“It was a much smaller student body at the time,” Hellinger said. “By far the most visible (advocates) on campus were the theatre students. Obviously, not all of them were gay or lesbian, but they would be very demonstrative, and they were proud of who they were and their identities.”
Hellinger said the B in LGBTQ, which stands for bisexual, and the T, for transgender,were not as visible on campus when he arrived, which is something that has changed in recent years. He said lesbian and gay identities were the most visible at the time.
Despite this minority, transgender students like Eli Chi still felt accepted at Webster. When Chi arrived at Webster in 2006, he identified as queer and felt comfortable expressing himself. Chi’s identity eventually transitioned from female to male after he graduated from Webster in 2010.
“There are always little things faculty and administration can do to make transgendered students feel more safe on campus, though,” Chi said.
There is a constant reminder of Chi’s former identity in Sverdrup. In the main hall is a picture of him with a quote attributed to the name Elise Chi. Chi said he always thinks about going back to get it taken down.
“I’ve had people tell me ‘Oh, you’re on the wall in Sverdrup,’” Chi said. “I think it’s interesting and kind of funny that people recognize me. It’s not really me. I mean, it is me, but from a long time ago.”
Today, Chi volunteers with Growing American Youth, a support organization for LGBTQ youth. He said he sees the struggles other transgender individuals go through and would like to see Webster work on being more transgender-inclusive. He said things like gender-neutral bathrooms and housing, more LGBTQ education for faculty, using proper pronouns and making it easier for transgender students to change their names and genders on documents would make a big difference.
Don Conway-Long, an anthropology professor at Webster, said events such as the Drag Ball have allowed transgender issues to be discussed and further help Webster maintain its reputation for open-mindedness on LGBTQ issues.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Conway-Long said. “We don’t understand very much about gender issues yet, but it’s getting there.”
Kris Parsons came to Webster University in 2008 without a doubt in her mind that it was the right school for her. She wanted to attend a school with a reputation for being LGBTQ-friendly, and she was just one of many students who sought that acceptance.
“We have a history of promoting women’s leadership here and a history of taking diversity issues seriously,” Parsons said. “So I think we just have an open-campus culture of accepting diversity that comes our way.”
Parsons is a graduate assistant to Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson and was a human rights major during her undergraduate years. LGBTQ issues, along with sustainability, were the movements she was mainly interested in during her undergraduate studies. Since her arrival six years ago as a freshman, she said the LGBTQ movement she was a part of has grown significantly.
“The LGBTQ alliance has always been a really strong student group,” Parsons said. “But I think since I got here, it has gone from being just a student group to being more well-known around campus and being more of a staple.”
Parsons said in her time at Webster University, the alliance has changed the already-accepting culture on campus by continuing to promote discussion of LGBTQ issues and the visibility of all types of students. She said off campus, not many people know about the diversity that exists within Webster. She would like to see the university take a more public stance on LGBTQ rights, students and employees.
“I think we do a really good job internally on campus culture,” Parsons said. “But I do think we could do more in reaching out to prospective students who are LGBTQ.”
She hopes to see the university claim more recognition for their attitude on diversity. Parsons said utilizing these resources could help recruit more students and send a message of what Webster is all about.
“I’ve seen the LGBTQ movement on campus really flourish in my time,” Parsons said. “There have always been individuals that will make change no matter where they go, and Webster attracts those people more than other institutions. So they find a willing community to stand behind them and work for what they want to achieve.”