The Office of Equity and Inclusion held a Lavender Reception as the academic year opened.

University commended

Office of Equity and Inclusion educates, promotes LGBT support

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11:18 a.m., Sept. 12, 2013--The University of Delaware has many offices that work to help students feel comfortable on campus. No matter a student’s background or personal identity, there is someone to help that individual integrate seamlessly into the community.

One of the newer University offices is the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI). Formed in 2009 through a merger by the Office of Affirmative Action and the Office of Women’s Affairs, the unit seeks to promote awareness of personal differences, including those involving sexual orientation.

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University officials have worked to promote education involving the LGBT community on campus, and despite the fact the office is only four years old in its current form, it has received praise.

For its commitment to the LGBT community, the University was recently recognized by national LGBT advocacy organization Campus Pride, which promotes acceptance of and support for LGBT individuals.

Last month, the site released its updated ranking of over 380 universities. UD received a score of five stars, the highest-possible rating. Ratings are given for eight different categories based on universities’ answers to a series of yes-no questions on the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index.

The index is a vital tool for assisting campuses in learning ways to improve their LGBT campus life and ultimately shape the educational experience to be more inclusive, welcoming and respectful of LGBT and ally people.

As program coordinator in the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Paul Hengesteg is intimately involved in educating others about the LGBT community. The office offers both formal and informal services for individuals at the University, ranging from faculty to staff to students. These include workshops and support services.

“Our office is among several offices that can provide support or resources for anybody in the LGBT community or the allied community who wants to support the LGBT community,” Hengesteg said.

One of the main training services that exists is the LGBT Allies Program, where faculty and staff can become allies by learning more about the LGBT community. These allies go through a five-hour training session, touching on a variety of LGBT topics. Once completed, they are able to provide qualified assistance to students or employees.

In addition to personally assisting LGBT community members, allies can refer individuals to University resources. Two such resources include counseling and Haven, an LGBTQ registered student organization.

The number of LGBT Allies at the University has grown in recent months and now stands at 116. Allies include primarily employees and professors, representing offices and departments campuswide and, in some cases, all of the employees in a particular office or unit.

“That’s a really big number for our campus,” Hengesteg said. “That represents a 42 percent increase from where we were at the end of the school year just last year.”

Some individuals approach the Office of Equity and Inclusion with an interest in becoming allies, while others sign up along with their entire department. Hengesteg is working on adding more workshops, which currently include topics like discrimination training and the “ABCs of LGBTQQIAA.” He plans to add a workshop to educate those who are interested in learning more about transgender individuals.

OEI partners with Haven and the LGBT Caucus on a frequent basis and will be working with Haven for the upcoming Ally Carnival and other events.

Hengesteg said there is still work to be done, but he is proud of the University.

“The LGBT community is making some pretty terrific strides in the last handful of years, and I think that energy is really catching on. I think society as a whole in our country is beginning to understand the LGBT community is not filled with demons or people with three heads or anything like that,” he said. “It is a community worth supporting. So I think a lot of the traction that we see here at the University is because we’re sort of a microcosm of the world as a whole.”

A list of workshops the office offers can be found at this website. Those interested in attending can register ahead of time at that link. The next workshop is the “ABCs of LGBTQQIAA,” which will be held on Oct. 4 from 11 a.m. to noon.

Article by Matthew Bittle

Photos by Duane Perry

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