A series of discussions took place this week between URI President David M. Dooley and Brian Stack, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance and leader of the sit-in, as well as sessions with senior administrators, student affairs staff, LGBT students Riley Davis, Justin Willner, and Kevin Cruz; and members of the URI Equity Council.
Both the URI administration and the students believe that the past week has served to promote awareness and enhance campus-wide responsiveness with regard to LGBT bias incidents on campus.
“I want to acknowledge the courage and perseverance of the LGBT students,” said President Dooley. “The students were constructive throughout the week and did a magnificent job in educating the broader campus community about issues of mutual respect, difference, and the true meaning of creating a campus community. Enhancing diversity, equity, and community at URI is one of the premier goals for our institution, and one of the prominent goals of the University’s new academic plan.”
“The students really took charge on this issue,” said Stack. “The hard work and support of all the faculty, staff and students made this sit in successful in bringing light to the biases facing LGBTIQQ people on campus.”
While education and training initiatives have been in process over the course of the past year, the students felt they had not been adequately kept abreast of developments, were not involved in the discussions, and that the process was not moving quickly enough. An agreement was reached to offer additional educational and sensitivity training to students, staff, and faculty. In addition, students will have representation on several University committees.
Thomas Dougan, vice president for Student Affairs noted that “the sit-in has raised our level of awareness of the concerns and sentiment of the students, helping us more clearly understand their frustrations and priorities.”
As a result, some program schedules have been accelerated and will be enhanced, and some demands have been met.
• The schedule to create a chief diversity officer position will be accelerated.
Advocated by the president and approved by the URI Strategic Planning and Budget Council this past summer, the position of Associate Vice President for Community, Equity, and Diversity will be created on an interim basis this year. The position, which will be filled permanently following a national search, is part of the University’s long-term plan to ensure a safe, equitable, and inclusive campus community. It will report to the president and be responsible for the GLBT Center, Multicultural Center, and the Women’s Center. The creation of such a position is a best practice standard in higher education that will establish critical leadership to ensure significant progress in this arena.
• A new location for the LGBT center has been identified.
The University has offered to renovate an existing campus facility to become the new LGBT Center. The students and administration agreed that the existing facility in Adams Hall was no longer appropriate to support programs of the Center.
The new LGBT center proposed is Ruggles House located on Upper College Road, a 3,900 square-foot facility that will provide residential accommodations and center space. The plan would include increasing LGBT staff members to two full-time positions when the renovated center is occupied. Rooms will be rented to generate revenue to cover expenses and staff salaries.
• Bias Response Team refined.
This past spring, the University formed the Bias Response Team and developed the Bias Response Protocol. Based on input from students last week, the protocol has been modified to include case numbers to maintain student confidentiality and to enhance the visibility of incidents. Additional refinements are welcomed. The administration and students agree that a timely, effective, and visible bias response protocol is critical to providing an environment in which all of our students feel safe and supported at URI.
• New committees and commissions to be established.
The administration and students also agreed that a new advisory commission would explore and advocate for LGBT issues will be established to ensure URI continues to make progress in creating a safe and productive campus climate for all students, staff, and faculty. Finally, the joint student and administration team that negotiated the details of the agreement has committed to continue monitoring progress toward the implementation of the initiatives.
“With these agreements, the student sit-in ends, and our critically important work to stop hate and bias moves to another level at URI,” said Donald DeHayes, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Both sides have made a commitment to work together. Students will be actively involved, as the University continues to make progress in working toward a campus climate that is safe and free of harassment and discrimination.”
The Good Five Center Cigar published an editorial in Thursday’s edition advocating for the LGBT students in this way:
“As a student body we need to take a closer look at our own attitudes toward one another. That a group of students feels so disrespected that they find it necessary to make a very public protest in order to have their voice heard shows a disturbing lack of openness and consideration…That some have responded to the GLBT group’s complaints with hateful rhetoric and vandalism further goes to show that students aren’t listening…Now, it’s about time we start.”