painting rainbow flag

Maikel Atez gets a rainbow flag painted on his arm in Athens, Georgia on Sunday, September 10, 2017. (Photo/ Emily Haney, emilyhaney.com)

I read with very great interest Asher Beckner's story about the recent LGBT Resource Center personnel losses. As someone who has been at the University of Georgia for 30 years and has been involved in Diversity & Inclusion efforts the entire time, and as one who well remembers when there was no LGBTRC at all, I too, lament the losses.

However, I also know that such losses are par for the course as personnel are also human beings with lives outside of work and changes are inevitable as they make those decisions. I am ecstatic that the author found this issue worthy of a story. I am proud to be at a university whose Diversity & Inclusion efforts lead to students feeling the agency and safety to write such a piece. Thank you, Asher.

However, even as I applaud your sensibilities, commitment and courage in writing the piece, I would caution you and anyone else reading this to use that power wisely and for good and always try to do so in the most effective way possible. When you have an administration that is as supportive of these issues as UGA is blessed to do, it is important to honor that, to use that and to try to work with them to make valid concerns known in order to strengthen it.

My reading of the article indicated that Asher is unhappy about the vacated slots in LGBTRC not yet being filled and that meaning there was a lack of UGA administrators valuing LGBT student. However, Asher gave no information allowing us to reach that conclusion.

If Asher knew of information that indicated that the administration had been approached about the issue and had dismissed it, ignored it, pushed back on it or otherwise indicated a lack of interest, then we may also be able to reach the conclusion of lack of interest. However, simply not yet filling the slots does not allow us to do that.

Without more, it simply seems like the author takes the unfilled spaces as a barometer or the University's commitment and finds it wanting. Perhaps Asher does not know that the administration has a search committee that has been working on filling the director position for weeks and has now finalized the campus interviews for the director candidates on October 9 and 11th.

Having an administration does not care about these issues is not my experience. President Charles Knapp's wish to move forward on diversity issues when he came in as president 30 years ago and his request that I join the faculty at UGA to help with that is what brought me here 30 years ago when I would likely not have come otherwise.

I have worked at that ever since. In addition to trying to keep my finger on the pulse of Diversity & Inclusion at UGA at all levels and staying in touch with virtually all of the D&I personnel on campus, the LGBTRC is one of my special interests.  

While I may not know everything that goes on everywhere, I know the commitment to D&I issues from President Jere Morehead to administration and staff, on down to our students. How students experience D&I at UGA is tremendously important to us all, as they are our ultimate consumers. Personnel work tirelessly to make sure that each and every student who comes to UGA feels like they belong.

You may not see all the efforts that occur, but you can believe me when I tell you that virtually every administrator and staffer is committed to that goal. President Morehead's commitment is total. Each and every student may not feel it at each and every moment, but I don't ever want any of you to doubt it. Things are happening whether you realize it or not. That does not mean that everyone will get every single thing they want, but the commitment is unquestioned and unwavering.

If you see something that seems to be at odds with that commitment, please do not first jump to negative conclusions. Even more importantly, take it up with those who have authority in the area. Assume the best. Assume that commitment. Use it. Lean on it. If it turns out something is amiss, then you should absolutely effectively challenge it.

I am pretty sure that the most effective way of doing so is not to write a piece in the school newspaper accusing people who are tirelessly working in your interest of "carelessly" handling this issue in a "nonchalant, disorganized manner." It is simply not helpful.

I've been in academia and worked with students and personnel long enough to know how easy it is for rumors, innuendo and perceived instability to morph into fear that morphs into perceived "truths" that take on a life of their own — especially with marginalized communities used to feeling like they get the short end of the stick.

I also know the damage this can do. I know how it can end up causing unnecessary stress, distrust and mistrust with those who are, in actuality, your biggest supporters and allies — something no one wants.

With the kind of commitment UGA has to these issues, that is not necessary here. The reason there is an LGBTRC is because UGA saw the legitimate need and was willing to address it. As the author said, there are not a lot of schools in Georgia willing to do that. UGA did.

And it did it for the right reasons. It did it in the face of resistance. Big donors, the Board of Regents, the legislature and any taxpayer in the state all end up feeling like they have the right to tell UGA what it can and cannot, should and should not do; how it should and should not support students (of course some have the legitimate authority to do so).

But we have an LGBTRC. Before we had one I remember people called to complain, literally screaming, about the fact that once a week we held meetings for students questioning their sexuality.

Again, despite such resistance, UGA created and funded a center. It did so as a part of its commitment to have all students receive whatever support we may be able to reasonably provide to help them maximize their experience here and leave being all they can be.

There has been no "rainbow washing," Asher. If there had, I'd be the first to call it out and the one most saddened by it. After all, it would mean that my past 30 years had been in vain.

Before making such charges, and certainly in such a public way, please 1) speak with those who have authority over the issues you believe they are adversely impacting to make sure of your information, and 2) be sure of the accuracy of the charges and 3) if it is being published, be willing to share this information so the reader can understand and reach your same conclusions.

We are all on the same side here. I am taking your column at face value. I am assuming no ill will on your part. I assume you wrote it for good reasons. I want to make sure your efforts are most effective. If you actually do have information about the administration's lack of commitment and simply did not include it, then my response may not be necessary, except to remind you to include it for your readers.

We who teach at the flagship institution for the state of Georgia deeply feel our commitment to doing what we can, whenever we can, to help make sure you are the best you can be. We know how probable it is that you will go on to have great influence and impact your families, communities, the state and the world. We just want to make sure our students do it well.

Again, thank you for caring enough, being concerned enough and being courageous enough to write the article. I really appreciate it.

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