Administrators encourage safe haven for gay students

Kay Harward knew he was gay since childhood, but since he didn’t like being punished, it stayed his secret.

“I learned by sad experience that if I acted on those feelings, I got punished, so it must have been a bad thing,” said the associate vice president of enrollment.

“Somehow I knew I was feeling different about my little friend than he was feeling about me,” he said.

Since coming out to the U community five years ago-an event he calls “the best thing that ever happened to me”-Harward said he felt a burden lifted from his shoulders that left him with just one regret.

“It took me so long to realize that if I had just come out earlier, I could have helped a lot more people on campus. That’s the hardest thing,” he said.

Harward and other U administrators may be among the most underused student resources on campus, but they all want to share the same message with students.

“There are people here who will listen,” said assistant dean of students and greek adviser Lori McDonald.

In her capacity working with the greeks, McDonald knows first hand the challenges and pain that come with coming out.

“I would suspect that there are many who have come out, but I think a lot of students are reluctant to do so because they’re not sure what the reaction is going to be,” she said.

Chances are the reaction won’t be violent-at least physically.

According to dean of students Stayner Landward, just three sexually motivated hate crimes have been committed on campus in the past two years.

But for top university officials, even one crime is one too many-a concept that has led to the formation of a new, anonymous online crime reporting system students can use as an alternative to filing a police report.

The Bias Response Network is in its infancy, but the message administrators hopes it sends to students is quite clear.

“I think it’s essential. You’re talking about people who have been dealing with discrimination their entire lives, and I’d like to think providing a safe environment for all students is a core value of the U,” said Barbara Snyder, vice president of student affairs.

Associate dean of students Annie Nebeker said similar programs have found success at other universities across the country, which is one reason officials decided to bring it to the U.

“It’s been effective on other campuses. If students knew they could report incidents somewhere, they’d feel safer about it…I think this is really important because it offers another way for us to support our students,” Nebeker said.

But more than providing a safe haven in cyberspace for students struggling with their sexuality, officials are also working to bolster a more tolerant environment within the confines of the U itself.

“The words that creep into our language can be so hurtful and damaging to people in our society…I don’t think a lot of people are sensitive to the message it delivers,” Harward said.

But administrators aren’t out of tune with the actions of 350 students who rallied March 31 in front of the Marriott Library to express their views on gay marriage.

“I was excited to see the activism and excitement on campus, but I was saddened by the issue,” said Union director Whit Hollis, who is also gay.

Landward, the dean of students, also said the event should be taken in stride.

“I wish things like this would occur more often, but I’m not yet ready to pat ourselves on the back because there are other issues I wish our students would get involved in,” he said.

But for Harward, the only way to clear up myths surrounding the gay community is compassion and empathy.

“It’s hard to feel negative about someone you know very well. I think there’s a huge misunderstanding,” he said.

“Being gay is not all about sexual acts. It’s about paying bills and buying homes. It’s about people finding people,” he said.

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