By Rachel Gobep and Jambar Contributor Brandon Brown
YSUnity, Youngstown State University’s LGBTQ+ student organization, is absent on campus this semester, leaving a void in LGBTQ+ resources across campus.
The SOGIE, which stands for “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” organization has not registered its group with the official YSU student organization portal as of the fall 2019 semester.
Former YSUnity President Carissa Brennan said she attributes the downfall of the organization to a lack of student interest and willingness of student or faculty advisers to step forward to keep the group running.
Brennan also said it’s possible that some younger LGBTQ+ students don’t realize the importance the group has on campus for diverse students.
Paige Beaver, a junior biology pre-veterinary track major, agreed with Brennan and said there is a lack of interest in the group.
According to Beaver, there is a struggle to keep officers that are dedicated to the group.
“The group was left in my hands, and running an organization by yourself is basically impossible. We struggled last semester because students did not come consistently,” Beaver said.
She said this caused some chaos when they did not have enough people to help with their large events like the drag show.
“We started out strong last fall and ended in the spring with very few members,” Beaver said.
Eddie Howard, vice president for student affairs at YSU, said in his experience, student interest in organizations varies from year to year, but YSUnity has a strong history on campus.
Howard said the university has established a location in Kilcawley Center for a Women and Gender Resource Center. YSU is also in the process of hiring an assistant director for diverse student programs.
“Our goal is to kind of restart the clock with a person in that role this year that can really begin to help us kind of gain some momentum in that area,” Howard said. “We have a plan, we just need to get a person in place to implement that plan.”
Additionally, Carol Lynnett Bennett, assistant dean and director of diversity and inclusion at Truman State University in Missouri, was named assistant provost for diversity and inclusion at YSU. She will begin her new role at the university on Oct. 16.
University administrators will also be conducting Safe Zone training within the next month. Safe Zone training gives people the opportunity to learn about LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality and examine prejudice, assumptions and privilege.
Ann Jaronski, director of Student Counseling Services at YSU, said LGBTQ+ people are statistically more likely to experience mental health issues including depression, anxiety and suicide.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, LGBTQ+ people are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition.
Jaronski said the lack of a specific organization on campus for LGBTQ+ issues raises concerns for the mental health of those students, but she doesn’t anticipate students will visit counseling services because the group doesn’t exist.
According to YSU Student Counseling Services, between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, the office saw 359 students. Of those students, 66.6% were women, 29% were men and 1.6% were transgender.
Additionally, students identified their sexual orientation as the following: 3.9% lesbian, 1.6% gay, 14.3% bisexual, 2.3% questioning and 0.2% in the category of other.
Those who visited the student counseling office are a microcosm of the total LGBTQ+ population on campus, and Jaronski said diverse groups are important in a campus atmosphere.
“Without that group, it leaves a void on campus,” Jaronski said. “One of the pieces of having an identified group for any minority or specific population absolutely gives people a sense of, ‘Those are my people. This is where I belong.’”
Beaver said YSUnity was the first student organization she found at the university.
“It truly has made me feel at home … This group is not only important to me but anyone on campus who is an ally or part of the LGBTQIA+ community,” she said.
Beaver will be hosting a YSUnity information table at Kilcawley Center on Oct. 3 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. She said her goal is to ensure the organization comes back strong in the spring semester.
“I will have lots of pride flags and bracelets to give out,” she said. “I will also have printouts of our open officer positions and will be taking information from interested students to keep in contact.”
Beaver said if students are interested in being a member, they can sign up for the YSUnity emailing list.
“I am hoping this will spark up enough interest to get things rolling again,” she said.
Beaver can be contacted at [email protected].