University of Virginia Hires Full-time Advocate for Lesbian, Gay Students - Higher Education
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University of Virginia Hires Full-time Advocate for Lesbian, Gay Students

by Associated Press


Aiming to better serve sexual minority students, the University of Virginia has hired the school’s first full-time program coordinator for its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center.

Joy Pugh will manage student support groups and other activities offered through the six-year-old center, says Shamim Sisson, senior associate dean of students. Pugh’s appointment follows a three-month national search.

The Charlottesville center provides support to up to 2,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students it estimates to be on campus.

Until last year, it was directed by graduate students, limiting operation to roughly 20 hours a week, Sisson says. That also created a revolving door of managers who had to learn the ropes every year.

The center tried a full-time worker on a trial basis last year, and administrators approved a permanent position over the summer.

“(We) knew if we had the level of continuity of a professional staff member from year to year, we would be able to provide the level of service we needed,” Sisson says.

Pugh, 27, comes to U.Va. from James Madison University, where she worked as a service specialist with the university honors program and was a graduate assistant aiding in new student orientation and diversity.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a master’s from James Madison.

Pugh will oversee support groups such as QueerGrads, an LGBT graduate student group; SafeSpace, which prepares instructors to counsel LGBT students; and the center’s LGBT speaker program.

She’ll fill a position that’s become increasingly common on American campuses, says Brad Luna, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights advocacy organization. LGBT coordinators have been hired at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of New Hampshire.

“People are beginning to see that there is a diversity amongst the student population,” says Luna, calling such centers vital to encouraging discussion and promoting tolerance.

Pugh says she aims to expand beyond campus, strengthening relationships between the LGBT community and Charlottesville.

Her appointment comes amid continued efforts to combat campus intolerance.

In September, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III held a meeting to address a spate of racial incidents on campus, including one in which vandals wrote racial epithets outside a dorm room and an apartment.

Fourth-year student David Reid says he’s experienced anti-gay harassment around campus, including an incident in which a group of men told him to “get AIDS … and (expletive) die.”

“The hiring of a new director is definitely a good sign,” says Reid, who is gay. “I think this is just another sign of the administration taking the right steps.”

A chief officer for diversity and equity — another first for the Charlottesville campus — began Nov. 1. Pugh started Oct. 24.

Associated Press

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