Diversity is becoming a major focus for students at Unity College, as efforts to increase understanding and tolerance of people with different backgrounds gain traction.
In the spring semester of 2015, a student in Honors Composition and Communication II taught by Honors Program coordinator Michele Leavitt conducted a campus-wide survey about the acceptance of LGBTQA students on campus.
LGBTQA refers to various sexual orientations: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or transsexual, questioning, and asexual, respectively.
“Most of the responses were very positive,” said Autumn Kanakis ‘18, a student in Leavitt’s class and a Captive Wildlife Care and Education/ Wildlife Management double major from Butler, Pa., who also conducted personal interviews for the survey. “A lot of the ideas in the survey focus on the acceptance of LGBTQA people in our Unity College community, and on programs for them to feel comfortable on campus.”
Kanakis said she received 285 responses from students and staff, with 35 percent of respondents identifying as part of the LGBTQA community.
Of those who replied to the survey, 77 percent of the LGBTQA community said they felt the campus atmosphere was "mostly or very friendly".
One of the students said while Unity’s is a small campus, it embraces diversity in a number of ways, by providing programs, support and counseling.
Among the LGBTQA programs offered at Unity College:
- Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA):The Genders and Sexualities Alliance welcomes people of all different genders and sexualities to the Unity College community. This is a safe place to just be yourself, and offers like-minded individuals the chance to express themselves freely around others without any judgement. GSA provides community based education to promote awareness of others at Unity College, both on and off campus. Activities are a big part of creating this safe place, and we aim to reduce feelings of isolation and promote acceptance. GSA welcomes all students to attend meetings to discuss important topics of today, share personal stories, play games, and watch movies, and take part in day trips and group meals. Together we will spread the message of love and acceptance during our time at Unity College.
- SafeZone: a program that establishes places and people “certified” as welcoming to LGBTQA people. The SafeZone program aims to increase awareness, knowledge, and skills for individuals and address the challenges that exist when one wants to advocate for their LGBTQA peers, family members, friends, and co-workers. A certification is offered at Unity, and staff and students participate. After receiving certification, a person is considered a safe “place” for anyone who may need it. Certified people and places are identified on campus by SafeZone stickers.
- Love is Louder: a project started by actress Brittany Snow to support anyone feeling mistreated, misunderstood or alone. Unity College adopted the project, with the Harrison Aldrich Wellness Center at the center of it.
- "It Gets Better!": a project with the mission to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and asexual youths around the world that “it gets better,” and aspires to create social changes needed to make it better for them. It aims to get LGBTQA through their teenage and young adult years, so they can see they have a future.
Unity College also produced a video in 2013 as part of the diversity project, which outlines the school’s commitment to people of all orientations.
For Kanakis, who is serving as a resident advisor in Wood Hall this coming school year, the survey and infrastructure of supports that have been put into place at Unity mean a lot. “It’s a small campus, so it’s important that we embrace our differences and show support for those of our friends and classmates who may need a greater degree of understanding than maybe they had been shown elsewhere,” she said. “We feel that we really need to live up to the values of Unity College when it comes to accepting LGBTQA people.”
Unity College is committed to diversity and will be working to expand its focus on ensuring diversity in all aspects of the community. “Unity College has always been accepting, a sanctuary of all viewpoints, all spectrums of thought, as well as all systems of belief in religious, environmental, ethnic, racial and other perspectives,” said Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, executive vice president and chief academic officer. “We are steadfastly committed to continuing to make Unity College a leader in diversity, which is a key ingredient for success in the environmental century.”