As a gay student, senior Michael Willis feels that there is no hostility towards him, but there is some tension when there is discussion of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) topics.

Yet, Fairfield did not make the list of the top 100 schools offering the friendliest climate for GLBT students as published in a book by The Advocate, a widely popular source of information for the gay and lesbian community.

“I might talk about sexual orientation in political discussion but I never really openly talk about me being gay because it shouldn’t be an issue amongst friends and peers,” said Willis. “A strong majority of the people here are not hostile and [are] rather friendly. On occasion, they might improperly use terms such as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ but that doesn’t mean they are, for the large part, unfriendly.”

Director of the Center for Multicultural Relations Larri W. Mazon says that even the use of such improper terminology should not be tolerated.

“The threat of violence, although subtle, is minimal on this campus,” said Mazon. “It’s our responsibility as adults of this campus to take a tough position on mistreatment. Period.”

Mazon feels that increasing acceptance of the GLBT students parallels the development of discussion groups among the straight community.

“I don’t think this campus is GLBT unfriendly,” said Mazon. “But there is a level of ignorance where the idea of sexual diversity that has not been fully processed by the straight community.”

An example of such an opportunity for discussion will soon take place as of the recipients of the diversity grant award plan on conducting campus-wide survey research on attitudes towards GLBT individuals.

Michael Barrett ’07, team leader of the diversity grant group called “Collegiate Closet,” believes the campus is not necessarily gay-friendly as it is just becoming aware of the growing community.

“I still see through people’s verbal communication that there is still an unconscious sense of homophobia,” said Barrett. “They may automatically deny it, but they don’t realize what constitutes as homophobia – saying ‘that’s so gay’ or using the word ‘fag.'”

With National Coming Out Day now in the rear view mirror, GLBT students at Fairfield say they are finding little difficulty seeking acceptance from the campus community.

The Advocate’s 389-page book gauges its ranking based on a variety of criteria ranging from the amount of sexual diversity courses offered to the number of resource groups available on campus.

Once the Advocate’s analysis is completed, a “gay point average” is calculated for each school. The top 100 most gay-friendly list includes well-known schools such as MIT, Tufts University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Although Fairfield may not be on this particular list, many feel that the school has taken great strides within the last few years.

One professor marked the cancellation of the marriage forum in the spring of 2005 as the turning point.

“The marriage forum cancellation was a very unfortunate event in this school’s history,” said David Gudelunas, assistant professor in the communication department. “However, I think the aftermath has shown that students, faculty and administration have become far more sensitive towards issues of diversity, academic freedom, and the particular needs of sexual minorities on campus.”

To raise Fairfield’s “gay point average,” some students feel that an academic environment is more suited for increasing awareness instead of the aforementioned publicly open discussion.

“I feel that people who are open to such talks would speak out. But those who aren’t open to it would not commit themselves to such discussions,” said Willis. “The best way to address it would be to include it more so in the curriculum such as including more sexual diversity courses.”

With aid from the University administration, one of the goals outlined for the “Collegiate Closets” is to establish a sexual study minor within the next five years.

Frank Fraioli, president of the Fairfield University Alliance and also a team member of diversity grant group credits the administration, namely University President Jeffery von Arx, for their supportive words and actions in recent times.

“We get support for Coming Out Day, the Gender Bender Ball, and a variety of other functions,” said Fraioli. “Fr. von Arx personally requests to meet with Alliance at least once per semester. He has been very open and assertive in giving us a voice.”

However, Fraioli feels that the campus community’s active opinions are gay-neutral and that the key to raising gay friendliness around campus is through the admissions process.

“In terms of it being gay-friendly for a gay student and having a gay community, it’s lacking,” said Fraioli. “The missing piece is the recruitment of the gay population to increase the GLBT influence. You can check high schools for gay-straight alliances; you can look at students who are in those groups when recruiting.”

Willis disagreed as he recalled his own adolescent experiences.”High school is a confusing time for many students. I think it would be irresponsible for a college to go in and actively recruit GLBT students because it might just add to that confusion.”

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