CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University could be the first higher education institution in the state to create a department with a full-time staff dedicated to its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community.
WVU President Jim Clements mentioned the proposed LGBTQ initiative in his State of the University address on Monday, as part of the university's push toward more diversity and inclusiveness.
The Office of LGBTQ Programs would develop outreach initiatives; build coalitions; provide academic and curricular support; and serve as "the hub of the social, intellectual and physical community" for LGBTQ people, according to a draft of the proposal released last week.
The office would require a full-time director with a suggested salary of at least $70,000 and a program coordinator with a salary of at least $35,000, in addition to other staff and resources, according to the proposal.
Brian Jara, co-chairman of the task force heading the proposed LGBTQ Office, and a professor of women's and gender studies at WVU, said while the school has had a gay advocacy presence on campus for years, it's not enough.
"The bottom line is, in most spaces around campus and the community, our students don't feel it's as fully inclusive and safe as it should be. They feel excluded, they feel invisible, they feel unsafe, and they know that there's no official capacity -- no office to go to and no person whose job is to confront those concerns. There are people who do it because they care, but there's no institutional buy-in," Jara said. "For more than 25 years, there have been people on this campus who are concerned and have tried to help ... but they do that in addition to their official jobs."
The timing for the initiative may not be ideal.
On Monday, Clements addressed the university's budget concerns, saying despite the loss of $13 million in state funding this year, WVU still aims to give employees raises, and will focus on improving technology and facilities.
"A lot of parts of the university would love for it to happen as soon as possible. But given the state budget, the big question would be if the university thinks it's important, and if they do, they need to find out how to make it happen," Jara said.
WVU Chief Diversity Officer David Fryson said that the initiative is merely a proposal for now, with no set deadline or designated funding.
"Right now anything that deals with the budget is very closely considered because of our budgetary situation. At this point, it's just a proposal being put together by the community," Fryson said. "It's a work in progress, and we do think that there is a new found energy toward it as part of our overall diversity goals, so we're very happy to have this conversation."
At Marshall University, a graduate assistant oversees an extension of the Office of Multicultural Affairs to offer LGBTQ support, and at West Virginia State University, a volunteer staff member oversees a student-led group.
According to the Campus Pride Index, a national listing of LGBTQ-friendly colleges, WVU scored 1.5 stars out of 5. Colleges receive one star solely for completing a survey.