By: Roger Hoke – Staff Writer and Amanda Dee – Online Editor-in-Chief
After 16 months of polls, research and meetings, LGBTQ support services staff members chose alumna Laura Gentner to fill UD’s first LGBTQ support services grad assistant position.
Kristen Altenau-Keen, the sexual violence prevention education coordinator at UD, said the idea for this position arose in March 2014, when Student Government Association passed a resolution requesting more—and more developed—support services for LGBTQ students on campus.
Student development then established a task force in July that same year to survey the services and support already in place, find the “gaps” in that support and suggest ways to improve them, according to the task force report. The taskforce convened with representatives of organizations and departments ranging from the Women’s Center to Athletics to the school of business to Campus Ministry.
The force also relied on what students had to say.
“A lot of the answers we got back from our surveys and task force were looking for education,” Gentner said. “Folks don’t really know what sexual orientation and gender identity is. A lot of folks on campus are kind of confused around what’s the difference.”
To help inform about those differences, Gentner plans to help build an online “one-stop shop” of resources and information.
Although students can always confidentially go to the Counseling Center, Altenau-Keen said, the force “learned from students that they don’t always want to go to the counseling center because that has a stigma that goes with it.”
Gentner is listening to what students are saying to create her own goals for this position.
“The role of student affairs professionals is to advocate for our students, first and foremost,” Gentner said. She plans to create a student committee to better provide students with the support they need—the way they want it.
During her undergraduate years as an advisor for the Alpha Phi Omega co-ed service fraternity, Gentner experienced first-hand being a student on this campus, as well as an advocate. It was this that led her to her own passion: guiding students.
In her efforts to listen and provide students with what they need, she said she aims to create a student advisory board to minimize the gaps between development and the student body.
UD, however, is a Catholic, Marianist institution, so the question of its role in LGBTQ advocacy is, or is perceived to be, a more complex one than it is for public educational institutions.
In fact, last fall, 17 Catholic colleges and universities were contacted to research and compare the support services at those institutions, according to the taskforce report. The majority of them provided support and/or campus training—usually under student development with strong relationships with campus ministry, multicultural and wellness offices. Some notable comparisons were Notre Dame University, Georgetown University, DePaul University and Xavier University, all of which already had positions dedicated to LGBTQ student support.
“Looking for these LGBTQ values in absolutely in alignment with our Catholic and Marianist values.” Altenau-Keen said. “We are looking for the values around sexual orientation and what that looks like.”
Altenau-Keen said the task force reviewed Catholic documents to align support services with Marianist tradition.
As stated in the report when referring to these documents, “The Catholic Church confirms the dignity of homosexual people and condemns acts of violence and malice against them… Significant to the Church is the recognition that chastity in all relationships is a principle to be upheld in all aspects of ministry and Catholic education.”
Gentner sees this position’s place at a Catholic institution not as a disadvantage, but rather an advantage. She said it better facilitates those “sometimes difficult conversations through the supportive lens of faith and spirituality.”
As her first year in this position’s first year, Gentner is already looking ahead: “It will be very important to lay a solid foundation for the position so that innovation and growth will be easier in years to come.”
“The UD community is a powerful thing that comes to the aid of its members in need. It is clear from the stories I’ve heard, and from the work of the LGBTQ Task Force, that some members of our community who identify as LGBTQ have experienced harassment at the hands of other community members,” Gentner said. “This harassment is a symptom of brokenness in our community, and this position is just one way for our community to support every person with dignity and respect.”
To learn more about the LGBTQ support services team or about joining the LGBTQ support services student committee, you can reach Laura Gentner at firstname.lastname@example.org. For LGBTQ resources now from the Women’s Center, click here.