By Trevor Reichle, staff reporter
WICHITA - Student groups on school campuses are not only a way for students to connect with peers, make friends or get involved with projects; in many ways, they provide an avenue for students to get support, further their education and offer their support to others. For LGBT students, this has appeared as a welcome resource.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of LGBT student groups on the Wichita State University campus. Spectrum, WSU’s current LGBTQ and allies group, is taking note of that and celebrating their predecessors at a 40th anniversary celebration party in the Beggs Ballroom on the WSU campus on Sept. 17 at 6pm. Details are still being confirmed, but plans are underway to include dinner, speakers, and dancing.
The first of these groups was the Student Homophile Association, which began in 1976. Other groups, such as the Gay and Lesbian Resource Association (1984), Responsible Active Gays (1989), Ten Percent (1994) and That Gay Group! (2000) were subsequently formed or reincarnated to continue to meet the needs of the LGBT population at Wichita State.
The groups offered support from LGBT people and allies, resources for students, education for those unfamiliar with LGBT issues, and a sense of comradery for similar-minded students who felt marginalized. As the years and decades changed both socially and politically, the various groups adapted to address ongoing and changing concerns of the community.
Spectrum, the current incarnation of That Gay Group!, began under its previous name in the fall 2000. The group’s mission, according to the WSU website page, is to “provide a safe space where LGBTQ students and allies can meet to discuss a wide range of topics, share experiences and concerns, and build lasting friendships.”
The group’s faculty advisor since 2009, Dr. Jennifer Pearson, is a professor in WSU’s sociology department and has taught sexuality courses in the past.
“An LGBTQ student group is usually the first step to making campus welcoming and inclusive to students. Research demonstrates that LGBTQ students often experience harassment and victimization in schools, with consequences for their well-being and academic success,” Pearson said. “Many of our students went to high schools where it was not okay for them to be themselves, and if we want them to thrive – and graduate - we need to make sure they feel supported and feel like they belong.”
Former Spectrum president Robert Teutsch has put together a paper extensively detailing the history of LGBTQ groups at WSU, including interviews from former members or group leaders. The paper can be found at wichita.edu/spectrum under the “History” section of the group’s “About Us” page.
Niche.com, a website that provides analysis and statistics for cities, neighborhoods, campuses and other areas, gives Wichita State University a C+ rating in diversity based on surveys and data collection. While there is still work to be done, groups such as Spectrum and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion remain steadfast in their goal to provide more inclusiveness and acceptance on the Shocker campus. l