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The History of Allies on Campus

By Elizabeth York, Co-founder of USU Allies on Campus February, 2005

Eight years was long enough for me to keep the Allies idea in the closet. As a faculty member in the music department, who has been active in advising and participating in gay and lesbian groups at Utah State University, I see the cultural freeze effect in many students who question their gender or sexual orientation. Some are at different levels of comfort and are by no means ready to identify with more "out" students. These students may have different needs from students who are out. Many struggle with their religious roots versus their sexual identities. They need the visible support of welcoming, non-judgmental faculty and staff.

In the fall of 2003, I proposed during a Faculty Forum that an Ally program be developed at Utah State - a safety zone for these "questioning" students created through a network of staff, faculty and students who commit themselves to providing visible support to anyone dealing with sexual or gender orientation issues on campus. Meanwhile, LuAnn Helms (a psychologist in the USU Counseling Center) was researching other Ally programs and gathering support for the program within the Division of Student Services. She found that eighty percent of USU peer institutions already had similar programs in place. The USU Ally proposal passed from the Faculty Forum to the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and finally, to the Faculty Senate. In December, 2003, in an almost unanimous vote, the proposal won approval from the Faculty Senate, and Allies on Campus was born.

Allies on Campus began with a steering committee composed of two faculty representatives (myself and Les Roka, public relations professor and faculty advisor to USU's Pride!Alliance), two staff representatives (JanaKay Lunstad from University Advising and LuAnn Helms) and two student representatives (Sarah Benanti and Wilson Bateman). The steering committee developed the Allies on Campus program and the first training seminar which was based on Ally ("safe zone" or "safe space") programs at colleges and universities across the nation. The first training was held in April, 2004, and resulted in more than 30 faculty, students and staff members becoming Allies. During the Fall, 2004 semester, an additional 70 Allies received training. Allies are a diverse group of faculty and staff who come from a variety of programs, colleges and departments from across the University. Their common bond is a desire to support LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) or questioning students. They are trained to be accessible, to provide a nonjudgmental ear, and to provide campus and community resources, including information on gay-friendly counselors. But, Allies are not counselors themselves - they welcome, listen and refer.

Trained Allies can be identified by an insignia placed on their office doors. By providing visibility and support to LGBT students, Allies on Campus is a complement to USU's Gay and Lesbian Student Resource Center and Pride! Alliance. My hope is, now that the Ally idea is "out", the increased support for LGBT students on campus will result in a more welcoming environment for all.