By SUSAN JONES
A task force formed in August 2020 by Pitt junior Tyler Viljaste has issued a report outlining the status of LGBTQIA+ resources at the University and calling for a new physical center and staff hires, both of which would be dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community on campus.
Although started by students, the task force of more than 70 people includes faculty and staff, including Mike Campbell, an assistant in the Center for Creativity and chair of Pitt Queer Professionals.
“We’ve all done a lot of research on different components for this,” Campbell said about the lengthy report. “So it feels like it has everything that we could want in a space.”
Campbell was on the subcommittees to look at hiring staff for a new LGBTQIA+ center and to look at what faculty and staff needs for the new space would be.
The report and an action plan can be found here, where those in agreement also can sign it to encourage Pitt’s administration to implement the suggestions. Campbell said they are keeping the report “a living document. As we get feedback and updates from it, we want to make sure we are incorporating those.”
The task force is urging Pitt, by the end of the summer 2021 term, to:
Create a formal institutional working group dedicated to the creation of a final proposal for a physical LGBTQIA+ center.
Work with the LGBTQIA+ Task Force to formally agree to implementing recommendations concerning counseling services, student services, and faculty and staff services. These recommendations include forming psychoeducational groups, drop-in support groups and peer-led support and activity groups and providing referrals for faculty and staff to community counseling services.
Create a formal search committee to hire two new LGBTQIA+ center co-directors, housed in Student Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, respectively.
Establish a new centralized website, lgbtqia.pitt.edu, which will serve as a virtual hub for all LGBTIQA+ resources and opportunities.
By the end of the fall 2021 term, the task force report further encourages the administration to have completed the hiring process for two new staff members and the plan for a physical LGBTQIA+ center, as well as fully implemented the counseling suggestions.
Viljaste, a politics and philosophy and finance dual major, told The Pitt News in January: “The current state of affairs needs to change. We need to dedicate more resources to make sure that Pitt’s really addressing the needs of the LGBTQIA+ population, which has gone under the radar over the past couple of years.”
Reaching out to Pride Health and alumni
The task force report also said in its executive summary that, “At the end of the 2020/2021 academic year, Pride Health will be folding in with Pitt Queer Professionals due to the retirement of prominent leadership and changes in UPMC support structures.”
Pride Health was established as the LGBTQIA affinity group for UPMC and the Pitt Schools of the Health Sciences. Campbell said UPMC is changing its support structures to focus more on the UPMC side.
He said the longtime leader of Pride Health, Dena Hofkosh, is stepping down, and while there are other Pitt faculty and staff in the Health Sciences who are interested in the organization, “they just don’t have the capacity, I believe, to take this on as a full responsibility.”
Pitt Queer Professionals has been in discussions with Pride Health members for a couple months, Campbell said. He hopes that people from the Health Sciences will fill leadership positions on PQP and create subcommittees for Health Sciences under PQP.
Pitt Queer Professionals also is working with the Pitt Alumni Association to bring back the LGBTQIA+ Alumni Council, which began in 2012 and disbanded in 2019 due to a lack of an existing pipeline for undergrads into the organization. Campbell said there also doesn’t seem to be a list of previous members of the group.
He and Cassie Hayt, director of Regional and Volunteer Engagement at the alumni association, have been working on how find previous members and to “restart that and how to keep some internal mechanisms within the University and the student organizations to actually make sure that’s sustainable and that there’s that continual influx of new people that want to be involved in some way. Of course, we’re trying to figure out who we know who can be involved, so we don’t just want students right out of college.”
Lavender Graduation was held last week for all LGBTQIA+ undergraduate, graduate and professional students who wanted to be involved. They used that event to ask students whether they would like to be included in an email list for an LGBTQIA+ alumni group.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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