Local universities expand LGBT networks

Local universities expand LGBT networks

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Resources for LGBTQ+ college students are continuously expanding. Some U.S. colleges and universities, such as Emory and the University of Maryland, have made lists of out LGBT faculty members visible online. Locally, the University of Pennsylvania LGBT Center announced the publication of its Faculty Out List on Oct. 31, closing out LGBT History Month. 

"We'd been talking about making sure that our students and other folks have a lot of people to look up to and see that there are people in their community who are faculty here," said Erin Cross, director of Penn's LGBT Center. "It was great to see folks we didn't know who'd heard about it and wanted to be added to the list."

Joao Campos, an undergraduate studying international relations at Penn, identifies as gay and works in the LGBT Center.   

"I think it's really great just to see how many professors identify as queer and are really just being out about it," Campos said. "Working [in the LGBT Center], I meet a lot of professors who come around, and it's always nice to talk to them, and to know that there's the possibility of having a connection."

The Perelman School of Medicine had its faculty out list for quite a while, Cross pointed out, but this is the first university-wide list of roughly 80 people, with at least one name from every school. 

Dr. Dennis Flores is an assistant professor in the family and community health department in the School of Nursing. Being an out queer man plays a significant role in his current research in HIV prevention. When he worked as an HIV/AIDS nurse about 10 years ago, LGBT identities were not discussed among his colleagues or teachers. 

"Coming of age as a gay man and starting to develop a professional identity at the same time, I've had to, in different places, almost censor myself where I wasn't highlighting a particular aspect of my personality," Flores said. "There were no such messages out there that it was OK to be out as a gay nurse, even if my field was highly specialized and highly equated with the population. It was never covered in our curriculum. I didn't have out faculty then."

As a professor at Penn, Flores has served as a resource for students who may need help navigating the field of nursing as LGBT-identified individuals. After giving a guest lecture at Penn a couple of weeks ago, he met with a student from the class who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community.  

"Even before I could get back to my office, I had an email from her wanting to set up an appointment," Flores said. "Essentially, it was about just how much she appreciated my being out as an Asian American because she comes from similar backgrounds. She was able to say, 'I didn't know just how out I should be at an Ivy League, as a freshman.' Being out there for myself, I was able to reassure her that she's going to find her way, and it's going to be OK."

Dr. Oswaldo Nieves is an instructor in Penn's School of Dental Medicine, as well as the faculty advisor for the LGBT club in the dental school. Nieves pointed out that dentistry is still a fairly conservative field in many ways, and that alternative forms of presenting oneself may not be as readily accepted as in other health professions, like nursing, for example.   

"I don't really think that even though we are health professionals, we are all the way out there the same way that nursing and medicine are," he said. "Not so long ago we actually had to shave, if you were a man, in order to see patients. I don't think that there's so many dentists that would have a sleeve [of] tattoos. In nursing, that's totally OK and normalized, but in dentistry, it's not. You're not a typical dentist if you have tattoos, you're not a typical dentist if you're transitioning." 

For him, like other faculty members and students, the list facilitates conversations about LGBT ways of being. 

"We can actually educate people; we can talk about the unknown, so people don't feel that resistance or that fear," Nieves said. "In dentistry, we need a lot of work." 

The list serves as a powerful resource not only for students but for faculty as well. 

"I'm just personally happy to see that there are colleagues that I perhaps don't have much interaction [with] on a day to day basis," said Dr. Hsiao-wen Cheng, assistant professor of East Asian studies. "It's a large campus. A lot of the schools at Penn are quite separated from each other. But at one point, if I run into one of them, I can say 'I also saw you on the list,' and that's a way for us to make another connection." 

Although the university-wide Out List is new to local schools, and Penn is one of the first in the area to utilize the concept, Drexel University has developed new initiatives to foster resources and awareness for its LGBT students, faculty and staff. 

In addition to several student and faculty resources, including the Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and the LGBTQA+ Faculty and Professional Staff Network, Drexel now has an LGBTQA+ alumni group, the Committee for a Gender Inclusive Drexel, as well as the Preferred First Name initiative, which allows students, faculty and staff to have their preferred first name listed on public-facing information if they so desire. Another project in the works is developing alumni scholarships for LGBT students.

"We're trying to think about positioning ourselves with Campus Pride in the future to think about having us established as an LGBTQA-friendly campus," said Giuseppe Salomone, Ph.D. student and president of Drexel's LGBTQA+ Faculty and Professional Staff Network. "We really want to make sure we have the services to support LGBTQ students in general in terms of when they're looking to shop around for colleges." 

Staffers in the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership at Temple University have been having conversations about the possibility of developing a list of out faculty at the school. However, some viewpoints are conflicting. 

"Folks may feel that they could be targeted," said Nu'Rodney Prad, Director of Student Engagement at Temple's Institutional Diversity office. "But there's this other school of thought too that obviously it's great for the representation, that having an out list will serve the purpose of allowing students to identify or connect with faculty and staff." 

Temple has had a Safe Zone program for the last “10 years or so," that allows faculty and students to take a five-hour certification course and receive a placard indicating that they are either members or allies of the LGBT community. The number of students and faculty with Safe Zone certifications has grown over the years, and currently, over 1,000 certificate-holders are on a listserv that enables them to collaborate with the diversity office.   

"Once you're certified, it doesn't mean that it's the end of the road, it also means that you are continuously engaged in LGBT support or resources," Prad said. 

Prad and the team in the Institutional Diversity Office want to be strategic about offering an out list. The office is planning to hold focus groups with LGBT faculty members to assess their needs and hear differing viewpoints. 

"We are always about promoting the visibility and awareness for the community," Prad said. "[An out list] would help align the visibility factor for us. We're trying to see a full circle of how this will impact the campus." 

Even in the absence of a definitive list of out faculty and staff, local colleges and universities are working to show prospective and current students, faculty and staff that their campuses are welcoming and accepting places for people of all LGBT backgrounds. 

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