Study reports LGBTQIA community members feel safer on campus

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IUP’s Campus Climate Study Report, published in December 2016 and available online, aimed to answer questions regarding IUP’s diversity and inclusion. The Penn’s Campus Climate Series will provide a look into some issues raised by the report.

The Campus Climate Study Report results suggest that members of the LGBTQIA community feel mostly safe on campus, but off campus is another story.

Alice Caughey (sophomore, political science), an LGBTQIA community ally, said she understands why there may be a hesitation for institutional support of safe zones.

“Safe spaces, to me, are a tricky thing,” she said.

“Yes, they protect people who may be put down for others’ prejudices and discriminatory comments, but they also may limit freedom of speech and make it hard for people to express their own ideologies.”

On the other hand, Kaylee Winters (freshman, psychology) believes that safe spaces are an important resource for groups on campus.

“It is important for people to have a place to go where they know they will not be belittled or discriminated against,” Winters said.

The study reported issues also arise in the classrooms, where it is much more likely for heterosexual students to think that the classroom climate is comfortable for students based on sexual orientation, and for LGBTQIA students to disagree with this statement.

Winters said she believes that the climate is usually pretty accepting, but that can change depending on the professor.

Caughey said there are many heated discussion topics in her major, some of which include the LGBTQIA community. She acknowledged that any LGBTQIA students could be offended by these comments, but she has never witnessed any students get upset during class. She added that the professors do a good job of “facilitating the conversation and keeping it fair and intelligent,” along with keeping a classroom environment in which everyone feels free to state their opinions.

The study report also said that some students were calling for more sensitivity to terminology and other basic training on the LGBTQIA community. Winters agreed that, as a pansexual white female, she is “not a traditionally noticed part of the LGBTQIA community.” She added that a lot of the identities in the middle, where she considers herself to be, are not considered an important part of the community.

Outside the classroom, there are many LGBTQIA students who do not feel safe being “out” on campus, according to the study report. However, Winters said she is welcomed for being who she is within the community. She added that IUP has a lot of LGBTQIA resources, which help make her feel accepted.

Kennedy Spencer (freshman, pre-physical therapy and nutrition) agreed that she feels accepted by most people on campus.

“But I don’t go around telling people about my sexual orientation,” she said.

Spencer has never directly experienced discrimination on campus, but has heard of many cases of discrimination after President Donald Trump was elected. She said she has also overheard offensive slurs on campus and seen students making fun of transgender people. She observed that these comments were usually made by white men.

Caughey recalled an instance when “a girl made a religiously charged comment about my friend who is gay, and was part of the [same] bible study group.” The girl quickly restated her comment to be politically correct, but Caughey felt her original comment was genuine.

The environment on IUP’s campus may not be the worst for LGBTQIA students. But once these students leave campus, they may face worse discrimination.

“I have noticed that the same students who are mildly disrespectful on campus are far worse when they think they are free of campus restraints in the town,” one anonymous survey respondent said in the study. “For instance, last year, a man who jokingly threatened my friend on campus beat him up on Philadelphia Street for being gay.”

Spencer agreed with this statement, claiming that attitudes are different when one leaves campus.

“Off-campus is so much scarier than on-campus, and I wouldn’t walk down Philly Street holding another girl’s hand,” she said.