Saturday, October 29, 2011

It is a great honor and pleasure to join you this evening. I offer you my sincerest congratulations on the fifth anniversary of the LGBT Resource Center. I also thank you—everyone gathered here tonight as well as all of the organizations sponsoring this event and who support the UI’s LGBT community—for all you do to make our university a humane, welcoming, and diverse institution. And I welcome back to our campus and community the friends and alumni who are here with us this weekend. You have played—and continue to play—an important role in building the excellence of our university, and we are always delighted to have you come back home.

As the President of the University of Iowa, I very much support and am very proud of the UI’s efforts to support the LGBT community at our institution. A few years ago, the Mosaic Diversity Conference in Des Moines hosted Red Hawk, a diversity consultant from Virginia, as one of its speakers. Red Hawk says, “Equal employment opportunity is about rules. Affirmative action is about representation. But diversity is always about relationships, about differences and similarities.” I like that idea very much, and I think that’s what the LGBT Resource Center is all about—building good relationships.

At the UI, we include the LGBT community in our concept and practice of diversity. And I am very pleased that the university has much to be proud of when it comes to LGBT issues and culture. Iowa’s pioneering efforts in domestic partner benefits are well-known, long preceding the Iowa Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Union at the UI is the oldest state-university-recognized and continuously funded LGBT student organization in the United States.

And our programs for the UI LGBT community keep growing. For example, the LGBT Staff and Faculty Association’s Safe Zone Project is a campus-wide program that offers a visible message of inclusion, affirmation, and support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people in the University community. Participating in the Safe Zone workshops earns you a Safe Zone symbol to display in your work space, indicating you are a visible ally and an effective resource person for the workplace or classroom. In our residence halls, we are working to successfully launch Spectrum House, a living-learning community dedicated to promoting inclusion and awareness for individuals across the gender and sexuality spectrum in a safe and supportive environment dedicated to change. Currently, the university is considering starting a chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity with the mission of recruiting progressive young men, mainly bisexual, gay, or allies of the LGBT community. And the recently reconfigured Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences continues to redefine and advance the study of sexuality in the university.

These initiatives, which include the LGBT Resource Center, are the reasons that we were proud to announce last month that the University of Iowa has been listed as an LGBT-friendly campus in the Campus Climate Index produced by the Campus Pride organization. Our rating of 4.5 on a 5-point scale was quite impressive, I thought. The rating looks at a broad spectrum of issues, from policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts. We of course are delighted that we performed well, but perhaps even more importantly, the index will also help us learn ways to improve our LGBT campus life and shape the educational experience here at Iowa to be even more inclusive, welcoming, and respectful. Next time, we’re shooting for a 5.

The University of Iowa is proud of its accomplishments, yet we are also ambitious in our ongoing aspiration to make our campus and university community among the most supportive of LGBT students, faculty, and staff in the country. I thank all of you, as well as your various organizations, for your leadership, dedication, and hard work in making Iowa an LGBT-friendly university. As you wrap up your festivities this weekend, I wish you the best as you continue fighting the good fight and making the world a better place for all.