Inclusion on campus


Kaitlyn ReganSpecial to the Southern News

Jenna Retort, Sexuality and Gender Equality Center coordinator for programs, outreach, and services, said Southern is working on making a safe campus for the LGBTQ+ community.

Retort said she recently joined the President’s Commission on Campus Climate and Inclusion subcommittee, which is for LGBTQ+ issues. In six weeks, president Joe Bertolino has shown social justice is a big commitment for him, she said.

“I know he’s going to be supportive of making sure that all of our students feel included in the campus community and looking at not just independent identities, but looking more broadly at the intersection of identities,” Retort said.

Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization, rates universities based on their LGBTQ friendly environment. The online Campus Pride Index lists Southern for having gender inclusive housing and non-discrimination policies that include gender identity.

In terms of actual recognition, Retort said she and Olivia Carney, graduate intern, are working on a lavender graduation to celebrate students and recognize them as outstanding members in the community.

Retort said they were recently approved for a state work, study grant and are developing a peer education program called the SAGE Ambassadors. This will help spread more programming across campus and develop peer connections, she said.

“I think sometimes it’s challenging for students to talk to administrators: they think we’re just talking heads so it’s more relatable coming from their peer. The tertiary part would be that they would be able to identify resources at Southern and in the Greater New Haven community for people.”

Elle Higgins, president of Prism, said she appreciates the steps Southern has taken so far to become an LGBTQ friendly university and has personally watched change happen over the years.

“When I started back in like 2013, the SAGE center was in a practical closet in the basement of Schwartz,” she said. “It was unstaffed, the door was always locked. It was nonexistent, people didn’t know it was there.”

In addition to her role in prism, Higgins said she is also on the president’s subcommittee. There are more gender inclusive housing options this semester and gender inclusive bathrooms are no longer a rumor, she said. Southern is a university that cares about its students, Higgins said.

“Southern really does just take the steps it needs to support its students the best way it can and it’s not always perfect,” she said.

Prism members want more space and recognition, Higgins said. Maui Lopez, member of prism, said she would love to see safe spaces created. They have the SAGE center and Prism meetings, she said, but do not necessarily have spaces to go when presented with uncomfortable situations and gender dysphoria.

“There are a lot of us that feel very threatened and very uncomfortable,” Lopez said. “I have many friends that are transgender in the group that have episodic dysphoria of gender and we don’t really have a very inclusive place for us to go.”

Dr. Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, director of the women’s studies department, said four years ago, Southern was aiming to be a campus of inclusion and everyone should be doing intersectional work.  

“They probably can look and say okay, now we have the SAGE Center. The SAGE Center takes care of it. Which to me is not the ultimate inclusivity. It’s like okay we have a silo here that can take care of itself. I think it should be all of us,” Lin said.  

Lopez said more recognition would bring diversity to their club and allow them to represent themselves in all facets.

“If there’s something very true within the LGBTQ community, it is that we are very loud about who we are,” Lopez said. “We want to say that, it’s just we have to have the comfort to do so and the space to do so.”

Photo Credit: Melissa Nuñez – Opinions and Features Editor

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