Members of UNCP Spectrum gather to celebrate their community. Photo/Delisha Sidbury.
With no designated “safe space” on campus, some students feel as though UNCP is lacking inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community.
The education organization GLSEN defines a safe space as “a welcoming, supportive and safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.” The Safe Space Alliance defines it as a location with supportive staff, where LGBTQ+ students “can freely express themselves without fear. . . . a space that does not tolerate violence, bullying, or hate speech towards the LGBTQI+ community.”
Michelin Henderson-Maldonado, the vice president of Spectrum, the LGBTQ+ student organization on campus, is making that kind of LGBTQ+ resource center her number one priority in helping the university move in the right direction.
“Not having one is damaging to the community. It’s really important for us to have that space,” she says.
A resource center is not the only way to provide a better experience for LGBTQ+ people on campus. Henderson-Maldonado points out that other UNC-system schools have gender-neutral bathrooms that UNCP does not have. The president of Spectrum, AC Armbrister, says that every attempt to get gender-neutral bathrooms has gotten nowhere, along with gender-neutral housing.
However, it is not just up to UNCP to provide a safe space, says Hannah Baggott Anderson, the faculty adviser to Spectrum. People need to help each learn, and she has talked with the organization’s members about how to help.
“One thing we talked about is that we’re going to have to take it back to the basics,” she says. “Like, ‘Here’s the complexity of gender and here’s the complexity of sexuality.’” Learning the basics allows for a better understanding of the complex community.
Henderson-Maldonado says people should hold each other accountable as well. Using a person’s legal name, as opposed to the name they’ve asked to be called, and refusing to use the correct pronouns for a student, should not be accepted, she says.
Although inclusivity on campus is important for the LGBTQ+ community, it might not be the final goal. Anderson says there needs to be other kinds of change. The system is based on white heteronormative ideals, and it should instead grow into something where asking your pronouns is common.
“If things are going to get better, both culturally in the U.S. and at our university, I think there needs to be
some type of cultural shift. A transformation. Because otherwise, it’s just going to feel like people are just going to start checking boxes,” she says.
The Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity has been holding inclusion roundtables with Dr. Lawrence Locklear as a way to get input from different communities on campus about how UNCP can improve in helping them. The LGBTQ+ roundtable was held on Sept. 29. Affected parties hope changes will be implemented to provide a better experience for them on campus.
In the meantime, because some faculty and staff have undergone “safe zone” training in previous years, students who need a LGBTQ-supportive person to talk to, can look for the rainbow-striped safe zone logo on an office door or on an employee’s web bio, or check out Spectrum on BraveConnect.