November 21, 2004

Recent University diversity statement misses queer community

The recently released Statement on Diversity makes no mention of the queer population on campus, either as students, faculty, and staff, or in the community at large. Apparently this statement is an attempt by the University to justify its recruitment, retention, and hiring practices, and since the University doesn't take sexuality or gender identity into account in admissions or hiring, this is the reason for the oversight.

That said, the statement's language on the value of diversity in the community suggests that the University should begin recruiting students and faculty based on these criteria. The University has recognized that women and racial minorities may find the environment here somewhat intimidating and has taken special steps to help accommodate their concerns. The queer community, however, is taken for granted.

If the University is actively trying to add diversity to the faculty and the student body, then it should concern itself with sexuality and gender identity. Black women are cited as able to add a unique perspective to breast cancer research, but lesbians are neglected, even though the lesbian community has its own unique perspective on breast cancer. For some reason the racial and gender dynamics are valued in research, but the queer and transgender dynamics are either forgotten or deemed not important enough to be counted. Students of different backgrounds are lauded as being able to deepen the perspective of all the students around them, but this is then immediately qualified as referring to students of color. It goes without saying that queer students have had very different experiences growing up than their non-queer classmates.

The University needs to remember that queers are a minority on campus. Our goal is not to start a debate on who is the most disenfranchised group at the University or in society, but to recognize that all minority groups should be affected by University policies and outreach on diversity issues. Failure to include sexual orientation and gender identity under the umbrella of the Office of Minority Student Affairs is a concrete example of the exclusion of the queer community.

It is not that the queer community is being actively discriminated against; rather, it is being taken for granted. When concerns arise, students have to work together to directly pressure the administration; there is no office within the administration to be an advocate and apply pressure along official channels. When the University issues official statements about diversity on campus, queers are neglected. The queer presence is assumed to be self-sufficient, and the University is assumed to be completely open, welcoming, and safe. This is not the case: Queers are a minority group that might need resources, support, and visible, obvious allies. Especially after the results of the recent election, the queer community feels vulnerable and at risk. Inclusion in such a statement would be a welcome reassurance to the queer community that it is respected and protected on this campus and in the University community. Inclusion in such diversity statements and in diversity policies should be a basic, not something that the administration has to be reminded of.

In the true tradition of the University of Chicago, it may be necessary to start any talk on diversity with a definition of terms. The University needs to define a minority group. This definition will then either explain the exclusion of queers or will force the University to start including the queer community in discussions of diversity on campus.