UMD has been suspended from a national LGBT group’s consideration to be designated as an LGBT-friendly school, a title UMD has had for the past two years. Campus Pride, a national organization that works to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students according to its website, cited the dismissal of women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller, along with three members of her coaching staff, as the reason for the suspension. All four coaches are openly gay or bisexual.
Shane Windmeyer, the executive director of Campus Pride, said in a statement that the way UMD handled Miller’s dismissal is, “cause for grave concern.”
UMD released a statement on Friday stating they were, “deeply disappointed” with Campus Pride’s decision, a sentiment echoed by Vice Chancellor for Student Life Lisa Erwin.
“It’s deeply disappointing,” Erwin said regarding the loss of the LGBT-friendly designation. “We remain very committed to supporting LGBT members of our UMD community, and this is an important component of UMD Strategic Plan, Goal Two.”
Goal Two consists of creating a positive and inclusive campus climate for all by advancing equity, diversity and social justice.
Angie Nichols, the director of UMD’s LGBT services office, disagrees with UMD’s stance.
“I’m not disappointed in their decision to suspend us,” Nichols said, citing the fact that there is pending litigation regarding Miller and her staff’s dismissal. Nichols said that because of this, the suspension was justified, at least until more information is made clear.
Jace Carlson, chair of the Queer and Allied Students Union, thought of the suspension from two different perspectives.
“It’s disappointing, as a student leader, to lose that because it’s something that we work really hard for in the QASU and all of the Multicultural Center,” Carlson said. “But at the same time, I think that it’s necessary and I don’t blame Campus Pride for pulling us from the running for it, because I think that it will act as a wake-up call to the administration.”
On Monday, 13 Minnesota state senators sent a letter to UMD asking for a response to the Miller contract dispute. The letter states, “We are concerned about the circumstances surrounding the situation and request further information on the reasoning behind the termination.” The senators also cite Title IX and the Minnesota Human Rights Act in the letter.
Nichols said that the loss of the designation has had an immediate effect.
“I know that it’s already had a great effect on our students in the QASU,” Nichols said. “Some of them might say, ‘We don’t care about the designation; we know our group. We know the support we provide to each other,’ and that’s great. That’s what they’ve learned to do.”
Nichols said that she has had increased traffic into her office since Miller’s dismissal and the loss of the LGBT-friendly designation.
She said the loss of the designation could also affect potential students’ decisions to attend UMD.
“The effect it will have is on recruiting potential students who are LGBT,” Nichols added. She said that her organization reaches out to schools through gay-straight alliances throughout Minnesota and surrounding regions.
Nichols would still encourage LGBT students to come to UMD.
“I think most of the campus does a really, really good job, which was evidenced by our latest campus pride ratings,” Nichols said.
Both Nichols and Erwin believe that the next step is to apply for the LGBT-friendly designation when UMD becomes eligible again. In the meantime, UMD is hiring a nationally-known consultant whose job it will be to conduct a “thorough and unbiased assessment” of UMD’s campus climate, according to Erwin.
UMD is the first school to be suspended from Campus Pride’s annual consideration of LGBT-friendly campuses. UMD can still participate in the Campus Pride Index, which measures how to improve their campus pride and serves as a benchmark as to how LGBT-friendly a school is.
Windmeyer could not be reached for comment, and Chancellor Lendley Black declined to comment on the loss of the designation.
BY SAM STROM