The University-sponsored resource center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is without a coordinator for the second time in two years, and now members of the community are pushing back against GW for not filling the spot.
A statement from the Dean of Students Office said the University is evaluating current staffing positions in light of a forum the University hosted on diversity, where a group of students brought up the vacancy issue. Dean of Students Peter Konwerski said his office will aim to make a decision regarding staffing “in the near future.”
Mario Peraza, the most recent full-time coordinator for the center, left in November for a position at the University of Maryland. Peraza said the new position provided him room for greater professional growth.
Since his departure, the center has relied on undergraduate and graduate staff to pick up the slack, Michael Komo, president of Allied in Pride, said.
“As a community we feel very disenfranchised,” Komo said. “We will not continue to make the kind of progress we have made in the past if we don’t have a leader.”
This progress includes setting up the Resource Center in 2008, launching an LGBT studies minor and winning a year-long battle for gender-neutral housing – the housing policy that allows male and female students to live together in University-owned residence halls.
Those efforts, often led by Komo, were student-driven from the start – and in each case the University credited the persistence of students in advocating for the creation of each milestone.
“I sincerely hope that the University recognizes the necessity and urgency with which a coordinator needs to be found, especially being that a large populace of GW students are a part of the LGBT community themselves,” Michael Kessler, a sophomore and the diversity affairs chair of Allied in Pride, said. “Without a coordinator, action is hindered, and GWU’s complicity in failing to help the LGBT community is alarming.”
Leadership duties for the center have now fallen on Jessie Kelly, a first-year graduate student, and sophomores Jess Alexander and Marika Lee, but Komo said students cannot provide the same level of support a trained professional can.
“The grad students are wonderful and very hard-working, but because they are not trained professionals, they are limited in their capacity to do only so much,” Komo said.
Komo said the void would not be an issue if the University appeared to be actively looking for a replacement, but he said the University has not posted the position opening to the public. Allied in Pride sent a message on its Listserv Tuesday urging its members to voice their discontent.
“Take action now by filling out this one-page form online and telling GW that not posting and filling this vacancy is unacceptable to the LGBT community,” the e-mail said, linking students to the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion. The University did not answer questions about how many complaints they have received.
In line with the council’s mission to promote diversity on campus, “the approach to providing support to LGBT students is being examined and conversations are taking place within the administration to determine both the most appropriate alignments and the best staffing pattern and delivery model to meet the expanding service expectations and needs of all students in our diverse community,” Konwerski said.
This is the second time the resource center has been without a leader since the original director, Aaron Fox, left the University for California in 2009. It took GW five months to fill Fox’s seat.
“The LGBT community just does not seem like a priority to the University,” Komo said.