SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RHODE ISLAND — University of Rhode Island officials have responded to a student sit-in at the library by acknowledging that gay and lesbian students have endured discrimination.
“That any of our students should have to live with harassment and fear should be intolerable to all of us,” wrote university President David M. Dooley in his blog on Sept. 7, after meeting with students in August. “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.”
But students and administrators differ on how to solve the problem.
Students from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Center at the University of Rhode Island have occupied the library’s 24-hour room since 12:01 a.m. Thursday, saying they will maintain their “peaceful and nonviolent” protest until their demands are met.
Brian Stack, president of the Gay Straight Alliance and a volunteer at the center, said the group has been trying to get the administration’s attention since January. “We have had students throwing used condoms into students’ rooms, drawing offensive images on people’s doors and an epidemic of people yelling ‘faggots’ as they drive by the GLBT Center,” Stack said.
Dooley, who is in California until Sunday, called the incident “highly regrettable” and said the students “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.”
The group wants better facilities, a bigger budget for programs and better pay for staff members, a handbook of policies for reporting bias and hate crimes, sensitivity training for resident assistants, and regular meetings with Dooley.
Donald DeHayes, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said diversity is a priority for the university. Acknowledging the student group’s efforts and delays, he acknowledged that “It’s unfair to ask them to be patient.”
He said a Bias Response Team was created for students to report harassment, funding was added for diversity programs, and the GLBT center was added to freshman orientation. And he noted that Ron Suskind’s book “A Hope in the Unseen,” about overcoming discrimination, was chosen as the book every freshman must read.
“There’s an educational opportunity here,” he said.
“We’re committing to supporting our students,” DeHayes said. “Clearly, we’re fine-tuning the details.”
Stack said he spoke with Dooley Thursday afternoon and that before their cell-phone connection was lost, they disagreed about changing the way discrimination is reported, about faculty and staff training and staff compensation. Stack complained that staff members from the gay and lesbian center should be included when solutions are being discussed.
Student Senate President David W. Coates said he would work to make the center “our number-one priority,” and suggested the gay and lesbian community seek its own residence hall.
Stack resisted that idea, saying the center serves as a meeting place for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and getting them to go in a gay residence hall would be “much harder.”
“No offense,” Stack said, “But we know best what we want. People try to implement solutions without us in the room, and then they’re surprised when we don’t like it.”
By 6 p.m. Thursday, about 700 students had signed a “stop the hate” petition, Stack said.
“Interrupting hate is one of the best things we can do,” he said. “There’s so much hate, and not much interrupting.”
from The Providence Journal