Editor’s Note: Committment to LGBT students cannot just be lip service

By Megan Bennett, Editor-In-Chief

Students often choose to attend Columbia because of its advertised inclusivity and open-minded campus culture. However, instead of just marketing this type of mindset, the college’s administration and hiring processes need the same commitment as its students and employees.

As reported on the Front Page, the college has yet to make any progress toward hiring a new coordinator for the LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community, which has been vacant for months, despite frequent student pleas and even a Change.org petition. The petition, which has garnered support from students and college employees alike, has 148 signatures as of press time.

Not only has this void left the college’s LGBT student organization, Common Ground, without an adviser, it also leaves an entire community of students without a point of reference and a proper advocate for various issues, including the college’s Gender Inclusive Initiative that now seems to be without enforcement.

Columbia’s LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community followed in the footsteps of other Chicago schools with services and employees dedicated to LGBT students and issues, such as Loyola University, University of Chicago and DePaul University. If it was not already troubling that all LGBT-based programming and services are now the responsibility of Common Ground and other Multicultural Affairs staff members willing to help, former coordinator Lex Lawson—who ran the office on his own until September 2016—is also still advertised as a current employee on the college’s website.

Shortly following Lawson’s departure, the election of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence has led to concerns for LGBT individuals’ basic human rights. Pence has openly expressed disdain for the community through laws that are veiled under protecting “religious freedom” and has even supported conversion therapy. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the next four years under Trump will include opposition to marriage equality and the refusal to enforce federal laws against transgender discrimination.

During these troubling times as a country, the college should be expediting the search for Lawson’s replacement, not letting it get lost in the shuffle of Columbia’s several other unfilled positions. Not prioritizing this position and allowing it to go unposted is absolutely unacceptable; what makes the situation worse is the college’s failure to take immediate action after the students’ recent pleas.

Kari Sommers, associate dean of Student Life, said in the Front Page story that the delayed hiring process is normal and the vacant post is one of several unfilled positions waiting to be posted. She added that student service roles are always a priority over other positions. However, positions currently on the job portal include an executive assistant for the CFO, a social media associate for the News Office and others that don’t directly affect the student experience.

While the hiring process is likely out of Sommers’ control and could be the effect of budget cuts, the apparent lack of urgency and normalization of the situation needs to stop. Students are telling Columbia’s leadership what they need for their college and overall life experience to be healthy; it is up to them to listen. If Columbia is not going to fulfill that need with a full-time staff member in a timely manner and is simply going to rely on student-to-student support, the office as a whole should not be advertised on the college’s website. It is dishonest to prospective students who could seek other  colleges with robust services.

In this current political climate and in the midst of the college’s attempts to create better gender and sexual orientation-based inclusivity, this position is not only dire for students in need, it is also a part of the multicultural services Columbia heavily promotes along with its progressive ideals.