'Building a community is important': Students, staff discuss being LGBTQ+ at CMU

A student chooses a pronoun pin at the LGBTQ+ Student Summit, Friday, Jan. 20, in the UC Terrace Rooms.

Nearly 50 students gathered in a safe and supportive space to engage in activities, make new friends and voice their experiences and challenges. 

On Jan. 20, the Bovee University Center Terrace Rooms hosted an LGBTQ+ summit organized by the Office of LGBTQ Services and Gender Equity Programs at Central Michigan University.

Shannon Jolliffe-Dettore is the Director of the Office of LGBTQ+ Services and Gender Equity Programs. She said the summit was a space for LGBTQ+ students to come together and share how they are doing. 

“My hope was that we would be able to find community, build up some community in the space and really co-create what it is that students are looking for,” Jolliffe-Dettore said. “I think that we accomplished that.” 

The summit started with a question about what a community is, to which students wrote their answers on sticky notes. They worked individually and in groups to warm up and get to know each other. 

Arianna Line (right), freshman, and Mo Gill, sophomore, read and prepare for a discussion at LGBTQ+ summit on Jan., 20.

Arianna Line, a freshman, and Mo Gill, a sophomore, said the summit was a good opportunity to meet new people and to be a part of a community where they know they are accepted.  

“Being around people that you can relate to and be safe around is very important,” Line said. “Building a community is important…. It makes it easier to know where you can go for support.”

Line said she wrote that a community is “support and unconditional love” on her sticky note. 

Jolliffe-Dettore shared with students that the Office of LGBTQ Services and Gender Equity Programs is a resource and a safe place for the LGBTQ+ community. She said her office does educational programming, classroom involvements, funds LGBTQ+ student organizations’ events and supports people individually. Jolliffe-Dettore said that students can see her one-on-one or come hang out at the office in the Bovee University Center room 108B.

James Span, the executive director of Student Inclusion and Diversity, said he attended the event to support Jolliffe-Dettore and to hear what students had to say.

“I believe people are who they are," Span said. "I don't judge anyone based on how they identify. So personally, I continue to offer my support to let people know not only is this (the summit) literally a safe space, but I have a safe space as well to let people know (there is ) no judgement here. I am in a learning process to continue to learn to be an ally as best as I can be (with) whatever resources I have available to offer.”

James Span,  an executive director of Student Inclusion and Diversity, answers students' questions at LGBTQ+ summit on Jan., 20.

Students shared resources that they created as well. Five LGBTQ+ student organizations such as Spectrum, oSTEM, Queers and Allies and others had invited new members to come and talk about their future plans. 

Lauren Hicks, a CMU senior, is the vice president of Spectrum. Hicks said Spectrum is a place for queer people and allies. She said not only people in the LGBTQ+ community, but also people who want to learn or support a family member or significant other, can join Spectrum. She said she was glad to participate in a summit. 

“I think it's important that all of the queer organizations kind of work together on campus and communicate so that we can do the best service to others on campus,” Hicks said. 

Sophia Scarnecchia is a junior at CMU and the diversity and inclusion chair at Spectrum. 

“You aren't alone,” Scarnecchia said. “There are a lot of places that are on campus that are willing to help you. Even if it is just like an RSO that may want to take you to the pumpkin patch… It's a group of people that still want to be around you and make you realize that you are cared for on this campus.”

Scarnecchia is also starting their new student organization called Pride in Color. Pride in Color is going to be a peer support group for students of color who are LGBTQ+. Scarnecchia said their experience as an LGBTQ+ person of color is different from an LGBTQ+ white person. 

“I realized… the trauma and culture and tradition that grows around people of color is a lot more different than what is seen through white people,” Scarnecchia said. 

Scarnecchia said they wanted to organize a space where they can support both identities that intersect and create a safe private space for members. Pride in Color meets on Fridays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Foust 135.

Renee Watson, the vice president of Student Affairs, joined the summit to speak with students and listen to their concerns about what can be done better at CMU for LGBTQ+ community. In her speech, Watson talked about her personal experience as a "same-gender-loving person" and said that it is important to have LGBTQ+ community voices heard. Students applaud Watson.

Renee Watson (left), a vice president of Student Affairs, and Shannon Jolliffe-Dettore, a director of the Office of LGBTQ+ Services and Gender Equity Programs, listen to LGBTQ+ students' concerns on Jan., 20.

“We need you to step up," Watson said in her speech to students. "We need you to hold us accountable...I'm so thankful that you're here to be a community but to also let us know where we can improve.”

Watson said she wanted to learn more about LGBTQ+ students on campus. 

“I care about all students and I want to understand how I can affect change on their behalf,” she said. 

Students spoke openly about their concerns:

  • difficulties with changing their names using CMU technology;
  • need for more gender-inclusive bathrooms and signs for those bathrooms in the buildings;
  • request for a floor at on-campus housing for LGBTQ+ students only.

Watson took notes and said she will be working on Lunch and Learn events to bring the campus together and start a conversation about LGBTQ+ community concerns. 

Span said he was thankful that students spoke honestly about their experiences. He said he is looking forward to “taking the information that they (students) provided us and turn it into action.” He said it is important to give more opportunities for students to speak up. 

"I'm excited about where we go from here," Span said.