A new LGBTQ office has been established to provide support for and spread awareness about issues pertaining to the lesbian, gay, bi, transsexual, transgender and queer population at Elon University. Kirstin Ringelberg, associate professor of art history, has been appointed as the first coordinator.
“I still don’t totally believe it,” she said.
Ringelberg, who previously acted as the coordinator for the women and gender studies program, will also be co-adviser of SPECTRUM for the first time this year along with Troy Martin, assistant director of Academic Advising.
The establishment of the new office is in line with the university’s commitment to diversity as outlined in the strategic plan. It is also one of many measures currently being taken to improve Elon’s atmosphere as perceived by students in the LGBTQ community.
Ringelberg’s vision for the office and her respective inaugural position are to create a space where LGBTQ students and straight allies can congregate comfortably as well as seek assistance and resources. As coordinator, Ringelberg is charged with developing and maintaining a resource library, acting as a resource for faculty and staff members and meeting once per semester with members of the LGBTQ community at Elon to assess needs, among other tasks.
“One thing that I think is really amazing about this opportunity is that we’re going to have a physical presence on campus,” Ringelberg said. “The lack of visibility on campus is one of the things that allows our population to be invisible, and therefore to not be supported in the same way that it would be if it was more visible.”
The physical office space has not yet been set up and Ringelberg herself will be a walking LGBTQ office this semester. The office is expected to move into Powell House in January after the department of physical therapy moves to the Francis Center and several other departments are shuffled across campus, according to Smith Jackson, vice president and dean of Student Life.
Both Jackson and Ringelberg said they have heard nothing but praise on the development of the position, and many faculty and staff members have already shown interest in working with Ringelberg this semester.
“The day Dr. House announced the appointment, I got a whole day’s worth of email from people in every area of campus,” Ringelberg said, adding that she is open to suggestions and hopes to receive more.
Mandatory diversity programming that already exists at Elon, particularly during New Student Orientation activities, will likely change in the coming years to include more discussion about LGBTQ issues, according to Ringelberg.
She said she hopes to establish more education on campus about appropriate terminology and all-inclusive language, as well as raising awareness about heteronormativity, which leads to assumptions that being straight is normal and people who are not straight are therefore not normal.
“I don’t think there are any professors who are deliberately trying to alienate any student,” she said. “But if you’ve never had any exposure to certain kinds of ideas about different sexual and gender identities, you may not realize that when you ask, ‘how many of you have a boyfriend?’ that that’s a personal landmine for people in your classroom.”
Along with the new LGBTQ office, other related programs are coming to campus. The Safe Zone program, which will involve faculty and staff specifically trained to assist students with questions or research pertaining to the LGBTQ population, will start next semester under the direction of Leigh-Anne Royster, the director of student development.
The Isabella Cannon International Centre has also begun publishing resources on its website for LGBTQ students planning to study abroad.
This summer, Paul Geis, assistant director of affiliations and exchanges, worked to establish a sexual orientation and identity section on the “Preparing Yourself” page of the Centre’s website. The section links to country guides, most of which are still under development, that detail social and cultural norms regarding sexuality and gender abroad.
“In some places it’s not as acceptable or safe to be out,” Geis said. “There are certainly going to be circumstances where it might be very culturally unacceptable and socially isolating for students to out themselves as LGBTQ. Sometimes there are safety and legal issues.”
Establishing a LGBTQ office is a step in the right direction, according to Jackson.
“Students have a sense of openness to others,” he said. “There’s a great understanding that many of the problems in the world are being created by a lack of tolerance of differences. What better time than college to learn about this?”
For Ringelberg, the ideal campus climate would be celebratory rather than neutral or accepting.
“There would be rainbow flags on campus flagpoles, not just in the offices and dorm rooms of community members,” shesaid. “No one would automatically assume the sexual and gender identities of the people they meet on campus or in the classroom, and everyone would recognize that stereotypes about gender and sexual identities can be totally misleading as well as hurtful.”