From trying to increase the availability of all-gender restrooms on campus to running a mentoring program for LGBTQ+ students, the commission advises administration and takes on projects aimed at making our campus a more welcoming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people on campus.
The commission meets the first Monday of each month in Hodges Library 605.
Commission membership is open to faculty, staff, and students, regardless of their sexual or gender identity. The bylaws call for no fewer than 20 voting members, all appointed by the chancellor. Some voting members represent various campus groups, including the other commissions, the Council on Diversity and Interculturalism, Faculty Senate, Exempt Staff Council, the Student Government Association, Graduate Student Senate, the UT Police Department, Lambda Student Union, and the OUTreach LGBT and Ally Resource Center. The commission also includes nonvoting representatives from the Division of Student Life, Human Resources, and the Office of Equity and Diversity. See a full list of members.
Co-chairs are Joel Anderson (email@example.com, 865-974-7610), an associate professor in the College of Nursing, and Mitsunori Misawa (firstname.lastname@example.org, 865-974-5233), an assistant professor of educational psychology and counseling in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.
Events and Initiatives
- The commission maintains a Friends of the Commission listserv and a Facebook page for LGBTQ+ faculty and staff. It also supports the activities of the LGBTQ+ Alumni Council.
- The commission hosts LGBTQ+ faculty and staff socials throughout the academic year.
- Last year, the commission partnered with the Pride Center and Jennifer Jabson in the Department of Public Health to support the first Appalachian LBGT Health Equity Symposium, which was attended by 75 people.
Goals for the Year
- Revamp the LGBTQ+ Mentoring program, which matches undergraduate students with faculty and staff mentors to encourage professional and career development
- Determine next steps based on last year’s climate survey asking LBGTQ+ employees about their perspectives, needs, and experiences
- Prepare to assess the needs of LGBTQ+ undergraduate and graduate students about their experiences on and off campus
- Support the Pride Center
- Increase the availability and awareness of all-gender restrooms on campus
- Rework Safe Zone training and relaunch it this fall
Visit the Commission for LGBT People website for more information.
The Princeton Review recently ranked UT as the third most LGBTQ-unfriendly US college campus.
Some thought the description was harsh. But Cal Lane, a senior in social work and political science, thinks the ranking shines the spotlight on some ugly truths: “No LGBTQ+ person on this campus was surprised by those results,” they said. “They have lived through constant attacks on their personhood.”
Lane, of Jefferson City, just began serving on the commission this year.
“I noticed the lack of consistent and comprehensive resources for LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff, as well as a lack of resources in the community. I had supportive people in my life that told me about opportunities to help make a difference and channel my energy around social justice and liberation work.”
Lane co-chairs the commission’s Transgender and Nonbinary Issues Subcommittee, which includes Liz Zepeda, diversity resident librarian; Danielle Burton, a graduate teaching associate in math; Tammy Renalds, an academic advisor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences; Ciara Gazaway, graduate assistant in the Pride Center; and Bonnie Benson-Palmgren, a staff psychologist and diversity coordinator in the Student Counseling Center.
“One of our highest priorities is ensuring that trans and non-binary people are safe, accepted, and can feel like themselves,” they said. “Our subcommittee has decided to focus on mutual aid and filling in resource gaps. We have partnered with the Pride Center to form a trans- and queer-focused community clothing closet on campus. We are working currently on updating a resources guide, gathering information about experiences of trans and nonbinary folks at UT, and organizing a teach-in about resources and rights.”
The subcommittee is also talking to trans and nonbinary people on campus to learn about the positive—and negative—experiences they’ve had.
“This allows folks to have a safe place to share their experience, be heard, and release some of that pressure that carrying these experiences alone can cause.”
Lane is bolstered by the growing activism around trans and on-binary issues and justice in the broader community, but says there is much work still to be done—especially on campus.
“Because of Tennessee state law, it is very difficult to take corrective action against offenders. While the university can put out statements, the lack of consequences is apparent to the people who are perpetrating hatred.”
Mitsunori Misawa, an assistant professor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, researches adult bullying, incivility, and the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexual orientation. He explores ways that adult and higher education institutions can more effectively serve diverse populations.
This academic background helps Misawa understand some of the issues facing members of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.
Misawa, who got involved with the commission soon after arriving at UT two years ago, now serves as co-chair: “I’m a gay person of color and I want to contribute to the UT community.”
The Princeton Review recently ranked UT as the country’s third most LGBTQ-unfriendly college campus.
“And from my personal experience, I believe it is,” Misawa said.
He said part of the problem is that people simply don’t understand—or don’t want to understand—people who are different from themselves. Intersectionality compounds the problem.
For example, he said, at Asian events, people tend to assume he’s heterosexual. At LGBTQ events—which tend to be mostly white—people are confused about why he’s there.
Misawa’s research shows that bullying, incivility, and associated violence are pretty common on college campuses: “Once you become a bully, you enjoy the power.
“Bullying is usually associated with a childhood behavior. . . . But it doesn’t magically disappear when you get to be 18 or 21.”
He encourages people to listen respectfully and to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.
“And if you are you are bullied, make sure you have someone you can talk to. There’s a correlation between bullying and suicide—especially for LGBT people. You need to have someone to talk to.”
Misawa does see UT making progress, though.
“I think the commissions are getting more cooperative this year.”
Misawa received his doctorate in adult education with an interdisciplinary qualitative studies graduate certificate from the University of Georgia. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in adult education, both from the University of Alaska at Anchorage.
Before coming to UT, Misawa was a graduate faculty member and director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Memphis. He was also an assistant professor at the University of Georgia and worked at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, where he trained medical doctors, nurses, and administrators on state and federal policies.