Administrators address LGBTQ+ student concerns


After a round of handshakes and thank-you’s, the IMPACT Executive Board (front row) and UWW Administrators (back) take time to reflect on a successful meeting.

Ivy Steege, Campus News Editor

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill being discussed in Florida Legislation has opened talk about ways the UW-Whitewater can and is supporting students that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. On March 16th, the student organization IMPACT sat down with different administrators at UW-W to discuss their concerns in an open forum. 

“We are all administrators on campus, and we are trying to make it our goal to get to as many student organizations at least once in a year,” Dean of Students Elizabeth Watson said. “It is truly our goal for you all to put a name with the face – behind a mask, so many just the eyes. But also know that we are here to support you, with a large part of that support coming from listening and being able to hear what your experience is like.”

The open floor was led by resident assistant Alex Koon. Before the meeting started, Koon passed around a petition they had started last year listing resources that students want to keep and resources to be improved or added. The document is dedicated to keeping LGBTQ+ resources funded on the UW-Whitewater campus. 

“In the Summer of 2021, I learned about the campus-wide budget cuts that happened across the board, but that also included about $20,000 being cut from our LGBTQ+ programming,” said Koon. “During that summer, I started to research and began a petition. I dedicated hours into compiling this document. I spread it among the UW-System to also get some voices in there from other campuses that are running resources like our own. But most of the reasons people are signing are coming from people on our campus.”

“As we’re gearing up for a new budgeting season, I really question how we can make sure we’re still being supported. Students have asked when we are going to see that budget because I know it gets approved by the Board of Regents this summer,” said Koon. “I know so many people in this room love this community. Honestly, some of this work we do is life-saving. We want to be there. We want to make sure we are on the frontlines of keeping these resources available for our students.”

Interim Chancellor Jim Henderson was first to respond, talking about being “floored” at some of the financial choices that have been made at UW-W, and how they seem to not have been made with students in mind. Along with this, Henderson shared his frustrations surrounding a potential $4 to 8 million deficit in the budget this year. 

“The budget here, in my view, has not been transparent. Period. And I have had a really difficult time trying to understand exactly what the budget is and how the budget process has worked. I can imagine how frustrating it has been for you,” said Henderson. “It’s hard to budget plan if you’re thinking we may have a huge deficit or we may not. And so part of my frustration this year is how do we make those choices without clear knowledge of exactly what the budget is. But at the same time, I can tell you that the conversations of this cabinet have been student-focused in terms of trying to see where we are.”

As the open floor continued, Whitewater Student Government Senator Orin Smith shared about harassment they have faced on the Whitewater campus. Smith spoke of how they are dead-named every day at their job, how they had to fill out a hate/bias report during the first week of classes, along with the experience of being barked and yelled at from cars on campus. Deadnaming is to still call a transgender person by their birth name when they have changed their name as part of their gender transition.

“I have been verbally harassed in the women’s restrooms, and cannot bring myself to enter the men’s restrooms for fear of being physically assaulted. Some days I avoid drinking water, so I won’t need to go because I don’t have the energy to handle the harassment that day,” said Smith. “Throughout each of these situations, there is one thing that I find in common. I have been alone. Despite the community that I’ve been folded into with open arms, it is difficult to find the sense of belonging that is preached on this campus. The only actionable support I have found here on campus is the family that I have here. We cannot rely on buddy systems forever, and I cannot dehydrate myself daily to avoid harassment.” 

After a round of tears and hugs in the room, each member of the cabinet took turns to thank Smith for speaking and went on to ask what they can do to be held accountable. 

“We have to be partners in this, we have to collaborate, and we have to challenge belief systems, ideologies, actions, and behaviors that threaten belongingness for students across this campus,” said Watson. “So what I’m saying is, we have to continue this dialogue, and you have to challenge us and continue to hold us accountable to try to move the needle.”

Watson also mentioned that she has felt more confident in the “moving of the needle” since Interim Chancellor Henderson was appointed. She said in order to continue they need students’ input, which seemed to be agreed upon across the cabinet members. 

“You need to hold us accountable, right? You really do. Because that’s part of who we should be. And one of the things that I have spread in talking to different groups on campus, is we need to treat you as the individual that you are. And it really ought to be about giving you the support that you need. We can’t and we shouldn’t treat everyone the same, because there are different needs,” said Henderson.

Each administrator in attendance ensured that their emails are open for students to reach out to express their concerns. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Aratanya Wesley shared that the Dean of Students Office opened a complaint/concerns form this year. She also urged students to go to the Whitewater Student Government with changes they would like to see.

“There’s a system in place. It’s hard to change the system when you’re outside of the system. But you can take advantage of an opportunity, and take on the leadership role,” said Watson. “Being able to take on some of that role, and step into that opportunity and share your experience with your peers – help them to understand what representation looks like for your community – that’s important. Nothing is stopping you from scheduling those meetings.”