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UW-Eau Claire improves ranking on
LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index

Editor's Note: UW-Eau Claire celebrated National Coming Out Day today with "Out With It!" — an event including music, food and conversations — on the university's Central Campus Mall. Established in 1988, National Coming Out Day is a civil awareness day for coming out and discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.

RELEASED: Oct. 11, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has improved its ranking from a national honor roll that assesses campus environments for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

UW-Eau Claire received four out of a possible five stars in the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index. It previously had received a 3.5 star ranking. The index was established by Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create safer, more LGBT-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities.

"Ensuring that everyone feels safe and comfortable on our campus is a university priority," said Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich, noting that equity, diversity and inclusiveness on campus is a goal that was identified during the university's strategic planning process. "The Campus Pride index ranking is an indication that we're making progress as we strive to create a safe and welcoming environment for all our faculty, staff and students. We also are reminded that we want to continue to work at our environment every day."

A UW-Eau Claire Campus Climate survey completed by students, faculty and staff in fall 2009 found that only 73 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents were comfortable with the campus climate, compared with 90 percent of heterosexual students, faculty and staff, Levin-Stankevich said. Campus climate was defined as current attitudes, behaviors and standards of employees and students concerning the access for, inclusion of and level of respect for individual and group needs, abilities and potential.

The four-star ranking in the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index is a good indicator that UW-Eau Claire has made a serious commitment to students, faculty and staff who are LGBTQ, said Dr. Larry Solberg, the associate dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences who was the campus liaison with Campus Pride in establishing UW-Eau Claire's profile.

Among the areas assessed by the index in which UW-Eau Claire demonstrated strong commitment to the LGBT community are its inclusive policies such as nondiscrimination statements recognizing gender identity/expression, as well as sexual orientation and domestic partner health benefits that are now available to UW System employees, Solberg said. Ongoing education on campus about LGBT issues, and support services through Counseling Services and the Student Health Service also strengthened UW-Eau Claire's ranking, he said.

In recent years, administrators and others have stepped up their efforts to identify and support strategies or programs that will help members of the LGBT community feel more welcome and safe on campus, said Dr. Beth Hellwig, vice chancellor for student affairs.

Examples of recent initiatives include:

  • Hate/Bias Incident Response Team. The group, which includes administrators, faculty, staff and students, ensures that anyone who observes hateful, intolerant or biased actions on campus has a place to go for help or to report what they have witnessed.
  • LGBT Advisory Board. The board is made up of students, faculty and staff who advocate for and/or listen to the concerns of the LGBT community.
  • Safe Space training. This program provides extensive training for students, faculty and staff to help raise awareness about LGBT-related issues. Those participating in the training have ranged from the chancellor and his executive staff to residence hall assistants.
  • Graduate student coordinator for the LGBT resource center. The resource center is part of the Women's and Gender Equity Center.
  • "Safe Space with Bass." This orientation activity was designed to make incoming freshmen feel welcome on campus and to provide them with resources.
  • Gender-neutral bathrooms. These bathrooms are intended to make transgendered members of the campus community feel comfortable and welcome.

The academic and student services units on campus are working closely together to provide experiences designed to enhance understanding of the LGBT community and to better support the LGBT initiatives on campus, said Provost Patricia Kleine. Immersion experiences such as this summer's "LGBTQA Studies: San Francisco Travel Seminar" are an important part of these efforts, she said.

"One of UW-Eau Claire's liberal education learning goals is to develop knowledge for living in a pluralistic society," Kleine said, noting that the seminar was partially funded with Blugold Commitment dollars. "The students who participated in the travel seminar were exposed to LGBT history and celebrations, which helped them become more knowledgeable about and aware of the LGBT community. It's important that UW-Eau Claire continue to invest in these kinds of meaningful efforts so we can better foster a campus environment that is equitable, diverse and inclusive."

As part of the travel seminar, UW-Eau Claire students and faculty members traveled to San Francisco in June for the 40th annual Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration. Participants stayed in a house in San Francisco to form a living-learning community, attended the LGBT Pride Festival and the Frameline International LGBT Film Festival, visited LGBT organizations and met with filmmakers and LGBT activists.

At the Frameline festival, students viewed films from all over the world and participated in discussions with audiences, filmmakers, actors and Frameline staff. The travel seminar culminated with the inaugural Eau Queer Film Festival Oct. 7-10, which included four separate documentaries produced by students. The film festival on campus preceded National Coming Out Day (which is today).

For more information about the Campus Pride LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, go to www.campusclimateindex.org.

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JB/JP

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