By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney is receiving national recognition for its support of LGBTQ+ students and employees.
Campus Pride, the preeminent resource for LGBTQ+ leadership development, diversity inclusion and advocacy within higher education, selected UNK for its 2022 “Best of the Best Colleges and Universities for LGBTQ+ Students” list.
Announced today, the list includes 40 four-year schools across the U.S. that are committed to creating a safe, welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff. Each campus recognized received 5 out of 5 stars on the Campus Pride Index, the definitive national benchmarking tool measuring LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs and practices.
UNK is the only school in Nebraska with a five-star rating from Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a safer college environment for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Sometimes when people think about LGBTQ-welcoming campuses, they don’t think of a rural institution like UNK. But we’re here to make sure our students know we’re 100% student-centered and we’re here to welcome them with open arms to an institution that’s both safe and affirming of who they are,” said Luis Olivas, interim director of UNK’s Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion. “We want to make sure they see themselves as Lopers.”
Olivas called the recognition a “point of pride” for UNK, where he’s worked since 2018.
“We are regional leaders in the work we do to support LGBTQ+ students,” he said. “Other institutions might be bigger, and they might have more staff and offices, but we are truly making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ students for the better, because they know they belong at UNK.”
Located in the Nebraskan Student Union, the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) oversees a number of programs and initiatives that raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, educate campus and the community and promote an inclusive environment.
The office offers success coaching and academic advising for LGBTQ+ students, hosts a ceremony where graduates receive special stoles to wear during commencement and provides Safe Zone training for faculty and staff. The PRISM student organization and Gender and Sexuality Resource Office are also part of ODI, providing a support system for LGBTQ+ students and advocates and ensuring everyone has access to campus and community resources.
Last fall, the University of Nebraska System implemented a Chosen Name and Gender Identity Policy that allows students and employees to self-select the way they want to be addressed on campus. Chosen names appear on class rosters, Canvas, Zoom, the campus directory and email system, university ID cards and honors and awards such as the dean’s list, as well as other university systems where a legal name is not required.
ODI and PRISM collaborate with organizations such as the Nebraska AIDS Project, Multicultural Coalition, OutNebraska and Southern Poverty Law Center, and they host an annual drag show, Pride Month celebration and other events that bring the UNK and Kearney communities together.
“The visibility that we get from hosting LGBTQ-friendly programming and events is so important not only for those young people who identify as LGBTQ+ but also for campus as a whole,” Olivas said. “That exposure makes our campus a more friendly, more welcoming and more affirming place for everyone.”
PRISM meets at 6 p.m. Thursdays during the school year in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion on the first floor of the Nebraskan Student Union. The organization is open to any UNK student.
Additional support for LGBTQ+ students is available through the Gender and Sexuality Resource Office, located in Room 106 inside the student union. The Gender and Sexuality Resource Office can be reached at 308-865-8751 or email@example.com.