The LGBTQ Task Force was assigned with making recommendations for improvement of the campus climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students, faculty and staff at SUNY New Paltz, according to the report released to the campus community in January 2014.
“We talked a little about some of the issues we are trying to improve for the campus climate for LGBTQ students,” SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian said.
According to Christian, plans include at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every building, having more resources on the SUNY New Paltz website, an LGBTQ mixer as a part of summer orientation, using preferred names with food orders, adding gender orientation for the non-discrimination policy, having an LGBTQ expert go over all of the documentation and wording to make them gender inclusive and adding new material for welcome week to help students understand these issues.
The task force found that 97 percent of respondents expressed supportive attitudes toward LGBTQ people at SUNY New Paltz. The triangulation of the data included 11 focus groups, according to Marcia Tucci, assistant dean for the Academic Advising Center and task force member.
“That really informed our understanding of what peoples’ experiences are in a very direct way,” she said.
These 11 groups participated in in-depth discussions about campus climate issues and consisted of international students, student athletes, fraternity and sorority members, LGBTQ students, trans students, bisexual students, residence life professionals, faculty (two groups), facilities operations and maintenance and university police department and LGBTQ employees, according to the LGBTQ Campus Climate Task Force report.
Director of the Office of Student Activities and Union Services and chair of the task force, Mike Patterson, said the report was able to highlight some important LGBTQ issues on campus.
“There’s a good need that all of our campus policies are up to date and current and reviewed in making sure they are not discriminatory in any way,” he said. “I think the other thing that needs to come out [of the report] is some sort of centralized group to identify what is going on on campus. There’s a lot of different things happening on LGBTQ issues, but nobody knows about it because it’s not collectively shared. It will make awareness even stronger.”
According to the climate report, New Paltz has received an overall campus pride score of 2.5 stars out of 5.
The highest score, three-and-a-half stars, was achieved in the areas of Housing and Residence Life and Sexual Orientation. The lowest score, one star, was assigned to the category of LGBT Support and Institutional Commitment.
Tucci said the college was in the process of making changes when they calculated the pride index, a national standard.
“At the time things were already in progress that were already invoking a lot of change on campus,” she said. “We know when we do it bi-annually we will score better on the next one. Our goal would be to get between the four and five range.”
Tucci said the issue of a lack of gender neutral bathrooms available on campus was the number one safety issue for the LGBTQ community.
“Even though it’s potentially a very small number of people, the amount of discomfort they were experiencing not having these facilities readily available on campus was causing them a very high level of distress,” she said. “And we do have [gender neutral bathrooms]. But we don’t have them in places that were being most useful to students. We just kept saying that we need to bring this to a higher level of understanding of what the risk is for students. When we brought that data to the president, they were just amazed.”
This prompted changes in the plans for the renovation of Wooster Science Building to have a gender neutral bathroom centralized on campus, along with the changed policy that requires all new construction to have gender neutral bathrooms and any current renovations whenever possible would include in their plans, these bathrooms, according to Tucci.
“I think Trans [people] are the newest group of minorities to rise up and demand equal rights,” she said. “They are demanding the right to a bathroom that isn’t so defined by gender binary that no matter what we do we can’t fit there. They’re saying it’s a matter of civil rights, [to have] a bathroom that is built in a way where privacy is honored.”
In the second draft of the report, the task force specified what divisions should be implementing direct changes, getting departments to take responsibility for more inclusiveness.
“We are the college,” Tucci said. “It’s not the president who needs to change SUNY New Paltz. He can guide changes, but it’s the work we do everyday that is where the change comes from.”
Fourth-year Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies major Brendan Wright worked on the task force as a student representative from the Residence Hall Student Association and said the project has and will continue to make a positive impact on the community.
“It was a wonderful experience to work in collaboration with faculty, staff and fellow students,” he said. “I would say I am most proud of the immediate response for current construction plan updates and the stipulation made by the president that all future constructions should include a gender inclusive restroom.”
Director of the Psychological Counseling Center Gweneth Lloyd said her department works to make sure LGBTQ students feel safe and comfortable and she feels education would foster knowledge and understanding in the community.
“I think the college community remains very open,” Lloyd said. “I don’t like to use the word ‘tolerance’ because I think ‘tolerated’ sounds like an annoyance, but in terms of living together and creating a community of understanding and respecting and about how you disagree. You can’t disagree by trying to oppress. You have to at least respect them as a human.”
Patterson said he also thinks more centralized education will send a message to our new entrants that this institution values respect for all.
“The interesting thing about a college community is that you’re always cycling through new people,” Patterson said. “You always have new people with opinions coming in. People have the right to their opinions and sometimes those opinions are not friendly. We believe in and we stand up for the rights of our LGBTQ counterparts and you have the right to believe what you want, but you don’t have the right to discriminate against them, and perhaps through our educational efforts, we can change minds and opinions, and that would be a great win.”