The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Senate should add LGBT senator

We are facing a time of critical importance in our nation’s history. Just as many of our professors survived the civil rights movements of their collegiate years, our generation of college students faces another national civil rights movement: the fight for equal rights and representation for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community (LGBT). I would like to encourage you all, as my friends and colleagues, to stand with me in the fight against discrimination and urge our campus to be on the forefront of this movement by considering LGBT issues in the Student Senate.

Recently, Princeton Review ranked our school the 14th most homophobic campus in the United States. On August 7, The Dallas Voice quoted Seamus Mullarkey, the senior editor of Princeton Review’s “Best 371 Colleges,” as saying, “that while policies and events at institutions may vary, student attitudes alone determine the rankings.” SMU wrote a formal response to Princeton Review (check it out at smu.edu/womenscenter/) that basically says, “screw you!” to their survey as our school urges the organization to “update [its] research and conclusions for the ‘alternative lifestyle’ category.”

Although I agree with SMU’s response–that the Princeton Review’s survey was inconclusive and based upon the opinions of “who-knows who”–I cannot help but worry about a possible connection between SMU’s policies and the student-body climate regarding the equal representation of the LGBT community at our school. SMU has included “sexual orientation” in its non-discrimination policy; it has also provided same-sex partner benefits for its faculty and staff; it advertises itself as “nondenominational in its teaching, values diversity of ideas, lifestyles and backgrounds and nurtures a supportive environment through its policies, benefits and regulations.” SMU also sponsors an “Allies” program that provides mentoring and support for faculty, staff, and students of all sexual orientations. Our university also is among the highest contributors to Dallas’s annual “Black Tie Dinner,” which is a fundraising event to raise awareness and support for members of the LGBT community.

However, much more needs to be done. I call on our school’s administration to take action by recording the percentage of LGBT-identifying students enrolled in our university. These records are collected for almost every other “kind” of student, so why not LGBTs? These statistics are essential for measuring the resources that should be provided to LGBT students to ensure that their academic environment is conducive to the same education as other students’ and to provide a safe and comfortable atmosphere without fear of discrimination. There is an apparent LGBT presence on our campus (although there’s no data to confirm this that I’m aware of), but unfortunately this population is not being accounted for in university records or in the Student Senate. The repercussions of this sort of negligence are likely greater than we understand. The first step towards a solution requires enrollment statistics of LGBT-identifying students to be recorded. The next step is giving LGBT students a voice in student government.

The Student Senate, I am very proud to say, has an outstanding history in recent years of granting charters and funding to LGBT-friendly organizations such as SPECTRUM, ARC, and OUTLAW, as well as to individuals like myself. Because of the Senate’s support (for which I will be forever grateful) I was able to represent SMU and Texas by attending Campus Pride’s 2008 Summer Leadership Camp in Washington, D.C. The yearly camp serves LGBT & Ally student-leaders who, through hard work and dedication, strive to create safe LGBT-friendly colleges and universities. My camp experience empowered me to stand taller and stronger for the equal representation of all LGBT individuals in our community, and it created in me a passion and drive that will carry me throughout life. Since it is in the nature of an activist to never be satisfied, I will persistently urge the university and the student-body to continue this necessary dialogue until all possibility of discrimination is eliminated.

Now, what of our student body? What if it is true what Princeton Review says, that our student body is homophobic in spite SMU’s policies, benefits and regulations? This fear of mine inspired this article and it is my hope that the Student Senate shares this concern. If so, I anticipate working with the Senate and SMU’s LGBT-community to create an opening for a “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Senator” to further ensure homophobia will never have a place on our campus.

The impacts of these progressive changes will be widespread. Including a “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Senator” in our Student Senate will speak highly of our administration, student-body, and university as a whole. It will serve as a benchmark for other universities to follow and it will encourage them to join with our school in standing for the rights and representation of all students. Furthermore, it will make a statement so loud and clear that its echo may resonate in the halls of all levels of government, locally and nationally.

It is my hope that the Princeton Review’s survey was wrong to accuse SMU students of being homophobic, and I will let the Student Senate’s implementation of a “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Senator” be the first test.

Tom Elliott is a fifth-year political science and philosophy double major. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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