Equal Opportunity & Access
In 1987, Ralph H. Wagoner became the eighth president of Western Illinois University. President Wagoner's comments on the inclusive character of the Western Illinois University community became a hallmark of his earliest public remarks. Student and faculty members of "Open Door", a support group for gays and lesbians, asked President Wagoner if he would add sexual orientation to the university policies that prohibit discrimination. Wagoner took this request to the Board of Governors Universities. At that time, the BGU governed five universities including WIU. In July 1989, the BGU policies on discrimination were revised to prohibit discrimination of students and employees on the basis of sexual orientation.
During freshmen orientation sessions in fall 1990, faculty members covered material and showed films about diversity on college campuses. The immature and hostile reaction of the Western students to the portions of class content that addressed the difficulties faced by gay and lesbian students shocked the teachers. Many members of the faculty reported this level of overt homophobia to President Wagoner who reacted by appointing the first members to the President's Task Force to End Homophobia. The Task Force met for the first time on December 11, 1990.
The Task Force set five goals for itself and met every two weeks during spring 1991 to reach them. These goals were:
- To communicate the commitment of this university to be an inclusive community that would not condone discrimination against anyone who studies or works on its campus.
- To take a sophisticated evaluation or measure of the campus climate for gays and lesbians on campus.
- Recommend to the president appropriate responses to incidents of discrimination against individuals or groups based on sexual orientation.
- Develop educational programs and offer them to student, faculty, and staff groups.
- Recommend mandatory training for student, staff, and faculty organizations considered to be critical to ending homophobia at Western.
During spring 1991, the Task Force collected resource materials from other universities that had already initiated similar efforts and constructed a survey that would measure homophobia. Members were reading printed materials, screening video resources, training each other for making presentations, and brainstorming for ways to combat homophobia. The Task Force co-sponsored Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week, April 7-13. One of the first Task Force seminars was in June 1991 with the President's Cabinet and staff. In July, WIU sent a member of the Task Force to the Third Annual Meeting of the National Campaign to End Homophobia.
During the Fall 1991 semester, the survey designed to measure the level of homophobia on campus was sent to a random sample of 500 members of the faculty, administration, and staff. The responses documented a high level of homophobia among the adult, non- student leadership of the university. The Task Force decided to direct its energy to providing educational seminars and workshops to faculty, administration, and staff groups. The Task Force co-sponsored Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week November 2-9, 1991, and Task Force members conducted seminars and workshops in the spring 1992.
The Task Force opened the Fall 1992 semester with announcements of the availability of educational programs for any campus organization. They conducted over 15 workshops each semester during the 1992-93 school year. During spring semester, members of the Task Force created a brochure describing university policy on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
These early years set the tone for the Task Force and the dedication of its founding members provided it with a solid foundation. Today, its mission is similar, but has also expanded 15 members present workshops to organizations and classes, advise the President on the campus climate for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students/faculty/staff, serve on panel discussions, write brochures and web pages, and collaborate with faculty in building more inclusive curriculums and classrooms. The Task Force also strongly supports the efforts of WIU's student organization, Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians, and Friends Association (BGLFA).
The Task Force has seen, and continues to see, a more open, accepting, and inclusive attitude of students, faculty, and staff toward gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, but there continues to be much ignorance, misunderstanding, and downright bigotry surrounding this topic.
The Task Force changed its name to University Committee on Sexual Orientation in 1999. The name change more accurately reflects the mission of the committee to provide support, advocacy, and education to the WIU community regarding issues impacting the lives of the GLBT population. During the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 academic years the committee organized a faculty/staff and allies group which was named Lambda Allies Faculty and Staff.
Other significant accomplishments have been the recruitment and sponsorship of keynote speakers for Awareness Week. In 1999 the committee sponsored Mr. Jerry Pope, a gay activist who had appeared on national television. Jerry gave several presentations in undergraduate classes and his keynote was entitled "Growing up Gay in a Straight World". The speaker for 2000 was Reverend Gregory Dell, a methodist minister from Chicago who had been suspended from the church for conducting commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. Greg spoke to several undergraduate classes and his keynote address was entitled "Racism, Sexism, and Heterosexism: The Parallels and Distinctions".
During 1999-2000 the committee has reviewed and recommended the purchase of training materials on homophobia. The materials were purchased by the Affirmative Action Office. The committee successfully advocated for the University Library to purchase subscriptions for The Advocate and The Journal of Homosexuality. The committee developed a Domestic Partnership survey which was mailed to 66 institutions across the country. Twenty two institutions responded to the survey. The results were examined by the committee to determine if WIU was offering less, the same, or more benefits to domestic partners of faculty and staff. The overall impression was that WIU seems to be on equivalent level of service with similar institutions. The domestic partner benefits at WIU are services provided by: University Library, WIU Golf Course; Beu Health Center; Campus Recreation, WIU Athletics, and Employee Assistance Program.