‘Ally training’ sets standards for a more inclusive campus.
By Tress-Marie Landa
To foster acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students on campus, colleges must “do more than just support them — we must act,” a UTSA diversity expert said Oct. 16 at this college.
Ann Margaret Trujillo, director of the Student Center for Community Engagement and Inclusion at the University of Texas at San Antonio, discussed “ally training” as part of Coming Out Week.
The training, typically three hours long, addresses safer and more compassionate ways to handle issues such as culture, religion, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation on a diverse campus. The training, which can create a more inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ students, is available to all faculty and staff at UTSA, Trujillo said.
Dr. Jonathan Lee, history professor at this college, introduced Trujillo and told the crowd, “I’d like to thank you all for coming out.”
“Pun intended,” Trujillo said.
Lee said coordinators of Coming Out Week, which has been observed at this college for about five years, have always wanted to start ally training here. It was previously called safe zone training.
Lee said he invited Trujillo to describe UTSA’s program in hopes of inspiring this college to develop its own.
Trujillo said her office serves as a volunteer service center and handles UTSA’s multicultural and diversity program, which includes ally training.
“The training was started on our campus by a staff member in one of our advising centers and a faculty member,” Trujillo said. “After a couple of years of them coordinating it, we decided that it needed a home on our campus and a dedicated staff and budget, and so that is how it came to be with our area.”
Trujillo asked audience members what ally training should look like at this college.
“My first question is, why do we even want to have an inclusive campus?” she said.
“Because it wouldn’t be right if it wasn’t inclusive,” Lee said.
Trujillo said students who feel included are more likely to get higher grades, stay in college and graduate. And those who embrace diversity are more likely to succeed.
“Building community, supporting leadership, professionalism and personal development — this is why teachers give you a lot of group work,” she said. “Learning to work with others who are not the same as you is important.”
Inclusive campuses have a sense of community, Trujillo said.
“School spirit, right?” she said. “If you feel like you belong, like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, you feel that sense of pride and spirit for where you are.”
The ally training has a distinct section for becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community, she said, noting the Q stands either for questioning or “queer in a positive manner.”
“In previous generations, that was not an accepted term. However, for me that is a good example of how we have reclaimed it into a positive,” she said.
Trujillo passed out a sheet with statistics about the LGBTQ community. Nearly half experience rejection when they come out to their family. That experience can be especially difficult for college-age people.
“This is where a place on campus comes in handy to feel safe and to be accepted.”
She said 43 percent are kicked out of their homes.
“There was a viral video of a boy coming out to his family, and the parents were very brutal verbally and did get violent,” she said.
“This is something that LGBTQ youth face and is very damaging. If your campus has a residential population, there should be on-campus areas that they can go to. If it is not residential, there are some off-campus sites.”
The new THRIVE center and Haven for Hope work with homeless young adults and LGBTQ youth. Trujillo said 42 percent of LGBTQ youth abuse drugs and 52 percent attempt suicide compared with homeless heterosexuals.
Homosexuals are 83 percent more likely to be harassed at school than heterosexual youth, and 60 percent do not feel safe at school.
Although this college is smaller than UTSA, it still has a large LGBTQ community and allies, Lee said.
“Think about what would make sense for your campus, about what is needed,” Trujillo said.
UTSA has two student organizations out of 300 called Spectrum and Intersections.
The ally training comprises a 34-page document that covers different identities such as race, sexual orientation, gender individually and the LGBTQ community as a whole.
“Key things to being an ally are being an advocate, knowledgeable and respectful,” Trujillo said.
But that is not enough to sustain a healthy and prolonged on-campus community.
“For myself, it is not just the passive part of listening and being ‘supportive’, but the action piece of being an advocate,” she said. “Like, if you hear someone saying something in the hallway that does not meet your perspective of being an inclusive campus, address that.”
One way to really make an impact is by changing school policy.
“Our campus recently started the process of having gender identity and expression included in our non-discrimination policy as a separate protected class, because some people do include that under gender.”
“It took a group of dedicated individuals to make this happen — that’s the advocacy.”
UTSA’s ally training includes a diagram to show how one might come out to family or friends. The stages are broken down for a person who might be hearing this for the first time and these stages are not necessarily in order and not always guaranteed for everyone to go through.
Being able to say “I am a person. And I am gay” is the greatest discovery at the end, Trujillo said.
Allies do not push someone through the coming out process, but they provide support and resources, she said.
Those who want to advocate more for the transgender community go through separate advanced training, as they learn more unique ways in which they can become an ally.
This college’s efforts are small but mighty, Lee said. They include the Gay, Lesbian and Ally Alliance and Coming Out Week. Unisex restrooms are on the first floors of Fletcher Administration Center and Chance Academic Center, and Lee said the college plans for more.
The journey for an inclusive campus is long but not impossible, Trujillo said.
“UTSA only has a couple unisex restrooms,” she said. “We are working on trying to locate single-sex restrooms as ‘family restrooms’. Our downtown campus has at least one. That process is very slow, so I commend you.”
Lee said this college should include LGBTQ history in classes including, humanities, psychology and history.
“Because when you don’t talk about something, what is the message you are sending?” he said. “That it is not important, that it doesn’t matter.”
Trujillo said a high-profile activist for the community is transgender actress Laverne Cox, who plays a character on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” series.
At UTSA, ally training is part of the training development in human resources. Students are able to do a workshop once a semester called “Queer 101” very similar to ally training.
For more information, call Trujillo at 210-458-4770 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.