In 2010, Michael Drompp, then Dean of the Faculty, and Carol Casey, Dean of Students, formed the LGBTQ Working Group with the mission of assessing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender supportiveness and inclusivity of the policies, environment, and programming at Rhodes College. The group now has 17 members drawn from faculty, staff, and students who are committed to this work and to supporting our student body.
“This is a group that is growing and has positive momentum on campus. First-year students are enthusiastic about these issues,” says Erin Hillis, Associate Director of International Programs and the group’s facilitator.
To capitalize on this momentum, the LGBTQ Working Group is hosting a number of events during the 2015-2016 academic year. The first event took place during Welcome Week in August, when the group hosted a “welcome back” cookout for members of the Rhodes community. In September, more than 50 students, faculty, and staff participated in the Mid-South Pride parade held in Downtown Memphis. Dr. Rylan Testa of the Department of Psychology brought the idea of participating in the march to the group and then helped get T-shirts featuring the Rhodes logo in rainbow colors for parade participants.
In October, the group helped Rhodes celebrate National Coming Out Day by hosting an open mic night in the Lynx Lair. Students were encouraged to share their stories of coming out during the event. Following this event, the Working Group hosted a memorial for Transgender Day of Remembrance in November. With more than 55 faculty, staff, students, and guests to campus in attendance, this event started with a reading of the names of the transgender people murdered in the past year because of their gender identity or expression and ended with a silent candlelight walk around campus.
This spring, the Working Group plans to support “Prom for All”, an event put on by student groups, the Gay Straight Alliance and Queer Advocacy. The second annual Lavender Graduation also will be held this spring. “Many schools across the nation have this event to celebrate the survival of the college experience,” says Ira Lawson, Student Leader Coordinator for the Office of Student Affairs. “It is for students who identify as LGBTQ to acknowledge their achievements and contributions to the college. I foresee the Lavender Celebration being something that grows both in numbers, enthusiasm, and pride.”
In addition to sponsoring events throughout the year and providing resources on campus for students, the group reviews Campus Pride Index scores for Rhodes and endeavors to find ways to improve inclusivity on campus. One idea being supported by the Offices of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs is to offer student scholarships to Camp Pride, a week-long summer leadership and advocacy camp in Charlotte, N.C.
Students wishing to get involved with the LGBTQ campus community should contact student leaders in the Gay Straight Alliance or the Queer Advocacy group within the Kinney Program. Tyler Harvey ’17 sums up his experience working with the LGBTQ Working Group in this way: “Serving on the LGBTQ+ Committee has given me the opportunity to work with other students, faculty, and staff members to establish a more welcoming campus climate through programming and policy works. The attendance at many of our events has completely inspired me to continue working towards a more inclusive, welcoming Rhodes.”
By Margaret Tronsor ‘17