St. Edward’s LGBTQ+ resources aim to provide safe spaces for queer community, have room for growth

The Diversity and Inclusion Office at St. Edwards University trains staff in LGBTQ+ Ally Training. Programs like Ally Training, work toward creating a safer, more inclusive space at SEU.

Courtesy of St. Edward's University

The Diversity and Inclusion Office at St. Edward’s University trains staff in LGBTQ+ Ally Training. Programs like Ally Training, work toward creating a safer, more inclusive space at SEU.

Content Warning: Article touches on suicide in LGBTQ+ community 

St. Edward’s University is taking steps to build support for LGBTQ+ students through a university-sponsored club, ally training programs for their staff and other systems implemented throughout the university. The goal is to develop St. Edward’s into an accepting and accommodating school, but the university is still experiencing setbacks, especially pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“One of the things that is most important in making sure that we are living the mission of the university is that we meet students where they are, and those are not just words for us,” Dr. Lisa Kirkpatrick, vice president of Student Affairs and Title IX Coordinator said. “That includes meeting our LGBTQ+ community right where our students who identify as queer are. We want to make sure that they are having the best experience possible here on the Hilltop.” 

LGBTQ+ youth are a community that experiences bullying, feeling alienated and struggling with mental health at disproportionate rates, yet they are severely underrepresented and vulnerable when it comes to receiving comprehensive and specialized physical and mental health resources. 

Around 40% of LGBTQ+ youth thought about suicide over the past year, according to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. The percentage is even higher for transgender and nonbinary youth. This is a dangerous number fueled by the sense of displacement and a tumultuous period of self-discovery from new independence that can come with moving to college.

“We want to make sure there are things happening for our LGBTQ+ community that signal this is a safe, welcoming community. It is consistent with our Catholic identity to welcome students of diverse backgrounds and to encourage every student to engage in their own educational and developmental processes,”  Kirkpatrick said. 

Student outreach is difficult at a small school. However, faculty is trying to keep up the effort of accommodating the representation of all diverse student groups on campus with smaller involvement potential. 

The PRIDE organization at St. Edward’s is at the forefront of this effort for queer students. The club’s roster cites about 100 members, but has not been able to engage as much this semester due to the pandemic and shift to online meetings. Typical events such as Queer Camp and the annual drag show were cancelled or modified to keep up with safety regulations. A limited number of returning students means a limited number of students interacting with the PRIDE organization, and a limited amount of events that the club can hold to keep up queer community engagement. 

The St. Edward’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is another main center leading the efforts for inclusion, training and support for all diverse groups on campus. The office sponsors the PRIDE club and coordinates ally training for its staff every semester to educate and strengthen overall awareness and safety for queer students on campus.

The ally training created at St. Edward’s consists of presentations, testimonies and discussions. It is facilitated with all student leaders and employees of Student Affairs with the goal being for them to gain awareness and input from the campus community. 

However, due to COVID-19, outreach to students has been limited, and faculty and students have had to adapt to the new online platform.

“It’s hard to make sure that you can be there for students, meet them where they are no matter what environment they’re in and that’s what we are trying our best to do,” Kirkpatrick said.