After several letters from students, faculty and staff denouncing the anti-LGBTQ climate in Auburn and asking for University administrators to respond to that climate, Auburn University has sent a statement to The Plainsman addressing those concerns.
“Auburn is committed to an inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ students, staff, faculty, allies and alumni are valued members of the Auburn Family deserving equitable respect and treatment,” the University said in the statement. “Recent events on campus have generated climate concerns and highlighted the importance of strengthening our campus context.”
Those events include stories about Bruce Murray’s Facebook posts regarding the LGBTQ community. Murray, a professor with tenure in the College of Education, espoused what many students and professors took to be homophobic and hateful rhetoric in his Facebook account, which was initially public but made private.
The Critical Studies Working Group — comprised of professors who are “committed to the critical analysis of education” — published a letter the day after The Plainsman’s original story broke, and it detailed how many professors in the College of Education supported and stood behind LGBTQ students.
The following week, 186 faculty and staff members penned a message to Auburn’s LGBTQ community, telling them that “they do not stand alone.” The CSWG also published another letter that week with specific requests aimed at Auburn University and the College of Education.
Administrators met with members of the working group and with students last Friday to discuss those requests and how to best support LGBTQ students. Administrators present at the meeting included Interim President Jay Gogue; Provost Bill Hardgrave; Taffye Benson Clayton, who serves as associate provost and vice president for inclusion and diversity’ Bobby Woodard, who is the senior vice president for student affairs; Chief Operating Officer William Burgess; and Brian Keeter, the executive director of public affairs.
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The CSWG called the meeting “supportive and generative” and thanked “the undergraduate and graduate students who have dedicated their time to advocating” for LGBTQ issues at Auburn.
One of the objectives of the meeting was to get the University to make a statement in support of LGBTQ students and to acknowledge that a problem exists.
In its statement to The Plainsman, the University acknowledged that recent events had generated concerns for the LGBTQ community.
“Over the next few months, we will work together on a number of action steps that include but are not limited to developing LGBTQ-focused education and training, implementing a preferred name and pronoun functionality within the Banner system, and expanding LGBTQ student support services," the University said.
The statement went on to explain how the University is committed to inclusivity.
“Auburn endeavors to maintain an open, safe and inclusive environment as we commit to respecting human dignity and supporting all members of the Auburn family,” the statement read.
Members in the CSWG said they are pleased to see the University release an official statement. They said they provided some guidelines for what they thought the statement should include, based on student activists’ requests. In the end, it met the majority of their requests, they said.
“We remain optimistic that this statement represents a beginning down the road toward becoming a more LGBTQ affirming campus,” the CSWG said in a statement to The Plainsman.
The CSWG also said professors are coordinating presentations for University governance groups about the initiative that would allow students to input their preferred name and pronoun within the Banner system.
A working group is also being established by the University “to move forward on other LGBTQ-inclusive campus practices and policies,” according to the CSWG, which said it was told this by university administrators.
“That group will work toward improving their practices using the Campus Pride Index [a benchmarking tool for colleges and universities that aims to create safer and more inclusive communities] as a guide and will create structures that ensure continuing progress on LGBTQ issues at Auburn,” the CSWG said in a statement.
The CSWG said the University is committed to making Camp War Eagle and Successfully Orienting Students more LGBTQ friendly by using flyers and informational handouts on gender identity and making pronoun stickers and buttons available to students. Those initiatives will begin in the 2020 Camp War Eagle, according to the CSWG.
Lucas Copeland, who is the longest-serving member of Spectrum, Auburn’s gay-straight alliance organization, said it’s good to see the University finally make a statement about Auburn’s anti-LGBTQ culture. The keyword, he said, is finally.
“I would’ve appreciated a statement of support from the University immediately following The Plainsman’s article,” Copeland said. “It seems like they could’ve stepped in earlier than they did.”
Copeland also said that he’d like to see the initiatives become more specific as more meetings are held.
“The policy initiatives that they’re making are going to take steps toward addressing the climate,” Copeland said. “But again, much like the University, it’s something that’s going to move very slowly.”
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