The University Senate’s anti-discriminatory policies committee (ADPC) is a watchdog for the Pitt community, always on the lookout for any kind of institutional policy that might discriminate against racial minorities, sexual and gender minorities, women, the disabled and other groups. Thus we’re both part of the University and at odds with it, acting in both adversarial and cooperative endeavors.
The committee has tackled such issues as the recruitment and tenuring of women, ROTC discrimination against sexual minorities and the implementation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
For over 10 years, we pushed for domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees of Pitt. Since these benefits were granted in 2004, we have monitored their implementation, bringing the qualification requirements in line with national norms.
About five years ago, a graduate student proposed to ADPC that Pitt start a SafeZone program. She informed us that over 100 campuses, including our neighbors Carnegie Mellon and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, had such programs, which provide a visible source of support and information for sexual minorities. While other minority individuals usually can identify role models and mentors, the relative invisibility of sexual and gender diversity makes it more difficult for GLBTQA (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied) members of a university community to figure out where they can safely turn for similar support. SafeZone programs identify individuals who can provide those resources.
ADPC struggled for years to find a home for a SafeZone program at Pitt. Finally, with the support of the Rainbow Alliance, we approached Kathy Humphrey, vice provost and dean of students, who said Student Affairs would house the program (now known as the Allies Network) in the new Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development.
Last November, 50 faculty members and Student Affairs personnel participated in the first Allies Network training session. Those who complete the three-hour training session may display the Allies Network logo (a rainbow Cathedral of Learning designed by a Pitt undergraduate) on their office doors.
The sign sends a message to GLBTQA students and colleagues that these employees have participated in the training and are committed to increasing their knowledge of, and sensitivity to, GLBTQA issues. The sign also allows the campus community to identify program members and know that they can speak freely with these individuals about issues involving sexual orientation and gender identity that may affect their academic success or job satisfaction. Allies Network members also will be able to provide referrals when asked. Since the Allies Network program strives to improve the campus climate for GLBTQA individuals, the sign also signifies that members will challenge homophobic and heterosexist comments and behaviors in an educational and informative manner.
Being an Allies Network member does not imply anything about the sexual or gender affiliation of the member. Many heterosexual colleagues sign up for this kind of training; in fact, the goal is to have all faculty and staff at Pitt trained and displaying the Allies Network logo — at that point, the program no longer would be necessary.
The next training session for faculty and staff who wish to become members of the Allies Network will take place in February. If you want to attend the next or subsequent training sessions, or just want to be on the Allies Network mailing list, contact Linda Williams-Moore, director of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development and coordinator of the Allies Network, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412/648-9523.
Jane Feuer, professor of English, is chair of the University Senate anti-discriminatory policies committee.