By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer
The first listening sessions for a potential chartered LGBTQ group at Baylor took place on Thursday and Friday. Students spoke about their thoughts on the group and other avenues through which the university can support LGBTQ students.
Alex Gonzalez, Plano junior and Gamma Alpha Upsilon external chair, said that he felt heard at the listening session but that it was made clear Baylor had no plan or set idea in mind for what a new LGBTQ group would look like.
“I think that that was one of my biggest frustrations — if I had to choose one from this entire discussion — is that there wasn’t really like a solid plan of a way forward,” Gonzalez said. “It was more of like, ‘Well, that was a good talk. Let’s keep the ball rolling with future talks.’”
Brit LaVergne, Spring senior and Gamma president, said the people leading the conversation — Dr. Sharra Hynes, associate vice president and dean of students in student life, and Dr. Matt Burchett, assistant dean of philanthropic engagement and senior director of student activities — seemed genuinely interested in how to improve LGBTQ students’ Baylor experience.
“I don’t think Baylor has not wanted to help queer students,” LaVergne said. “I think Baylor just has not known how to help queer students, and I don’t know if that’s from a lack of listening, a lack of trying or a lack of whatever, but I think there’s a chance that there’s going to be more that can come with this than just simply a student group.”
Gonzalez said Hynes and Burchett were listening for common themes from the students to present to the Board of Regents.
“There was a variety of different views in the room,” Gonzalez said. “There were people from Gamma represented, like me and Brit, from the board. There was those who were queer but outside of the board there. There was people who were straight and not part of Gamma at all who were there. And everyone had an opinion. It was good to have these conversations.”
LaVergne said there are going to be more resources for LGBTQ students formed at Baylor over time.
“It’s not just like a mental health thing,” LaVergne said. “It’s not just struggling for a community thing. It’s an overarching feeling of belonging on campus that extends beyond just simple things like mental health and having friends and feeling safe on campus.”
LaVergne said she is thankful Baylor seems to be genuinely listening to LGBTQ students now, but she also said she doesn’t understand why it took until October to address the students directly, when the Board of Regents’ resolution charging administration to find ways to care for LGBTQ students was released in May.
“Baylor administration is so isolated away from queer communities, and queer communities have been really isolated from Baylor for so long that neither one of us know exactly what the other person needs,” LaVergne said. “I don’t know how I feel now that the conversations are starting — because now I’m confused what the past year was and conversations that were had then, because I know that there was a few between Baylor administration and [former Gamma leadership].”
Hynes said via email it is too soon to share the overall themes of what LGBTQ students discussed during the listening sessions.
“We’ve only had two listening sessions to date, and we have more scheduled for the future,” Hynes said. “We will report out to the student participants the emerging themes to allow ongoing interaction and reaction to our takeaways from the listening sessions. We want to accurately represent the themes we discern from these times together.”
Hynes said there is not a final timeline for when the new group will be chartered.
“We’ll also be asking for these students to recommend other students for participation in additional listening sessions,” Hynes said. “We’ll then determine if we have a core group of students interested in working on a charter application.”
Hynes said their hope is for the group to emerge from students in the listening sessions.
“We don’t yet have a core group of students interested in chartering a group, and we don’t have a stated mission and purpose yet for the group or a constitution,” Hynes said. “Any potential organization will have these guiding documents to help determine next steps and ongoing steps for the group. The selection of an adviser or group of advisers will also help us in paving this path forward.”
Gonzalez said LGBTQ students should take the opportunity to speak to Baylor leadership at future listening sessions.
“I think people should — especially queer students, any queer students out there who might be potentially hearing about this — both remain hopeful but also remain vigilant about this group,” Gonzalez said. “There’s no telling how it will end up.”