In April of 2016, UMass Lowell designated 40 single-person bathrooms around campus as gender-neutral restrooms. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell)
Over the past years, UMass Lowell has significantly increased its efforts to demonstrate support and appreciation for underrepresented members of the student body, such as those who identify as LGBTQ. However, some students along with faculty argue that there is much more that can be done to create a safer and more inclusive environment for members of its community.
The university has always done its best to provide a diverse and comprehensive environment for its students. The recent installation of gender-neutral bathrooms and implementation of gender inclusive housing on campus are two ways in which the university has helped shed light on members of the LGBTQ community.
“The university is known for being inclusive and diverse to all students, where they can feel comfortable in their own skin,” said fine arts major Teresa Santana. “In terms of bathrooms and housing, this made it more welcoming to students who commute and live on campus.”
Any student living on campus has the option to select gender inclusive housing through the Office of Residence Life. “This helps any student who feels comfortable living with a certain gender or sex possible and can make where they live their home away from home,” Santana said.
Although these changes have raised awareness and sensitivity toward the LGBTQ community, some believe there is still more to be done.
“As a student who has been advocating for a physical space for LGBTQ students, the university does not provide enough safe spaces for them on campus,” said David Aguiar, a psychology major and diversity peer educator on campus. “There is a significant difference between saying that a university is a safe space for people of LGBTQ to study and actually creating a physical space where students can actually feel included and safe.”
The university has established several resource organizations that aim to promote ally-ship, which can be through creating supportive relationships between the straight and LBTQ communities. The Pride Alliance and the Office of Multicultural Affairs carry out this goal by providing an accepting environment for all. However, there is always room for improvement.
“In terms of raising awareness of gender equity, part of the challenge is creating more resources, really having safe spaces and places where people feel safe about coming together,” said Meg Bond, the director of the Center for Women and Work. “Whether its LGBTQ individuals or allies, creating those types of safe spaces is really important and essential.”
Students and faculty said the enforcement of these resources has undoubtedly assisted those who identify as LGBTQ. However, the issue lies within the lack of information through the academic curriculum regarding the LGBTQ community.
“People are not very well educated about gender orientation and there is a lot for people to learn through helping people understand the issues of sexuality and gender identity,” Bond said. “The whole notion of allies really involves an effort from the whole community to better understand. It is going to be particularly supportive if the rest of the community is informed and that’s why education on the topic should be expanded much more broadly.”
Early subjection to the topics of ally-ship and gender identity at the university could prove beneficial towards their mission to advocate for inclusivity.
“Since incoming freshmen already have to complete drug and alcohol training, why not throw in a 15 minute gender/cultural sensitivity training?” junior psychology student Emma Botelho says. “It would mandate some kind of exposure to the material without making it overwhelming.”
Students and faculty appear hopeful that the university will continue to endeavor down the path to improve inclusiveness and ally-ship amongst the UMass Lowell community.