By Gunnhildur Baldursdottir
College years can be difficult for students, but even more so for those who identify as being in the LGBTQ community. To meet those difficulties, Youngstown State University offers support.
The student organization YSUnity contributes to making LGBTQ students feel safe, welcome, included and celebrated.
Rayvin E. Gorrell, an anthropology major, serves as president of YSUnity.
“My whole goal is to make people feel safe and included on campus,” Gorell said. “I want them to feel just like they belong here and that it’s okay to be who you are, and a lot of people just don’t feel that way here.”
The group has more than 100 members, consisting of students who identify as members of the LGBTQ community or consider themselves allies, vice president of YSUnity Rose McClurkin said.
McClurkin said students who “come out” publicly have faced displacement from family and housing. YSUnity can provide a list of helpful resources for these students.
YSU recognized the difficulties for the LGBTQ community and is offering safe zone training for students and employees this fall. YSUnity supports the safe zone training, McClurkin said.
Erin Driscoll, executive director of Student Experience & Residence Life, said topics covered include terminology, barriers, experiences, acceptance in society and how to help students be their authentic selves.
“Some of [the safe zone training is] looking at language and common terms,” Driscoll said. “There’s also some time that’s looking at how laws might vary from state to state or what the general legal landscape is for people that aren’t in that population.”
Among the professors who completed the training years ago is Snjezana “Snow” Balaz, physics professor. With what she learned in the safe zone training, Balaz said she was able to expand the subject matter outside the classroom.
“I was fortunate to have had experiences of support when I was a young adult, but not all people have had this experience of support and acceptance,” Balaz said. “This impacts mental health, which ultimately impacts a student’s ability to learn and grow.”
She stated her experience was valuable, as she learned the correct language and met other faculty members who were open-minded about the LGBTQ community.
“This kind of training should be mandatory and to remind faculty that our students are human and need our empathy,” Balaz said. “As a society, we need to adapt to changes and acceptance.”
One way YSUnity recently supported the LGBTQ community, McClurkin said, is the organization helped promote a protest in downtown Youngstown on Sept. 27 against political policies backed by former President Donald Trump, who held a rally in Youngstown the same day.
“Because being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is inherently a political thing. Trans[gender] people are constantly getting [legislation] passed about them about what they can and cannot do,” McClurkin said.
McClurkin said the LGBTQ community is concerned equality laws may be rescinded.
“There have been conversations about overturning marriage equality laws. So, we think that it’s important to stand up for ourselves and our rights,” McClurkin said.
Dates for the two-hour training sessions are Sept. 30 and Nov. 4. Participants must register in advance because space is limited. If anyone is interested in registering for the next safe zone training, visit YSU’s Learning Stream website to apply.