Each year, February rolls around on campus with countless posters featuring famous African-American accomplishments throughout history and advertising guest speakers and movie events.In fact, of 45 students interviewed across campus, 32 knew that Black History Month is recognized in February, and 11 had attended Black History Month events hosted on campus. However, of those same 45 students, only four of them were aware that October is recognized as Gay History Month, and no one had attended any campus events that honor it.
Though these numbers reflect how little information is available on campus regarding Gay History Month, strides are being made to bring Tech’s gay community into a more positive and recognizable light.
“A lot of people will only see the part of the gay community that fits stereotypes, and that really hurts our image,” Jamie Barrett, Lambda Association president, said.
Lambda, also known as the Tech Gay Straight Alliance, was formed on campus several years ago but had very little recognition until Fall 2010. On its website, the organization states that a student does not have to be gay to join or show support but does need to have an open mind. Unfortunately, there can be drawbacks, as fellow students may raise questions about the decision to support a notoriously homosexual organization.
“It takes strength to be open to criticism and questions when you show your support,” Alex Friend, freshman psychology major and Lambda member, said.
Lambda began as the “Eclectic Society,” a club to promote diversity and acceptance on campus. When a student first approached Ed Boucher, dean of students, about starting an organization for gays on campus, Boucher informed him that he would have to find a faculty advisor to be an official campus organization.
The student returned to Boucher’s office and told him that he was having difficulty finding a sponsor because faculty members who were homosexual were nervous about being so open about their sexuality, and faculty members who were not homosexual were afraid that they would be seen as such.
“So I told him, ‘Well, I’ll do it,'” Boucher said. “When it comes down to it, it’s a civil rights issue. Gay students have as much right to form an organization as anybody else on campus.
“[Lambda] is a way of saying ‘What do people who are different from us do?'” Boucher said. “‘How do they fit into the community?’ I think it serves a very important purpose here on campus.”
In 2008, the Tennessee Board of Regents awarded a diversity research grant to each TBR university to measure the campus climate for minority students and diversity on campus.
“Overall, I think it’s pretty good,” Lambda treasurer Abel Howard said. “Most of us put ourselves in situations where we know we will be comfortable though.”
Lambda is currently working on the “Safe Haven” project, which will allow faculty members to put a sticker on their doors to symbolize that their offices are open to homosexual students who need advice or counseling.
“Having a diverse campus-people who don’t look like you, don’t talk like you, have a different ethnic background-is rewarding,” Boucher said. “When students live on campus, it’s probably the most diverse setting they’ll ever live in.”
The diverse environment helps prepare students for the future workforce because they will almost certainly have to work with those who have different backgrounds and ideologies. However, the diverse campus setting also brings complications.
“How do you get people who feel like they are part of a minority to feel like they are a part of Tech?” Boucher said. “How do they make a connection to campus?
“We can’t be all things to all students,” Boucher said. “We have to break it down into smaller parts.”
Currently, there are almost 200 student organizations on campus to help students form connections and enjoy being at Tech. One reason it is so important that students feel a sense of belonging is measurable. Involvement on campus has proven to boost retention and graduation rates, both of which reflect well on an institution.
“The biggest thing is, we have to let people be themselves,” Boucher concluded. “Usually, they’ll find their own place to belong.