Donald DeHayes, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, has been meeting with Brian Stack, president of the Gay Straight Alliance, along with other students sitting-in at the Library. Other faculty and administrators, including Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Dougan and Dean of Students Jason Pina, have also been on-hand and in contact with the students throughout the night and day.
URI President David M. Dooley is on the west coast and has offered to speak with the students by phone. He is scheduled to return to campus late Sunday evening.
“We are listening, we are being responsive and we are working to make the University a safe and welcoming community for the GLBT students and for all our students, faculty and staff,” said Provost DeHayes.
In August, the GLBT students met with President Dooley at his home, along with members of the URI Equity Council, faculty, staff, administrators, and members of the local community. At that time, the students presented a half dozen concerns that they wanted the URI administration to address.
The issues included the purchase of a new GLBT Center with living quarters for the staff, the publication of resources available to students for the reporting of biase and hate crimes, mandatory training for RAs on LGBTIQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Questioning) issues and sensitivity and training for faculty and staff.
The students were also seeking compensation for GLBT staff equal to that of the Resident Assistants (RA), an increase in the budget for programs and services with at least one additional full-time staff member, and a change in the reporting structure of two staff members in the Division of Student Affairs.
Some of the issues had already been identified and were being pursued by the administration prior to the August meeting, but President Dooley agreed to take action on the concerns and requested that several members of the senior leadership team develop and implement strategies to improve the experience of GLBT students at URI.
The University has evaluated three current structures and two vacant lots as possible sites for a new GLBT center, created a Bias Response Team, where students can bring up issues; instituted extensive new training for RAs, and planned new diversity workshops for the fall. The budget for the student group has been increased and a new part-time position was created to work on programming and services.
President Dooley noted in his September 7 blog that, “One of the emerging priorities for the University of Rhode Island is building a strong, vibrant, and supportive community that views diversity as a strength and where equity is a core value…Two events occurred this summer that reinforced my conviction that building a community where all our members are valued and supported is critical to the future of the University.
The president referred to what he called a “highly regrettable incident in which someone driving through our campus yelled ‘faggots’ at a group of our students who were doing nothing more than walking and holding hands. Our students made it clear that such experiences were, all too frequently, a part of their lives at URI and that the response of the university to these incidents was, for whatever reason, all too frequently inadequate.
“This is simply unacceptable,” added President Dooley. “That any of our students should have to live with harassment and fear should be intolerable to all of us. No one would want to endure what some of our GLBT students have endured, and no one should have to, at least while at URI. It’s that simple.”