Make Them Feel Safe: Despite Changes, some LGBTQ students still feel afraid on University of Memphis campus

By Tomia Lane and Tierra Perry

While most students at the University of Memphis don’t think twice before using a restroom, Lane Emory avoids using campus restrooms altogether.

“There are times when I don’t go to the restroom the whole day I’m on campus, and I’m there for 12 hours a day,” Emory said. “So I just don’t go to the restroom until I get home.”

Emory, a junior at the University of Memphis, is also a part of the LGBTQ community who identifies as non-binary. Non-binary is an umbrella term used to describe people who do not identify as male or female.

Campus Climate Creates Fear in LGBTQ Students from Memphis Mirror on Vimeo.

“I actually never feel safe going to the restroom because my gender expression is androgynous to feminine,” Emory said. “I’m biologically male, but I’m not going in the male restroom because if I’m wearing a dress, I don’t know how somebody’s going to react to that.”

Like other LGBTQ students at the University of Memphis, Emory’s fears extend to other parts of campus, as well.

“I don’t know how people are going to react when they see me, so a lot of the times when I’m walking around campus, I will just put my head down,” Emory said. “I kind of feel safe when I’m walking in a group of people, but I don’t really feel safe on campus.”

Students nationwide experience similar feelings. In fact, 44 percent of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school due to gender identification, according to NoBullying.com. Across the country, 58 percent of LGBTQ Americans have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to Pew Research Center.

A lot of Emory’s fear stems from the harassment that often takes place while walking around campus. “I hear the word ‘faggot’ a lot,” Emory said. “That word is really paralyzing. After I hear it that one time, I hear it echoing in my head throughout the rest of the day.”

Joshua Taylor, the president of Stonewall Tigers, which is a gender and sexuality alliance organization on the U of M campus, takes an active role in informing school administration about the needs and concerns of LGBTQ students. Stonewall Tigers provides an inclusive space for LGBTQ students, as well as straight students.

Taylor wants the location of gender neutral restrooms noted on campus maps and residential housing for LGBTQ students, issues he said President David Rudd supports.

“We want to make an inclusive option when [students are] signing up for res-life,” Taylor said.

Taylor identifies as a gay gender fluid male. He recalls being discriminated against by his first roommate during his freshmen year of college.

He thinks that applicants should be asked if they are inclusive of the LGBTQ community, so LGBTQ freshmen can experience safe and comfortable living situations.

“As a first college experience, it was kind of disheartening in the sense that here I am, going to college,” Tayor said. “I can be who I want to be, but no, there are still people that still don’t want to get with that.”

He said the administration sets the tone in ensuring the safety and inclusion of LGBTQ students.
“In President Rudd’s emails, he is very explicit about [pushing] sexual orientation and gender identity when he’s talking about inclusivity,” Taylor said.

Recently, the administration hired Christina New as the graduate assistant for Inclusion and Sexual Diversity in the Multicultural Affairs office. She also works closely with Stonewall Tigers. New says that she has been doing research to better understand the on-campus concerns of LGBTQ students.

“I think that sometimes it’s not always clear what to do, and so what I’ve done this year is research,” New said. “What are the best institutions across the countries doing to support LGBT[Q] students? How are they supporting them? How are they ensuring that they feel safe?”

Based on her research, New concluded that institutions greatly vary in how they support LGBTQ students. The institution as a whole must decide what the U of M’s priorities are and what types of supports are needed to help the LGBTQ community, she said. “So where we are at now is determining what makes the most sense for our students,” New said.

Eric Bailey, coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, suggests that the administration should hire a diversity and inclusion specialist to work in the office of Multicultural Affairs.

However, Jennifer Williams, senior coordinator for student engagement, suggests a different route.

“I think that being able to talk about the issues those students have, whether it’s bullying, whether that’s being able to find a restroom that they feel safe in. I think that those are some of the steps that we need to take further,” Williams said.

 

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