Over the last year, Southern Utah University’s LGBTQIA+ community has dealt with adversity that has since continued this fall. This semester alone, university employees have reported four incidents that have been aimed at the community. One was reported in September, while the other three were in October.
The reports during this academic year have consisted of SafeZone stickers and decals being removed or damaged in the Electronic Learning Center, the Geoscience Building and South Hall. This comes after a reported incident in February where professors and students in the Braithwaite Liberal Arts Center were met with vandalism of derogatory words toward the LGBTQIA+ community. There was also damage to campus property, such as broken computers and torn furniture.
SUU President Mindy Benson informed the university community of these incidents on Oct. 27 in an email.
“First, the University condemns these types of actions. They go against the University’s commitment to valuing everyone on our campus, including SUU’s LGBTQ+ community and its allies,” stated Benson. “I call on each of you to embrace respect for others in all your interactions and activities and honor the inherent dignity and value of every member of our community.”
While not able to provide much information due to the incident’s status as an open investigation, Southern Utah University Police Department Chief Carlos Medina spoke to SUU News about the importance of protecting everyone on campus and emphasized that justice would be served. The SUUPD encourages the campus community to report what they see to their office or through the university’s centralized reporting form.
What impact did it have on the community?
English professors Julie McCown and Laura Walker both have offices located in Braithwaite. They were shocked to walk into their offices in February to see that every floor inside the building had been vandalized with derogatory words toward the LGBTQIA+ community, a community that both of them are openly in or support.
“It was one of those things that’s just a bit of a shock to walk into Monday morning,” McCown stated. “To then walk in and see graffiti and pride stickers being taken down. It was not a pleasant way to start your week.”
At first, McCown said that the other vandalization in the building seemed like people messing around, but the anti-queer graffiti felt different.
Walker feels that the university is handling the situation “responsibly.” She believes it’s a tricky situation because many in the LGBTQIA+ community have lost trust in the safety of the university, which SUU looks to rectify with its next steps in guarding against future hate crimes.
The English professors rallied together to help the community during this time. As a whole, the department was shocked and confused. Walker said that her eight years at SUU before the incident were great and that she would not have expected such occurrences to happen here. Since February, she noted, the LGBTQIA+ community has been on edge because they do not know what to expect next.
“It feels like there has been a fragmentation, and that idea that like ‘We are all in this together’ … it is harder to buy into that,” Walker said when asked about possible solutions. “A response, or series of responses, that built that sense of ‘T-Bird identity.’ Something that can rebuild that sense is necessary right now to heal some of the fractures and, as much as possible, address and resolve some of the divisiveness on campus.”
Places to improve going forward
Above all that needs to be addressed is the LGBTQIA+ community’s sense of belonging, which Walker believes will help the university and its members. McCown is also a member of the Pride Alliance as the president-elect and said that an essential thing for them has been making sure that people are aware of the recent hate crimes and that they feel safe when reporting these types of incidents.
“There is an emphasis, even on these smaller incidents, to report them so that the SUU police and President Benson have an accurate picture of what is happening,” said McCown. “It’s now not an isolated incident but a recurring pattern we are seeing.”
Talking openly about what is happening instead of letting it go under the radar is necessary to regain trust and togetherness, and McCown believes that Benson’s email to the SUU community was a good first step.
Safety initiatives are a priority for Vice President of Operations Tiger Funk, among other members of SUU. The university has put significant resources into better security features, such as the installation of 300 new cameras across campus, the implementation phase of upgrading electric access control systems, the addition of a new member to the SUUPD and the conduction of a door-to-door survey looking for any faulty security equipment.
“I was happy to see that there is going to be an investment in security,” McCown said when asked about SUU’s work toward a safer campus. “Installing security cameras, making sure doors and buildings are locked when they should be locked — that is kind of the practical side. Obviously, you want to work on the attitude and social climate on campus.”
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community should feel safe and included on campus. McCown, Walker and Benson want to make sure that these incidents do not go unnoticed and that condemning hate crimes will help the SUU campus become a safer and more inclusive place for everyone.
Story: Chevy Blackburn
Photo courtesy of SUU
Editor: Chevy Blackburn