Studies show having diversity in the sciences leads to stronger research, but studies also show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) undergraduate students are less likely than peers to remain in college. Then once in a career, 30% of LGBTQ+ STEM professionals are not ‘out’ to their colleagues. There are many reasons why LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff may have difficulties on college campuses. At UT, we have witnessed examples, including the defunding of the Pride Center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the rise of hate crimes on campus. Sadly, according to The Advocate, our campus continues to remain in the top five worst universities for LGBTQ+ students in the United States.
However, there is hope. Vols are stepping up to foster positive change as the UT community has rallied around the LGBTQ+ community. These signs of hope include the Pride Center finding new support, faculty and graduate teaching assistants receiving Safe Zone training to help them to better serve and reach LGBTQ+ students, and OUTgrads, an LGBTQ+ graduate student group advocating for additional LGBTQ+ student support and connecting students to the local LGBTQ+ community.
But there is room for more and you can help support the Volunteer LGBTQ+ community! Become Safe Zone trained through the Pride Center, advocate for more all-gender bathrooms on campus, and familiarize yourself with local LGBTQ+ resources. You can also consider helping attract and retain LGBTQ+ students in STEM fields through organizations such as 500 Queer Scientists, the LGBTQ+ Plant Scientist Network, Out in STEM (oSTEM), and the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientist and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP).
All of these groups help to raise the visibility of LGBTQ+ scientists and provide resource for recruitment and retention. Your opportunities to help do not stop there, as several local LGBTQ+ organizations, like the Tennessee Equality Project, need volunteers.
Our roles as educators, scientists, and Volunteers should encourage us to continue to work towards making classrooms, laboratories, and the campus a place to work and think without the fear of discrimination. Let’s get to work!