By: Emily Scagel/TRT Assistant Editor–
The response to an LGBT art exhibit stolen from the walls of Bryant University in the spring of 2012 has demonstrated that the university has been, and will continue to be, making strides so that everyone on campus feels welcome. With a campus Pride Center, various groups and activities for students, alumni, faculty and staff and newly implemented gender-neutral housing, this small campus has shown that they will not let one incident define their school
At the end of the spring 2012 semester, Bryant University invited Jeff Sheng, photographer of “Fearless,” a collection of photographs featuring openly LGBT athletes from high schools and colleges, to exhibit his work. On the morning Sheng was going to speak on campus, the 5th day his work was displayed throughout the Bryant Center, it was discovered that all but one of the pictures were deliberately taken down and missing.
“The thing is that these people or this person — whoever did this to the exhibit — is giving our school a bad name. They don’t represent Bryant as a whole,” explained Sara Elder, student and President of Bryant Pride and Student Coordinator for the Pride Center. “They’re just a very small, small part of our university, and I hate to see somebody doing something bad get so much more attention than the people who do so many great things on this campus. I think more people heard about what happened to the exhibit than about gender neutral housing or the school’s new Pride Center, and that’s sad to say.”
Several faculty and staff members reacted immediately to figure out the next step.
“Many of us were very clear that we had to make this a teachable moment, that we needed to respond in an educational way,” said Nanci Weinberger, Psychology professor and member of Bryant Pride and the LGBTQA Faculty and Staff Caucus.
What commenced was the “Bryant is Fearless” exhibit, a series of professional photographs featuring students, faculty and staff, with allies and members of the LGBT community posing alongside each other and hung where the original exhibit was.
“We had an overwhelming response from students and University staff that wanted to participate in this,” stated Elder. Weinberger added that she heard students talking about the response in her classes, and that the new exhibit did what was intended. “Students said, ‘this is who we are,’ and it helped for us to define ourselves and support the community … we are part of the Fearless constituency.” Follow up programming is also being planned by the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies advisory board, said Weinberger.
Located in Smithfield, Rhode Island, with only a little over 3,000 undergraduate students, Bryant University does not let its small size deter from its inclusivity. The campus includes a Pride Center, that, according to their mission, “supports the personal growth of GLBTQ students and their allies by providing support, resources and advocacy. We strive to create an inclusive community on Bryant’s campus through education and awareness.”
The LGBTQA Faculty and Staff Caucus, which, Elder explained, is a large group of faculty and staff members that furthers efforts made by students. Weinberger said that this group works alongside Bryant Pride, the more student focused group. The Caucus includes representation across all departments and brought SafeZone training to campus, so that “there are people well prepared to respond to students and they know that they have a safe ally throughout campus, wherever they might be; they can always find people who are supportive.”
Bryant Pride is not just an advocacy group, stated Elder. “We’re sort of a lot of things rolled into one. We plan events on campus and try to co-sponsor others as well, we also just want to educate the campus in general about GLBT issues.”
Bryant Pride was one organization that worked to bring Dan Savage to campus. Elder and a group of other staff and students participated in creating their own “It Gets Better” video, unveiled after Savage spoke. Bryant Pride also has held and sponsored various other events that, for the most part, were extremely well received. One of which, says Elder, out congressman Frank Ferri attended and loved.
Gender-neutral housing can also be found at Bryant, a rarity among campuses. Elder was one of the students at the forefront of advocating for the policy change, and said that they had much support from faculty, staff and administration. In fall 2011, gender neutral housing passed.
“Gender neutral housing is important because part of a school’s responsibility is to keep students safe. This doesn’t just mean a security-gate at the entrance of our school and the Department of Public Safety going around campus; it’s more than that,” said Elder.
According to its Policy Manual, Bryant University features a comprehensive equal opportunity policy that includes sexual preference/orientation, as well as gender identity/expression, and their definition of harassment protects the same. The campus also has a Bias-Incident/Hate Crime Hotline that can be called at any time.
In terms of the future, Elder is sure that prospective students will be clear that Bryant is becoming more and more accepting each day, and “is forward-thinking as well as appreciative of diversity, because really, gender neutral housing is about more than just tolerance – it’s about acceptance. And by having a Pride Center and gender neutral housing, I think Bryant University will continue to attract a more accepting student body every year.”
Bryant University offers a variety of majors and minors through the College of Business and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit www.bryant.edu.
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