The University of New Orleans is expanding efforts to welcome all students with several initiatives aimed at raising awareness about gender diversity.
Seven bathrooms have been designated gender neutral facilities—four at the International Center, two in the Bicentennial Education Center and one on the first floor of the Earl K. Long Library. The move is designed with the aim of making sure all students, regardless of their gender identity, have safe access to basic facilities.
“It says we value members of our community and they have a space where they can use the bathroom,” said Mike Hoffshire, assistant director of student success in the Office of Enrollment Services.
Approved by UNO’s administration, the move was the result of the combined efforts of UNO’s Diversity Cabinet, a panel composed primarily of faculty and staff, and Unity, a student group devoted to supporting those in the LGBT-plus community while also raising awareness and promoting dialogue about issues surrounding gender diversity.
UNO has also introduced a new section of its required freshman-success course that is focused on issues related to the LGBT community. So-called introductory “UNIV” courses are designed to help new students explore issues that can help them transition and thrive in a collegiate atmosphere. Already, students may choose the basic UNIV course from among courses that have a specific focus such as leadership, honors, study abroad and STEM. The new LGBT-focused section attracted 22 students in its debut this fall. Those enrolled included students who themselves identify within the LGBT-plus community as well as others who see themselves as allies.
The course included a section on LGBT history, said Hoffshire, that ignited a lot of visible interest among participating students. “It really built an awesome community,” he said.
Brett Kemker, dean of students, said that, for many students, the class may represent the first time they’re given the opportunity to discuss concepts and issues related to the LGBT community in a classroom setting. “You’re opening up to them for the first time that, hey, it’s ok to talk about this out loud in a class,” Kemker said.
The University is also expanding its Safe Space Allies program, a three-hour training available to staff, faculty and students interested in serving as empathetic and knowledgeable allies to those in the LGBT-plus community.
The program, which has been in place at UNO since 2010, is designed to reduce fear and discrimination on campus and beyond. Hundreds of people have gone through the training—which includes an introduction to resources, terminology and counseling skills—in the last three years, said Christy Heaton, director of orientation and first-year programs. Faculty and staff who go through the program are invited to post a “Safe Space” sticker outside their door so that students seeking assistance can do so without fear of judgment or retribution.
The next program is set for Oct. 27, 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in UC 208. Register online here.
Senior Anna Gowin, president of Unity, said that these initiatives go a long way toward helping LGBT students feel they are safe to pursue their academic interests without feeling the pressures of discrimination.
“Part of the reason I chose UNO in the first place was that it has an environment of acceptance, especially as a trickle-down from administration,” Gowin said. “It’s really just about acknowledging the fact that this community has always been here and we’ve always cared, but now we’re outwardly showing how much it means as a part of the larger UNO community.”