During Pride Month and Year Round, Widener’s LGBTQ Community Finds Support
Patton Vo ’15 came out just before starting his freshman year at Widener.
It was not an easy moment in his life; his traditional Vietnamese family “took it hard,” and Vo experienced depression, anger, and anxiety.
But when he arrived at Widener, he found a support system – people willing to stand with him on his journey, especially Chief Diversity Officer Micki Davis.
“Micki held my hand through a lot of courageous conversations,” recalls Vo.
At Widener, Vo served as a resident assistant, member of a fraternity, and homecoming king.
It was an environment that really allowed me to grow and be authentically myself. — Patton Vo '15
But his time on campus wasn’t without incident. Not many students at the time openly identified as LGBTQ, and Vo experienced an incident of homophobia at the hands of fellow students that shook him. But campus administrators took swift action, implementing programming to address bias, microaggressions, and transformative justice.
“It was not just support; they were systematically looking at processes,” said Vo. “I was always impressed by the growth we see around the commitment to diversity, inclusion, and access.”
Today, Widener is home to a vibrant LGBTQ community, and the university is continually working to make the campus as welcoming and supportive as possible. This includes listening to students, faculty, and staff, implementing new programs, making changes to facilities and policies, and other initiatives designed to create a real sense of community and live up to the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and the ethos of We’re All Widener.
Widener is also soliciting funds to endow an LGBTQ scholarship, which Vo helped start.
These efforts are year-round, but Widener is also marking Pride Month 2020, in particular, with special initiatives. Widener librarians created a digital exhibit on the history and evolution of the institution’s LGBTQ community and related activities for the university Archives. Widener’s Sexuality Archives also created a digital exhibit of materials from its collections dealing with issues related to sexuality orientation and gender identity.
Earlier in June, a virtual, campus-wide event called the Pride Forum was held to discuss the various campus initiatives reaffirming and supporting the LGBTQ and ally community. A DiversiTEA on LGBTQ allyship will be held later this month.
“We’re constantly listening to LGBTQ students and looking for ways to make campus more inclusive and to feel more welcoming to everyone,” said Davis, noting Widener’s commitment to continually improve its Campus Pride Index score, a national LGBTQ-friendly benchmark tool.
Much of the university’s efforts are guided by the LGBT Task Force, comprised of administrators, faculty, staff, and students. Widener’s Center for Human Sexuality Studies (CHSS) and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies program also provide support for these efforts.
Widener is increasing the number of all-gender restrooms and has implemented an affirming name policy, in which any member of the community can request the computer system use the name that affirms who they are. A number of professors and staff members are now asking students their preferred pronouns.
The university has increased housing options to be more accommodating, offering all-gender housing, and living spaces designed to assist and support those who are transitioning.
“We have members of our community who are more comfortable being out and visible now, but we still have work to do,” said Justin Sitron, associate professor and CHSS director. “We will continue to look for opportunities to grow. We need to be more than responsive; we need to be proactive.”
Widener is home to a strong Safe Space Ally program, with numerous safe spaces on campus, and more than 130 faculty and staff trained as allies across the three campuses.
To see that safe space sticker on a door, you know you can turn to those people.” — Ainsley Feyock '20
Student Health Services supports transitioning students, offering injections for those needing hormone therapy, as well as sexual health education and treatment if needed.
“We really offer a safe place where students are able to find guidance and additional medical resources needed to support them through the process,” said Ellen DeLuca, director of Student Health Services.
Likewise, the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office offers counseling support to members of the LGBTQ community, and resources to find additional help. CAPS has therapists on hand specially trained in human sexuality through Widener’s program, and who are “committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and providing care that considers the intersectional background of each student,” said Madeline Maxson, CAPS staff psychologist and member of the LGBT Task Force.
As a high school student, Ainsley Feyock was looking for a college that had strong academics and a location she desired. But she was also looking for a school that had an organization that would support LGBTQ students like herself.
Feyock found what she was looking for at Widener and its student-run Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA). Open to all students, SAGA works to provide a place for support, friendship, and discussion in an open and non-confrontational setting.
“It’s not only a resource for students who need a support system and are out, but also for people who want to learn, and learn how to advocate,” said Feyock. “You’re unsure of yourself when you come into college. It’s important to find an organization that you can call home like that, to know people you can trust and count on to hear you and listen to your story, to have your voice heard.”
A graduate-level LGBTQ student organization also exists on campus.
Five years after graduating, Vo, an active member of Widener’s Alumni Council, continues to be impressed by the university’s efforts to support the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a welcoming, loving, and supportive environment and that’s a testament to the leadership,” said Vo. “To know future students are following on this journey and path is just amazing.”