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Gardner aims to make campus more welcoming

Timothy Gardner

When Timothy Gardner came to Lehigh University to head up the office of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and ally services (LGBTQA), he found a “center ready for growth.”

Clearly, he said, the office was in need of vision, resources and campus-wide support.

“We were definitely positioned for development,” says Gardner, who came to Lehigh from a similar role at St. Cloud University in Minnesota.

Sixteen months later, Gardner is making considerable progress in the creation of programs and services to support the LGBTQIA community at Lehigh.

Immediate plans include organizing a series of events and lectures that will take place over the course of the academic year, increasing membership and involvement of Lehigh University Gay and Lesbian Alumni (LUGALA), and supporting the first LGBTQ history course that will be taught at Lehigh next spring by Christianne Gadd. Also planned is a “Working with LGBTQI Populations” graduate course that will be offered through Lehigh’s College of Education next summer.

With a goal of increasing awareness of the center’s programs and services, LGBTQIA’s graduate assistant, Jill Franco, is helping build a new Web site to present more resources and literature, and is organizing a “Day of Transgender Education and Awareness” for next semester.

The LGBTQA Faculty and Staff Affinity group is also growing in numbers, has developed a listserv, and organizes a series of social gatherings on and off-campus.

Efforts to boost awareness of the center’s services early in the Lehigh experience include an educational session during new Gryphon training. Earlier this semester, Gardner says he partnered with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Spectrum to co-sponsor a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey for “Gay Day.” That event was attended by 43 students this year, as opposed to only seven the previous September, Gardner says.

The improvements extend to the center’s physical space as well. Gardner revamped the Rainbow Room to create a more welcoming environment for all students.

Building bridges across campus

The combined effect of all these efforts has been lauded by John Smeaton, vice provost for Student Affairs, who notes that Gardner’s work and the dedicated efforts of all those affiliated with his office “has made Lehigh a more welcoming, hospitable and supportive campus for everyone."

His comments are echoed by Sharon Basso, associate vice provost and dean of students, who noted the increase in the center’s visibility and in participation in the educational and social programs over the past year.

“Timothy has been very deliberate about building bridges across campus and in the local community—efforts that have benefited our campus climate and our enhanced our students' experiences,” Basso says.

Gardner says he is encouraged by the university’s support of his department, which seeks to inspire a vision of diversity that is aware of, engaged in, and appreciative of issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

The LGBTQA office at Lehigh also promotes academic and personal growth and development of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and ally students while encouraging their full involvement in all aspects of campus life.

“The university commitment to work in this area has been very positive,” Gardner says. “University funding for LGBTQA Services demonstrates that the university has a vested interest in the support of LGBTQA students and making the campus better for everyone.”

Long-range plans include continuing to raise awareness through campus-wide events such as World AIDS Day, LGBTQIA History Month and the SafeZone project, in addition to future collaborative efforts with the Greek community, Lehigh athletics, and Lehigh’s four colleges.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2008

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