“When a car drives by and [the driver] shouts something disparaging at you, they can speed away so you can't get a license plate number, and then nothing happens. There's nothing you can really do,” said Melissa Derry, coordinator of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance.
According to Derry, hate and bias incidents such as this example are the reasons why the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Concerns Committee is so important.
“[The committee] is here to address student concerns of safety. Sometimes people feel like nothing can be done, so they won't report what they've experienced,” Derry said. “But if it's reported to the Concerns Committee, they can keep a log of incidents and alert the Green Coats to be on the lookout and be ready to deal with those situations.”
The LGBT Concerns Committee has about a dozen official members, including faculty, students affiliated with the LGBTA and also members of AS clubs such as Brown Pride and QWEST (Queer Women Educating and Supporting Together). The committee works to assure that the rights of LGBT students are honored and that the university environment allows them to maximize their success as students.
While the Concerns Committee is not new to Western, few students are aware of its existence and purpose because unlike the LGBTA, the committee often works behind the scenes at the administrative level. The committee provides information and support to campus offices, serves as a resource to faculty and staff and provides safe spaces for students through the faculty and staff mentor program.
Recently, a climate index survey was conducted to see how Western meets certain criteria in relation to LGBT issues. The survey was provided by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization that works to create a safer college environment for LGBT students. More than 20 Western staff and faculty members and one of the LGBTA coordinators completed the survey last summer. Overall, Western scored 66.6 percent, or three and a half out of five stars, which Derry said she considers to be good. But in some areas, Western did not score so well: the university only received one and a half stars out of five for safety. According to Derry, this is because Western doesn't have a bias incident team that is trained to deal specifically with bias and hate crimes, though it does have procedures and protocol for such incidents.
However, Derry considers Western to be a good environment overall for the LGBT community.
“We're a lot luckier than other campuses,” Derry said. “We have diversity classes and a minor in LGBT studies to choose from that a lot of campuses don't have. Our office has been strong for a lot of years—we're the longest-running ROP [Resource and Outreach Program] at Western.”
Along with the survey results, the Concerns Committee received recommendations from the researchers and staff at Campus Pride. According to committee chair Ronna Biggs, the participant group will meet this month to review the recommendations and decide how to share the information with campus constituents.
The Concerns Committee and the LGBTA office both provide support for students dealing with a variety of LGBT-related situations.
“People come in [to the LGBTA office] all the time with family issues,” Derry said. “Maybe they just had a parent come out and they want to know how to deal with it, or maybe they want help coming out to their family. A lot of people just want to come in and talk to someone who understands what they're going through. We try to point those people in the direction to get their problems solved.”
Both the LGBTA and the Concerns Committee are reaching out to all Western students, regardless of sexual orientation. LGBTA events are open to everyone, and Derry said event turnout has been strong so far.
“We had about 120 people come to the Chris Pureka concert [held Oct. 22], and about 300 people came to our ice cream social,” Derry said. “And our Drag Show, which will be on Feb. 23, always sells out every year.”
According to Biggs, interested students, faculty and staff can get involved with the Concerns Committee at any time. The committee usually meets once a month, or more frequently if an event is in the works. Students can contact the committee directly at LGBTCC@wwu.edu or contact the LGBTA office.