Spectrum again seeks LGBT senator at SMU

Members of gay student group speak out after registrar cuts off talks over diversity seat proposal

SEEKING REPRESENTATION  |  Spectrum members, from left, Jessica Barner, Eric Douglas, Danielle Palomo, Breanna Diaz, Jakob Schwarz and Kristen Baker-Fletcher outside an SMU Student Senate meeting this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

SEEKING REPRESENTATION  | Spectrum members, from left, Jessica Barner, Eric Douglas, Danielle Palomo, Breanna Diaz, Jakob Schwarz and Kristen Baker-Fletcher outside an SMU Student Senate meeting this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK — Progress toward an LGBT Student Senate seat at Southern Methodist University came to a halt last week when the school registrar cut off talks with Karen Click, director of the Women’s Center for Gender and Pride Initiatives.

“I need to put this project on hold for a while, as I don’t have the resources now,” Joe Papari, SMU’s director of enrollment services for student systems and technology, wrote in an email to Click.

Papari couldn’t be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, members of the LGBTQA student group Spectrum addressed the Student Senate to ask for help in restarting the talks about a Senate seat.

“Show how progressive our campus can be,” Spectrum President Harvey Luna urged the Senate.

Tom Elliott, who now works for the Travis County Democratic Party in Austin,  first brought the idea of an LGBT seat to the Senate in 2009 when he was a senior.

Elliot said when he served on the Senate’s Diversity Committee, it dealt with finding more resources for minorities and better ways to recruit new students from those communities.

He thought that with the negative publicity SMU gets from the Princeton Review rating of the school as one of the 20 most homophobic campuses in the U.S., an LGBT senator would send a positive signal to potential incoming students that while the student body remains conservative and seems lacking in diversity, everyone is actually welcome at SMU.

The Princeton ranking is based on student surveys. In many ways, SMU doesn’t fit the profile of other schools on the list. SMU is the only school on the list with inclusive nondiscrimination policies, domestic partner benefits for employees, sanctioned LGBT student groups and openly gay faculty and staff who are embraced by the administration.

In December 2009, the Student Senate voted against adding the LGBT diversity seat. The vote was 19-19, but a three-fourths majority was needed to pass the resolution that would have then gone to the entire student body for a vote.

But the perception of the school remains one where gays and lesbians are not welcome, according to members of Spectrum who believe that a diversity seat would help change that.

Last year, Spectrum again urged the Senate to add the seat but they again voted it down citing the difficulty in identifying LGBT students and uncertainty about how many students the senator would represent.

“They were concerned with numbers,” said Spectrum member Eric Douglas. “They threw out 150 as a number.”

He laughed at the idea that on a campus with 11,000 students, fewer than 150 would be LGBT.

Senate Secretary Martha Pool said that there’s concern about double representation and questioned all diversity seats.

“Special interests are supposed to have liaisons,” she said. “There’s supposed to be a senator [assigned to] every student group. That way, everyone is fairly represented.”

However, no one from Spectrum who attended the Senate meeting on Tuesday had ever met a senator assigned to their group.

Spectrum member Kristen Baker-Fletcher objected to the idea that a senator who isn’t a member of the LGBT community could represent those students well.

She mocked the idea, characterizing it as, “We have efficient people who can speak for you.”

Spectrum’s activist chair Breanna Diaz said that a diversity senator would represent all LGBT students, not just the few who belong to one of the school’s several gay groups. She said an LGBT representative would bring issues to the Senate that aren’t currently being addressed, including health, mental health and safety.

Diaz said a major concern from last year seems to be resolved. In talks with the registrar, an optional slot could be added to the online student information profiles. Students could indicate their sexual orientation or gender identity on a confidential page. Those who self-identified as members of the LGBT community could vote for the diversity senator but wouldn’t have to belong to a campus LGBT organization.

Several senators asked whether a resolution to the registrar would make a difference.

Spectrum member Jakob Schwarz said, “The only leg the registrar’s office can stand on is that students don’t want it. A resolution by the Student Senate would be an indication of students do want.”

Click wasn’t sure that registration on the campus database was necessarily the answer.

“Is this the one stumbling block?” Click asked, adding that she doesn’t know the answer.

Click said the question of who would vote for the LGBT seat is complicated since a lot of allies attend Spectrum, many LGBT students don’t belong to any of the campus groups, and reaching out to them all is difficult because of the transience of an undergraduate population.

“There’s no easy fix,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Leaders of gay student group at Baylor react to school’s decision to deny their charter

As we noted the other day, Baylor University has denied a charter for an LGBT student group called the Sexual Identity Forum. The university apparently doesn’t think college students are mature enough to talk about sexuality issues unless the discussion is “professionally facilitated,” whatever that means. Baylor has a policy prohibiting students from participating “in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.” The Sexual Identity Forum, which insists it isn’t an advocacy group, plans to appeal the denial of its charter and will continue to meet informally in the meantime — at least until the administration tries to shut it down completely. Openly gay and extremely brave Baylor senior Samantha Jones, the president of the Sexual Identity Forum, tells News Channel 25 that she decided to launch the group after the school’s administration failed to respond to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, whose death was a wake-up call to gay students around the country: “We didn’t get an e-mail saying, ‘This is someone who you can approach if you’re struggling with this,’ …nothing,” Jones says.

—  John Wright