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Friday, October 14, 2011



BRADFORD, Pa. – Students, faculty and administrators at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford are working to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members of the university community feel more at home on campus.

Two new projects, one introduced by students, the other by administrators, have raised awareness on campus about issues faced by lesbian and gay community members.

At the beginning of the academic year, some offices on campus began displaying rainbow “Safe Zone” logos outside their doors. The signs send a message that the person working in that office has been through a Safe Zone training and is comfortable talking about gay issues and will not react in a judgmental manner.

So far, more than 50 faculty, staff and student members have been trained, including resident assistants. Offices and student groups can continue to request training.

Dr. Ron Binder, associate dean of student affairs, who began the Safe Zone program on campus, said that it has a number of benefits.

First, students can talk with a faculty or staff member or fellow student without being judged, in an environment where they can be themselves. Secondly, Binder said, the sign alone sends a message to students that they will be accepted on campus for who they are, even if they don’t engage that faculty or staff member in a conversation. Some offices at Pitt-Bradford have also begun displaying the Safe Zone symbol on their websites as a way to signal to potential students that the campus is welcoming to LGBT students.

That message was reinforced Tuesday, when the campus held its first “Coming Out for Equality” convocation organized by students in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Straight Alliance.

The convocation was a standing-room-only event with more than 100 attending in the Harriett B. Wick Chapel on campus. Speakers included Dr. K. James Evans, vice president and dean of student affairs; Dr. Steven Hardin, vice president and dean of academic affairs; Erik Austin, president of the Student Government Association and a broadcast communications major from Duke Center; and Dr. Jessie Blackburn, assistant professor of English, who helped students organize the event.

Blackburn cited a statistic from the Gallup organization that said 70 percent of the college-age generation support gay rights.

“There’s so much to celebrate,” Blackburn said, “but there’s still so much to be done, and I’m sure that it’s this generation that is going to lead us away from homophobia.”

Jenna Oyler, a human relations major from Kane, was the student leader of the group organizing the event.

Oyler worked with Evans and a steering committee to plan the event to coincide with National Coming Out Day.

“I wanted to organize this event because I have a lot of friends who are not comfortable being ‘open’ on campus,” Oyler said. “I know Pitt-Bradford strives to welcome all diversity, but the LGBT area was lacking.

“I took a Women’s Lit. class with Dr. Blackburn and really saw a connection between the feminist movement and the movement for LGBT rights. I wanted to hold an event that would embrace and celebrate students’ sexual diversity so members of the LGBT community wouldn’t feel like they had to be closeted at school.”

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