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An open letter to administration on supporting the Clemson LGBTQ+ community

Dear Clemson University Administration,
Earlier this semester, President Clements responded to student concerns regarding Clemson’s efforts to support the LGBTQ+ community by saying, “There’s always going to be an issue that comes out, and another one next week and another one next week.”
This dismissiveness contradicts the president’s stated goal in the ClemsonForward Strategic Plan, a document outlining Clemson’s mission to create “an environment that is diverse, respectful and inclusive.”
In our work with administrators in our capacities as presidents of Clemson’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) chapters, the President’s first statement reflects our experience with the administration’s attitude toward addressing LGBTQ+ issues.
Entering his fourth year, President Clements has overseen the implementation of only one substantial policy, recommended by a commission his predecessor created, to address the “safety and rights” of LGBTQ+ students. Not implemented is the commission’s primary recommendation: designating the LGBTQ+ community permanent space on campus. Administrators, as of April 4, have informed us that there are no plans for this and that the LGBTQ+ community is simply another “student group” requesting space, reflecting a fundamental disconnect between administrators and LGBTQ+ students. By creating a permanent space for the LGBTQ+ community, the Clemson administration could help unite the Clemson Family and operate according to Clemson’s core values of honesty, integrity and respect.
In 2006 the Campus Pride Index (CPI) score was created by academics at Campus Pride researching the policies required to create a safe learning environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Participating universities are scored on the extent to which they have implemented these policies. Clemson’s score of 1.5 stars is the lowest among every reporting university in South Carolina and of all reporting peer institutions nationwide. For ten percent of our nation’s population, this score assists in determining whether they will face discrimination and harassment in college. For this reason, Clemson’s shameful CPI score dissuades prospective LGBTQ+ students and faculty and quantifies the experiences of alumni and current students. As a university seeking to improve its national ranking, Clemson should prioritize recruiting LGBTQ+ students for two primary reasons. First, mounds of academic research have found diverse classrooms promote empathy and critical thinking skills for all students. Second, since they compose a substantial portion of our nation’s population, a superb student body necessarily includes members of the LGBTQ+ community. Clemson’s low CPI score and notorious indifference toward social inclusion has inhibited Clemson’s ability to attract LGBTQ+ students.
As President of SAGA, I have received emails from prospective students who saw Clemson’s CPI score and expressed concerns about not fitting in, potentially being harassed and, in that case, not being protected by the institution. While any student may have a negative experience, incoming LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented students enter campus with the deck stacked against them. This is particularly true for those whose identities are visible, such as students of color or “stereotypically queer” students, who stick out against Clemson’s homogeneity.
In addition to deterring enrollment of prospective students, prospective faculty are repelled by Clemson’s low CPI and President Clements’s lack of meaningful action to address concerns of diverse students. The president expressed intent in attracting faculty of color in a letter last spring; yet, diversity includes sexual orientation and gender, too. Prospective LGBTQ+ faculty have little reason to believe the administration would care about them.
Deleterious impacts are not limited to discouraging prospective students and faculty from joining Clemson. Current students often feel isolated due to little targeted programming and few opportunities to network and build community. These students often leave disappointed and jaded with a university that was marketed to them as a family. In conversations with alumni, this has proved true. It’s disproportionately common for LGBTQ+ alumni to express ambivalence or regret about their time at Clemson. In response to a queer Clemson student’s account of verbal harassment on campus last fall, an alum wrote on social media, “I’m not sure what makes me sadder, that this is how you were treated, or that I’m not surprised.” At a recent SpeakOUT panel we attended, one panelist and current student admitted, “If I had known I was bi before I got to Clemson, I’m not sure I still would’ve come.” This cannot be characterized as a “sense of community and connectedness that defines the Clemson Family,” as Clemson is depicted in the ClemsonForward Strategic Plan.
Moving forward we, the commission and Campus Pride, believe it’s critical to allocate a permanent space on campus for LGBTQ+ students. Currently, SAGA meets bimonthly in different locations. Existing LGBTQ+ programs are run from the Gantt Center, which is too small for student groups to have designated space. No other institutionally-recognized LGBTQ+ resources exist on campus.
A permanent space would foster community and collaboration that current meeting conditions and organization do not. LGBTQ+ students need more than SAGA can offer to develop their identity and feel welcome, particularly since some students prefer not to join SAGA. Offering a space on campus for queer students to study and converse between classes would not isolate them, but would foster community and decrease the tendency of queer students to resent a school which does not support them.
As student leaders, we are disheartened by the disinterest reflected in the President’s statement, and are unable to comprehend the comfort it indicates with the status quo: alumni regret their experience, current students are jaded and consider transferring and prospective students and faculty sometimes dismiss Clemson altogether. As of now, a united Clemson Family does not exist; it’s divided, illusory or reserved for select individuals.
This reality is not intractable. First and foremost, a permanent space must be allocated to the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, Clemson students, faculty and administrators must confront three facts: diversity and inclusivity are more than buzzwords; not experiencing a problem does not mean it is nonexistent and LGBTQ+ issues are bigger than SAGA. We write this not filled with animosity, but with a love for Clemson and the belief that it can become an example of inclusive excellence.

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