A new study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in a survey of 14 campuses, indicates that one-third of LGBT students have experienced harassment in the past year while 20 percent said they feared for their safety.
Frederic MacDonald-Dennis, Office of LGBT Affairs director, said the increase is reflected on the University’s campus and that the number of reported incidents have increased significantly from last year. He said he is unsure whether this is due to more hate incidents actually occuring or the fact that more people are aware they can report them. He added that hate incidents on this campus are still widely underreported.
“Unfortunately, a lot of LGBT people still feel uncomfortable,” MacDonald-Dennis added.
In response to the issue, the University recently created a task force charged with evaluating the existing climate on campus in order to ensure that equal safety and treatment are available for all members of the University community.
Organized by University Provost Paul Courant, the Task Force on the Campus Climate for Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Faculty, Staff, and Students was created as a result of student demands asking for a reexamination of LGBT student conditions with an emphasis on transgender students.
“The University community and our world is not as people like to think that it is,” Bruce Frier said, chair of the new committee.
The task force lists its charges as examining the impact of changes made since earlier reports, reviewing current University policies to ensure that all members of the community are supported and protected from discrimination, harassment and assault, and developing recommendations to improve the campus climate for LGBT students, faculty and staff.
In addition, although not part of its official charge, many representatives from the LGBT community as well as committee members would like gender identity included in the University by-laws as another area where discrimination is not to be tolerated.
“The committee seems to be generally agreed that a change in the bylaw would be desirable,” Frier said.
The task force plans to assess the University climate by using a variety of media and methods including launching a website, surveying students and conducting personal interviews.
“We’re looking for salient data and salient quotations,” Frier added.
One of the driving concerns brought to the attention of the task force is the need for increased sensitivity training with regards to LGBT issues for all University community members. They find this is especially true for Department of Public Safety officers, University Health Services staff, students within the Greek system and the staff of campus Residence Halls.
Although the University has an anti-discrimination policy that helps to create a level of security and safety for students, representatives from the LGBT community are concerned that there is still harassment and discrimination within the campus community that needs to be addressed.
“While all of that support is in place, there is also a level of intolerance that does exist at U of M,” Jeff Souva said, co-chair of the LGBT commission of the Michigan Student Assembly.
But the members of the task force are optimistic about their mission and emphasized that this is the beginning of a process, not the end.
“We hope that by our collective cleverness and our persuasive abilities that we will be able to make some progress,” Frier said.