What is UWM doing to make its LGBT students feel so welcome?
When students arrive at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as freshmen, they’re invited to a meet & greet at the LGBT Resource Center, a welcome for all students regardless of identity.
“A lot of students are coming from a less accepting high school environment,” says Sarah DeGeorge, UWM’s interim assistant director of the LGBT Resource Center.
Through the work of the LGBT Resource Center, UWM has become known as one of the most accepting campuses in the country. The Campus Pride Index named UWM one of the nation’s top 30 most-accepting colleges for the fourth year in a row in 2018.
“We recognize the extra social challenges that LGBT students tend to face on their way to graduation,” DeGeorge says. “Having gender identity and sexual discrimination built into the student conduct policy … and the fact that we have a resource center helps.”
That’s why they have the welcoming ceremony at the beginning of the year, and also the Lavender Graduation ceremony for soon-to-be graduates who identify as LGBT+.
Lavender Graduations started in 1995 at the University of Michigan, and UWM has been riding that momentum since 2010 in the 21st century. The dedicated ceremony aims to recognize “not only their achievements but for surviving their college years,” Lavender Graduation Founder Ronni Lanlo said in 2000. At UWM’s Lavender Graduations, graduates will also receive a special rainbow tassel that they can wear at the full graduation at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena later in the week.
Between orientation and graduation, however, the effort to create an accepting and comfortable environment continues.
At UWM, dorms are divided into “pods” of suites. And, if a student so chooses, they can request to live in “gender inclusive” suites that are reserved “for students who self-select and self-identify as gender non-conforming or who have other cultural or identity considerations related to living in the residence halls at UW-Milwaukee, and students who identify as allies.”
All of these reasons have gotten UWM consistently recognized, but the Resource Center has not slowed its work in generating recognition and visibility in the college and Milwaukee community. From Nov. 16 through Dec. 13, UWM’s Union Art Gallery will be hosting “Trans-lucent,” an exhibit featuring artwork exclusively by transgender and non-binary artists. An opening reception is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Nov. 16 with a panel discussion to follow at 7 p.m.
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