Back to School: Safer Schools to Better Minnesota
Marriage equality’s recent passing in Minnesota is not the end of the road for GLBT residents of the state. Luckily, some metro schools have risen to the challenge and created their own policies toward equality.
Out for Equity
Ringing in as the state’s second largest district, St. Paul Public Schools has created a program which exceeds where others have failed. Out for Equity, at 18 years old, is one of only 10 district-level GLBT programs in the nation.
In an earlier interview with the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Tiffany Lane, the program’s director, mentioned that benefits of a district-wide program are plenty. Out for Equity is able to host support groups (for students, parents and staff), an GLBT teen social night, provide resources to Gay-Straight Alliances, advise on district policies and offer counseling to struggling students. “It’s about holding the district accountable and making sure everyone feels safe and included,” Lane says.
Lane, who sits on the bullying task force for the district, mentioned that they are currently looking at the bullying policy to make sure that it addresses everything that needs to be. With a main goal of raising awareness of the program, Lane says “what I’ve realized is, people want to do something, but they don’t realize what to do or what is protocol.”
This leads to the program’s major goal of education: utilizing resources to ensure staff, parents and students are all aware of the issues, how to report them, and what can be done about them is key.
Later in the interview, Lane goes on to say “people see problems, and they think it’s easy to ignore it and it will go away, but that never happens. You’ve got to handle situations. You can’t ignore it. It won’t go away.”
Having partnered with the St. Paul Public Library System’s One Book program, Avalon School (a charter school which serves grades 7-12) staff and students read A.S. King’s novel Everybody Sees the Ants and discuss the issues of bullying developed throughout the book in depth. Shortly after the school began its study of the book, it became evident that the approach paired nicely with Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Tour and the accompanying Tour Bus – a tech-savvy portable site for young people to talk about bullying, especially as it intersects with LGBTQ issues. As one example of many of the pro-LGBTQ stances that the school supports, students from the school attended the concert and tour bus and Avalon School’s library partnership project was thus rebranded Read Brave.
Soon after, the idea of a gender neutral bathroom was brought to the table. The school had experimented with having the two bathrooms act as gender neutral during set times, but the approach had never truly helped students who identified as trans to feel comfortable going to the bathroom. As it stands, the school does not have the funds to engage in the project of building a third, gender neutral bathroom, but Kevin Ward, an advisor at the school, said the project is being taken on by the parents and other organizations. “One parent, a designer, has volunteered to look at our plans and offer some of his own,” he says. The next step? The school’s original architect will be brought in to estimate cost and possible locations.
“Our main appeal to raise money for this bathroom is that Avalon prides itself on reaching out to students and families who have not been welcome in other schools,” Ward says. “We think that adding a bathroom that respects students and others who do not feel comfortable in either a men’s or women’s restroom further reinforces that message.”
Campus Pride Index
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities has earned five of five stars for the second year in a row on the Campus Pride Index. The index, which measures components which contribute to a more inclusive, welcoming and respectful GLBT campus, gave the university a 99 percent, landing in second place behind Cornell University.
“We are constantly finding ways to further support LGBT and Allies, all of which provide an inclusive and welcoming campus for all students,” said Jason Jackson, assistant director of the GLBTA Programs Office on campus.
The index gave the university perfect marks in six of its eight categories (support and institutional commitment, academic life, housing, campus and safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts) but docked points in the student life and policy inclusion categories.
The Campus Pride Index serves as a vital tool in assisting campuses to learn how to improve campus life for the GLBT community. The index was created to respond to a demand for tools and resources to assist campuses in improving policies and practices. Comprised of more than 50 self-assessment questions, the index weighs all eight categories equally in the overall score. The index is owned and operated by Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create safer college environments for GLBT students.
Other Minnesota colleges to receive top marks include Carleton College, Macalester College, University of Minnesota (Duluth), and Hamline University.