Profs call for LGBTQ 'activism' by admins in the South

A group of professors is calling upon student affairs administrators at universities in the American South to sneak “activism for LGBTQ rights” into their daily duties.

Hailing the ability of admins to “provide powerful methods for change,” the professors—the University of Georgia’s Georgianna L. Martin, the University of New Orleans’ Michael Hoffshire and Christopher Broadhurst, and Millsaps College’s William Takewell—argue that while “anti-LGBTQ policies and political rhetoric are also found in other regions...they seem to have a great acceptance in the South.”

According to the professors, the "increased traditionalism, conservatism, and evangelicalism found in the South" create "cultural barriers" that inhibit efforts to "create inclusive campuses for LGBTQ students."

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“Student affairs administrators are in key positions to help challenge current policies and in the struggle to create inclusive campuses for LGBTQ students,” the authors proclaim, especially since “one of the key purposes” of administrators is “ensuring [students] receive the support they need to be successful.”

To better understand how admins can fight for LGBTQ-oriented policies, Martin interviewed eight administrators employed by colleges in the South, explaining that they focused on the region because “state legislation that continues marginalization of the LGBTQ community” is “over-represented” in southern states.

College admins don’t need to march at protests to be “activists,” according to the interviewees, many of whom described less-flashy strategies, such as advocating for “same-sex domestic partnership benefits” for employees and adding “sexual and gender identity to non-discrimination clauses.”

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One administrator, “Steve,” a white heterosexual male who serves as the associate dean of students at his institution, explained to the authors why LGBTQ advocacy on campus is so important.

“I think it’s our job to help create a safe and comfortable space for students of all backgrounds, identities, etc.,” he said, elaborating that “if there’s a population that does not have a way to find their place here and be safe and comfortable here, then it’s our job to provide that.”

“Audrey,” an academic advisor, added that administrators have a “duty to step up” to support marginalized students.

“I believe that one of our major roles on campus is to make sure we’re advocating for our students in every way,” she remarked. “Especially when they are targets of discrimination or when they’re being treated unfairly or singled out. It’s our duty to step up and make sure our students are taken care of.”

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Other activism strategies that administrators say they have taken include “trying to create a LGBTQ Resource Center,” creating “inclusive housing options for transgender students,” and instituting “Safe Zone” training on their campuses.

While the respondents reported that many of those efforts were successful, they warned that LGBTQ advocacy takes constant work and can be very time consuming.

“You can’t do it once in the fall and say, ‘okay, I’m done with it for every two to three years.’ It’s got to be constant,” said “Dean,” the director of his school’s student union.

The key to successful advocacy lies both in “political savvy,” and the ability to find “workaround solutions” to subvert the school’s normal decision-making process, the authors argue, concluding that their findings will be useful for any administrators “who wish to improve campus policies and practices for LGBTQ individuals.”

Campus Reform reached out to each of the authors for additional information. Christopher Broadhurst, who teaches Educational Leadership at the University of New Orleans, declined to comment, but none of the other professors responded.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen