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Student of the Year Speech 2008

Student of the Year Speech 2008

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Published by zackford

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Published by: zackford on Jan 23, 2012
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04/14/2014

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Zack Ford – Iowa State University Small Victories CelebrationStudent of the Year – May 1, 2008If you’ll indulge, I’d like to share a few words.First let me say, I’m honored to accept this award. I am also particularly proud to stand tonightamong so many committed to a difference. I thank you for your efforts.The reason I want to address you tonight though, is because I don’t think I deserve “Student of the Year,” and I have two reasons why. Let me assure you, this is no exercise in false modesty.My first concern is the standard to which I am being compared. I have seen what students onother campuses are doing, and honestly I think I pale in comparison. In fact, my hunch is that itwas not
what 
I have been doing this year, but how
visibly
I have been doing it that has deemedme worthy of this honor.This speaks to how low the bar is set at Iowa State University. The vast majority of our LGBTcommunity is still hidden away. Statistically, there should be several hundred LGBT studentsgraduating
 PLUS 
their allies, but look at how few students are brave enough to participate intonight’s ceremony. I look forward to a day when the actions I’ve taken are no longer seen asextraordinary, but as commonplace and expected.But we’re not there yet, and it should be news to no one. I don’t know how dusty the 2004Campus Climate survey is getting on its shelf, but its numbers are no less disheartening four years later. Only 53% of respondents thought people in the offices they frequent were acceptingof individuals based on their sexual orientation. Only 35% thought the campus was overallrespectful of LGBT persons, a response lower than for any other targeted group. And the onethat still keeps me up at night? Two out of three LGBT students at Iowa State University
 fear 
for their physical safety specifically because of their LGBT identity. Our campus is absolutelyfrigid. How many years of small victories do we celebrate before a Large one comes along?When I talk about what I’ve seen and done at other institutions, I always hear, “Zack, this is alarge public school in the Midwest. It’s not a private school. It’s not Southern California. Thisis Iowa.” And my reaction is, “Well, so?”! The way I see it, we have three choices when itcomes to how we advocate against heterosexism and homophobia and how we support our queer community. I’m personally a big proponent of the leadership model: we need to do what’s bestfor our students, and do it now. Most people seem to be fans of the follower model, asking,“what are they doing at our peer institutions?” before making decisions. What happens on thiscampus, though, is that third model, the façade: let’s just do enough so it
looks
like a prioritywithout actually dedicating any real resources to it.Many of our peer land-grant institutions—such as the University of Wisconsin, the University of California Davis, and the University of Minnesota, as examples—already have full-time LGBTdirectors on staff as well as resource centers dedicated to providing not only resources for students, but a safe space for LGBT students to congregate and commune. Michigan StateUniversity has a director, an assistant director, an administrative assistant, plus
two
graduate
 
assistants and other student staff. The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) established a set of standards for LGBT student services eight years ago, andthose standards are a year overdue to be revised and updated. ISU has not yet come close tomeeting even the standards set eight years ago. Is any following actually taking place?This reminds me a lot of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Bysimply changing the word Negro, I think you’ll see how relevant his words are here today: “Weknow through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; itmust be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaignthat was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every LGBT person with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come tosee, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’" Withturnover every four years but no substantial budget increases, how many LGBT students have been denied justice at Iowa State University?So the question becomes: what would a financially supported full-time staff on this campus do?How would they support the community? First, they could repair relations with the Alliance. Ithink members of the Alliance know that they can get more money as a club than the LGBTSSoffice currently gets, and are afraid that partnering with the office will either limit what they cando and/or weaken what they currently do. As a result, the Alliance has admirably shoulderedalmost
all 
LGBT-related outreach efforts, which unfortunately has painted them as somewhatextreme advocates and alienated potential members. A full-time staff, with money to work with,could implement a variety of educational events and workshops so that the Alliance has moretime and energy to socially engage the community. A synergistic win-win. Now what would that look like, you say? How about an orientation in September for newstudents interested in getting involved with the community? How about an online peer supportchat, like the one I helped set up at UC Riverside, where students can talk to a supportive buddywithout identifying themselves? How about a mentoring program to support them as they comeout and get involved on campus? There could be a leadership retreat later in the year to helpthem really make a difference! Then, we can support them as they represent us at conferencesacross the Midwest and across the country! How about a Who’s Out On Campus newsletter? APride Prom? A student performance of the newly penned Coming Out Monologues? How abouta film series with monthly films on different educational themes? Regular discussion groups ona variety of topics, intergroup dialogues, an LGBT book club! Why aren’t we working to recruit prospective LGBT students with Admissions? Why don’t we have more scholarships availableto LGBT students through Financial Aid? Where are emergency funds for students who havelost their family’s support after coming out? Why haven’t we set up a network to reach out toour LGBT alumni? How can we partner with the health center to encourage safer sexual behavior for our students? Where’s our LGBT learning community, or gender-neutral housingfor that matter? Where is our major or even minor in LGBT studies? Why don’t we have afaculty-in-residence program? How about a guest speaker on the impacts of homophobia inathletics with workshops for all of our teams? What could the office be doing for LGBT HistoryMonth and National Coming Out Day in October, Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, World AIDS Day in December…? What health policies do we have to support our 

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