Survey, Training Aim To Improve GLBT Climate
By Christine Neff
From a survey that gauged campus experiences to a program that trained campus allies, ECU faculty members and staff worked this fall to improve the climate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) persons at East Carolina University.
“There appears to be a need for an outlet on this issue,” said Linda Mooney, an ECU sociologist who conducted a survey of GLBT students, faculty and staff. “I’ve had people write me and say, ‘I hate surveys, but I’m glad to participate in this one. This is the first time anybody has asked me about this.’”
The survey was sponsored by the Department of Sociology in conjunction with the ECU Center for Survey Research, the Center for Diversity and Inequality Research and the Gay, Les-bian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Union.
Researchers hope the study raises awareness about GLBT employees and students on campus – a group Mooney calls the “invisible minority” – and provides information on ways the university can improve their environment for working, living and learning.
The idea originated from the ECU Climate Survey mandated by the Chancellor’s Diversity Council. That study looked at how employees and students gauge access, inclusion and level of respect for individuals or groups on campus.
After seeing those results, Mooney felt more could be learned about the GLBT population at ECU. She decided to focus a study on that group, developing an ECU-specific survey with the help of graduate student Kelly Bristol.
Their online questions assessed if and how GLBT persons on campus experience harassment or discrimination. The survey asked for recommendations about how the campus climate can be improved, and in one section, invited GLBT students to reflect on their recent experiences in high school.
Mooney said data will be used to determine ways to improve the campus climate. Preliminary results may be available by the end of the year, and she will be working with Kimberly Baker- Flowers, ECU’s chief diversity officer, on the next steps.
Marieke Van Willigen, interim chair of the Sociology Department, said she was pleased that her department could be active in GLBT issues and noted an increase in campus-wide interest on the topic.
“It’s amazing to see the number of people across multiple disciplines at the university doing research on gay and lesbian issues,” she said.
Mooney said this attention reflects society’s growing interest in the topic. “It is one that’s being discussed at a variety of levels, and I hope my survey plays an important role in the discussion here,” she said.
Aaron Lucier, director of operations for Campus Living and Dining, has been part of that discussion as an advisor of ECU’s GLBT student organizations for 14 years. While he has seen improvements in the campus climate in his time here, he feels more can be done for this group of students.
“ECU has made huge strides in 14 years, but there is still more to do,” he said. “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students still feel a certain amount of isolation.”
In an effort to reduce that isolation, Lucier recently led a two-hour workshop called SafeZone training that teaches faculty members and staff how to provide support, resources and referrals to GLBT students.
Three sessions of the course were held this fall, and more than 50 ECU employees have gone through the voluntary training. At the end of the workshop, participants receive a pink and green logo to display on their office door to indicate that the area is a “safe zone” for GLBT students.
“This logo says, ‘you don’t need to edit your life here,’’’ Lucier said. “Hopefully it helps students feel more comfortable talking about their lives.”
Maggie Olszewska, director of ECU’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, said the Safe Zone symbol has a secondary effect on staff and faculty members. “Just knowing that somebody is willing to have an open mind can help the work environment,” she said.
For details, visit http://www.ecu.edu/cs-admin/diversity/SafeZone.cfm. Several training sessions will be held in the spring semester.