Future of LGBTQ Community at Reinhardt University
The LGBTQIA+ Community’s Future at Reinhardt University
By Philip Fröwis
University for LGBTQIA+ community members is more than just an educational institution. Many queer students look forward to their time being in an educated campus environment where they can finally express themselves, be who they really want to be, and enjoy support from their peers. But does Reinhardt live up to this expectation?
The Eagle Eye talked to Trevor Watkins, Kip Ryle and Maddy Kupersavage about their experiences on campus. They generally agree that Reinhardt University is on the way to creating an inclusive, welcoming, and supportive environment for all students. The members of the LGBTQIA+ community are generally feeling welcomed, safe, and supported by other students, the faculty, and the staff. Nevertheless, “generally” is not what the strong voices of the inclusivity movement strive for. Every single piece of negative feedback, every uneducated student or faculty member, and every student subjected to inappropriate housing situations is one too many. Kip, Trevor, Maddy and many more powerful students on this campus put it clearly – there is still a lot to be done.
In order for queer students to enjoy their experience at a university, it has to be a safe space, mentally and physically. Many students here at Reinhardt come from backgrounds where they’ve never before met openly gay or transgender people, which limits them in perspective. Kip, Trevor and Maddy agree – it all starts with education for students, faculty and staff.
“My name is Maddy. I tell people that I identify as bi just so I don’t have to give them the conversation about what pansexual is, but I am pansexual.”
Maddy’s statement gives us insight into the life of a queer student in an environment that is simply not educated enough. But where does the education come from and who educates who? Kip stresses that even faculty and staff do not have enough knowledge yet to educate the straight students about LGBTQIA+ topics, and especially not to properly support queer students.
Kip emphasized that there needs to be safe space training for faculty and staff and general awareness courses for students. This could happen hand in hand with, for example, the sexual awareness or domestic violence courses that are already mandatory for all students.
While Reinhardt has to become a mentally safe place for queer students through these additional educational steps, it also has to be a physically safe space for LGBTQIA+ community members. The biggest issue, especially for transgender and gender-neutral students, is the housing situation. As for right now, Reinhardt only offers male or female rooms, according to one’s gender on their driver’s license. Kip pointed out that there is no adequate housing for students who do not identify either as male or female.
The interviewees proposed simple approaches to solve this issue. The ideal way of providing safe living situations for non-binary students is gender-neutral rooms or designated private rooms. Kip mentioned during the interview that there are many universities around the country that already provide these opportunities and they stressed that the change is not too difficult for the institution. But, as for so many other issues, the LGBTQIA+ community members of this school are very understanding and acknowledge that changes like this can conflict with traditions and centuries of institutional and societal habits.
As an alternative solution, they, proposed housing LGBTQIA+ students with other members of the community or, at least, housing them with students who actively state that they are supportive of the community. This can be easily done by adding one more question to the housing application, where students can mention their support for LGBTQIA+ students.
Concerning the ability to change things on campus, like the further education of fellow students, faculty, and staff as well as changes in the housing policy, LGBTQIA+ students are especially active and try to make their voice heard. There are countless examples of successful student leaders at Reinhardt, and Trevor and Kip are two of the most influential. By being involved and by being student leaders, our interviewees not only have already changed policies and built independent organizations themselves, but they have also found belonging and a safe space in being a leader.
To further support the community members — those in leadership positions and those who are not — Kip founded the Reinahrdt LGBTQ+ Alliance on campus. Established as a result of their First Year Seminar project, the well-known club has risen in notoriety and aims to educate everyone on campus through materials and events but most of all, the club aims to give queer students a safe space and a place to have fun together.
With strong queer leaders already filling the most important student leader positions on campus, the future looks bright for Reinhardt’s LGBTQIA+ community. Our interviewees were generally positive about the future and they are excited to see Reinhardt implement some of the many changes they have in mind.