WKU makes strides to improve LGBT-friendly reputation

Whitney Allen

The Campus Pride Index rates 435 universities in the United States based on how LGBT friendly their campuses are. They have ranked WKU behind every other listed institution in Kentucky. Other state universities ahead of WKU include Centre College, Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University, University of Louisville, Morehead State University and Eastern Kentucky University. 

The Campus Pride Index rankings are based on various factors including policy, programs and practices, academic life, student life, housing and recruitment and retention efforts. WKU was ranked lowest in support and institutional commitment, campus safety and recruitment and retention efforts. 

Despite the low rating of 2.5 out of 5 from Campus Pride Index, WKU is making efforts to reach out to transgender students in order to improve this statistic.

President Gary Ransdell has reached out to Student Identity Outreach President Andrew Salman to discuss how to make the campus more inclusive for all students. 

“The president has reached out to me, so I think… that we are going to be seeing changes,” Salman said.

Although Salman said he couldn’t speak from personal experience, he has heard stories from transgender students about problems they’ve encountered on campus, including those with housing issues.

Salman said a friend and former student had issues with a dorm assignment during his time on the Hill. The student was told that he “was his female roommate’s learning experience and that it was his job to teach his roommate to be transgender friendly,” Salman said.

“I think every office on campus has some learning to do,” Salman said.

“Ultimately, they (Housing and Residence Life) did correct the problem.”

Salman said that campus representatives he has encountered are not always initially aware of how to proceed with situations that have arisen.

Kit Tolbert, director of Housing Operations, said HRL doesn’t have a specific policy regarding transgender students, but the office will work with students to make them comfortable.

“Well, the students that have come to us and said they are transgender, we work with them individually,” Tolbert said.  “Because each one might feel differently about how they want to be housed or where, so I just talk to each one of them separately and see what best suits them.” 

Tolbert said that as of now, there is no official format for approaching the situation, and students approach HRL based on individual need.

“I imagine, as we progress, that would be something we would make more of a formal process,” she said.

The housing application doesn’t allow for students to indicate their gender identity, but if a student contacts HRL in advance it will be easier for the office to accommodate the student’s needs, Tolbert said.  

The Student Identity Outreach on campus serves as a place for LGBT students to discuss campus issues and find resources. It also acts as a place for students to find a community.  

Salman said one of the most common concerns discussed is harassment from peers. 

“We get a lot of students complaining about getting called a fag on the sidewalk and stuff like that and that really fosters a climate in which they don’t feel safe,” Salman said. “That leads to a lot of them transferring.”

Students not only have the choice of whether or not to report harassment, but also a choice in how to report it. Students have three options regarding what action to take following such an incident, WKU Police Department Captain Dominic Ossello said. 

“Whether it’s a male, female, transgender — none of that plays into how we deal with harassment or sexual harassment,” Ossello said. 

Students can report incidents to the police department, the Office of Equal Opportunity, or they can file a complaint online through the human resources website. Complaints can be filed anonymously. 

WKUPD isn’t required to follow through with a complaint of harassment, but they must document when such an incident is reported. After a complaint is made, the decision to pursue legal action is up to the student. 

“We don’t run with it unless the victim or complainant wants us to,” Ossello said. “It really boils down to their comfort level and what they want to see happen.” 

WKU was recently named as one of the bravest universities for LGBT students in the south by advocate.com. WKU and seven other universities were identified by the magazine for having a strong group of LGBT adults that stood “up against the politics of bigotry and pushed forward, driving grassroots progress,” according to the article.

The article recognized an organization of students back in 2010 as one of the reasons WKU made the list. The group of 200 gathered during a visit by U.S. senator Mitch McConnell to work towards providing same-sex domestic partner benefits for WKU employees

Students were also named by the article as a driving force behind the campus completing the aforementioned Campus Pride index in June.

In order for LGBT students to feel more comfortable and safe on campus, these issues need to be taken seriously, Salman said. 

“I think that in order for it to stop, people need to realize that it’s a priority. In time, that will foster a more inclusive climate on campus. We have been making strides recently,” Salman said.