February 16, 2009

LGBT Students Demand Voice

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The economic downturn has hurt all facets of the University, especially those parts of the community that were often overlooked before any economic crisis.
Cornell’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning community has gone without a permanent director or an office manager of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Resource Center (LGBTQ RC) since the summer, and without an assistant dean of Students/Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Outreach (LGBTQ) for a year and a half.
“As a community, our members are disproportionately more likely to be homeless, lack family support at home (both financial and emotional), and are disproportionately more likely to abuse substances and be prone to suicide than non-LGBT peers … These facts are not meant to pathologize or degrade our community — but they are meant to make the obvious point that we need administrative support,” Ashley McGovern ’09, Courtney Finerty ’09, Aly Blum ’09, Olivia Tai ’10 and Jen Inloes ’09, LGBT organization student leaders, stated in a joint statement.
The LGBT RC and the Assistant Dean of Students/LGBTQ Outreach both fall under the Dean of Students Office, but the Assistant Dean of Students/LBGTQ Outreach is housed in the Office of Student Support (OSS).
The LGBT community currently relies on Joey Notaro ’08, LGBT RC interim coordinator, to fulfill the duties of the entire department, and on student efforts for further support.
“[Staffing] should be a top priority — we’re always the first to get cut,” Notaro said. “In general we’re not gettting the type of support we need in booming economies. President Skorton mentioned it is times like these that things like the humanities can be cut but he hasn’t made a statement about diversity services for marginalized faculty, staff and students.”
Since the LGBT RC permanent positions have been vacant since last summer, student staff members ran the center alone prior to Notaro, who was hired in October, according to the joint statement.
According to the joint statement, the LGBT RC requires permanent staff for administrative tasks, a director to go to meetings and training programs and an office manager to keep the center open daily. The Assistant Dean of Students/LGBTQ Outreach’s function is to initiate and organize programming for Haven, the LGBTQ Student Union, and its eight constituent organizations and all other LGBTQ students. The Assistant Dean vacancy was recently posted and a hiring committee, consisting of administrators and students, was formed.
Student programming and community support have been impacted significantly since these positions became vacant. Without administrative support, students are forced to take on the responsibilities of the staff members. Before Notaro was hired, 75 percent of the fall programming for new and returning students was cancelled.
“It’s just such a difficult time … Those positions are definitely needed. First and foremost we need those resources … The Resource Center provides support not just to students but also to faculty and staff. The students must have a safe place to go,” said Amy Sindone, program assistant, Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies.
McGovern stated all of the LGBTQ community’s demands. They include that the LGBT RC remain open under all circumstances; that the LGBT RC Director, Office Manager and Assistant Dean of LGBT Affairs remain separate positions, are posted by the end of the year and that no official hiring occur while students are not on campus; that the Assistant Dean of Students/LGBTQ Outreach and Assistant Dean of LGBT Affairs report to the LGBT RC; that there will be a forum between the Cornell and Ithaca LGBTQ community and Cornell administrators; and that the LGBT RC will not lose any funding as a result of the fulfillment of these demands.
Due to the impact of the administrative vacancies and student burnout, the LGBT community held two at-large meetings these past two Thursdays to outline the community’s demands and make a coalition with other student groups, staff and faculty. Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students, attended the most recent meeting.
Tai explained that the purpose of the meeting is to work with, and not against, University administrators.
“Those who attended the meeting do not seek to antagonize the administration, but hope to work with the administration,” Tai said.
Although the University faces budget cuts across the board, Hubbell pledged to try his best to fight for the LGBT community.
“I’m certainly sympathetic to [the community’s] needs. I will do my best to support their demands … I have to say that we are really in a tough financial place, so we may not be able to accommodate their demands, [but] I do not think that we will demure from the effort,” Hubbell said.
Although hiring new staff may be difficult in the current economy, drawing from current staff and faculty internally could be an option, according to Hubbell.
“The reality is that there are going to be layoffs here on campus and it is a better idea to pull from our internal resources,” Sindone said.
Though the financial crisis makes hiring new staff challenging, the Assistant Dean of Students/LGBTQ Outreach was not filled long before the economic crisis.
“We have gotten sort of used to the idea that it is this difficult to maintain a community and that these hardships as a student are permanent … With a student advisor, I envision some who can serve as a core,” Tai said.
McGovern, Finerty, Blum, Tai and Inloes wrote that they hope to work with the administration through open forums and will distribute an online petition that outlines their demands. Next week, they will present the petitions in an open forum that will culminate in a direct action if support is not evident.
The lack of LGBT funding is part of a wider university issue that requires “redistributive justice” for “all academic and nonacademic programs for inclusion of marginalized people at Cornell University,” Notaro said.
Annie Bass ’12, a member of Ga’avah, a Jewish LGBT organization under Haven ,understand the constraints that the University faces but believes that her organization’s demands are reasonable.
“I would say the administration wants to do what they can for the community within the bounds of what they see are reasonable efforts to put forth … We’re asking for advocates.”