

    The project clarifies that the small sample size does not accurately represent all of the campus’s LGBT community. Individuals not openly gay were not interviewed in the research, the report said.

    Newkirk and Dietz concluded the campus lacks a valid support system for LGBT students. Dietz said fear, isolation and the lack of support remain the top issues concerning the LGBT community.

    Blade Berkman, junior social work major and former president of the TCU’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said the caution not only originates from the fear of coming out on campus but also coming out to family members.

    “It’s not so much what they’ll face here with the students. It’s also what they’ll face with their parents,” Berkman said. “It’s a college setting so there’s also the possibility of being cut off from your family.”

    Newkirk said she hopes the study will bring awareness to the growing LGBT community and their quest for equality.

    “I feel like at TCU there are a very large number of students who are closeted,” she said. “They’re either trying to change and not be gay or they just don’t feel comfortable enough to come out.”

    Berkman said he agreed that the atmosphere of the campus directly interferes with student’s levels of comfort.

    “These people don’t have the opportunity to be who they are,” he said. “They don’t call it ‘Texas Closeted University’ for nothing.”

    Corte Gilbert, president of GSA and senior criminal justice and theater major, recently conducted a less-formal survey of more than 100 students online and through the V-Day Campaign’s booth at the TCU Info Fair.

    Gilbert said students overall would like to see more activity from the GSA regardless of their personal opinion.

    “I think students believe there should be fear and non-acceptance, when actually there’s not nearly as much homophobia as there used to be,” Gilbert said. “I think people base it on past fears that make it harder to see that change happening.”

    Dietz, future co-advisor to GSA, conducted a similar study about TCU’s LGBT community with another student researcher in July 1997. She said she found the progress on campus between the two studies disappointing but the activism of gay students has increased.

    “Over the years, (GSA) has really been more visible on campus,” Dietz said. “Ten years ago, to my knowledge, there was no movement to get something formalized at a higher level.”

    Newkirk, who received the approval for the project after she presented the proposal to the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Initiative, used a grant to develop the project.

    Since completion of the research project, Newkirk has released a video on YouTube titled “If I Could Speak Freely” that has caught the attention of many, including Chancellor Victor Boschini.

    Newkirk will meet with Boschini to discuss a possible resource center for LGBT students, as well as working toward more recognition of the gay community on campus.

    Berkman said the stability of the gay awareness movement relies on the university’s stance on institutionalizing the office.

    The bureaucracy of the situation handicaps the movement toward a more gay-friendly environment, he said.

    New GSA officers encourage different levels of activity within the GSA, and solidifying a faculty member as an official officer will sustain the rising activity level of the gay community, he said.

    Dietz said that as part of the faculty, she feels a responsibility toward any group that has been oppressed and discriminated against.

    “For faculty and staff who’ve taken time to think about it, they would say we need to do something for this group of students that hasn’t been heard – (Students) who may be oppressed on this campus, who don’t feel safe in certain settings and who are in classrooms and hear hate language against their group,” Dietz said.