NAU’s LGBTQIA Commission Scholarship now an endowed fund

NAU offers a variety of support to students to promote and celebrate diversity on its campus. Associated Students of Northern Arizona University (ASNAU) is the university’s undergraduate student government, whose motto is “because of the student, we exist.” One community of students that ASNAU has recently enacted change for is the LGBTQ+ population on campus. 

The school itself has contributed to supporting this community as early as the 1980s, according to the LGBTQIA Commission. NAU Human Resources sponsored a panel that explored diversity and gender in 1986, opening conversation to gay and lesbian rights. In the same year, two lesbian students founded the Gay Academic Union (GAU). More and more historic events happened on campus that further pushed for diversity and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. 

According to the commission, gender-inclusive housing was introduced on campus in fall 2012, and the JacksCard office started to issue preferred names on student IDs in 2015. Campus Health Services began offering transgender hormone therapy for qualified individuals in 2015, as well. 

The LGBTQIA Commission scholarship, which was established in 2014, has received donations — but not enough to become an endowed fund that would allow it to consistently generate funds for students. That is, until now. ASNAU stated it will make a $13,510 donation to the LGBTQIA+ scholarship, officially making it an endowed fund, in addition to passing a resolution to protect transgender and gender diverse students. 

ASNAU senators and juniors, Jacob Carter and Katie Cinader, began authoring the bill to make a donation to the fund in summer of 2021. Originally, ASNAU was going to donate $750 to the LGBTQIA commission fund. 

“This was kind of just a tentative step forward seeing what the organization could do,” Carter said. “Once we got word of it, me and Katie started thinking, $750 is still a significant amount of money, but how can we broaden the impact for all our students we represent?” 

The two senators considered increasing the donation to $5,000. However, upon checking the website that listed details about the fund, they found that the scholarship could not reach endowed status until it hit $25,000. Funding had never reached that amount, and Carter explained getting there may have taken another two or three years. 

The two ASNAU senators concluded that it would be much more beneficial to donate the remaining amount of money to help the fund reach the goal of $25,000, Carter said. This money originates from the student ASNAU fees paid semesterly and, with this goal reached, the fund will continue to collect money as well as benefit more students. Carter said it will also allow for quicker turnaround time for students to have access to funds.

“As an organization, we support the LGBTQIA community on our campus, and we want to make our campus a more inclusive space overall,” Carter said. 

In conjunction with this donation to the commission fund,  ASNAU’s senate also passed a “Resolution for the Support of Transgender and Gender-Diverse Students.” The resolution was written by ASNAU Vice President of Government affairs, Matthew Billings, and was co-sponsored by ASNAU Senator Jacob Carter. 

This resolution aims to protect the rights of transgender and gender diverse students on campus, as well as asking NAU and The Arizona Board of Regents to do so. Billings explained that over the summer, Drew Lopez, the vice president of Undergraduate Affairs at Tulane University, reached out to ASNAU and wanted to collaborate on a multi-university resolution. 

“After we reviewed the resolution, Senate Chair [Michael] Bolar and I realized that their proposed resolution did not meet the standard for NAU resolutions,” Billings said. “We decided to create our own resolution that we think would best suit our NAU students.” 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 33 states have introduced more than 100 bills that negatively affect the rights of transgender people. In April, Arkansas became the first state to outlaw the providing of gender treatment to minors. As of April 9, 31 states introduced bills that would ban transgender athletes from participating in sports in accordance with their gender identities. Legislators in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee signed these bills into law. 

Arizona was one of the 31, and the state also introduced a bill that would enforce ID restrictions, curriculum restrictions and target civil rights protections for transgender people. It also looked to implement bans on gender-affirming healthcare for minors

ASNAU aims to protect the rights of transgender and gender diverse students from bills such as these. Billings said this demographic should be allowed to participate in sports, along with having access to amenities that will fit their needs on campus, including all-gender bathrooms.

Cinader said NAU only has 30 bathrooms that are gender inclusive. Some are not accessible to the majority of campus, and they are more centered in one area than they are equally dispersed. Cinader is currently working on a resolution that will address and support the resolution written by Billings in providing gender-inclusive bathrooms on NAU campuses. 

“It's addressing the fact that we only had 30 gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and that is not including high traffic areas such as SBS Castro and the du Bois [Center],”' Cinader said. “And I noticed when I was a freshman living on campus that there were a lot of single-use bathrooms labeled for men and women.” 

Cinader said her goal is to get an all-gender bathroom available for students in every building on campus. However, Cinader explained she wants to start with getting the family use restroom signage switched to all-gender use signage. 

As for the rest of ASNAU, the student governance plans to continue supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and to further make life more comfortable and supportive for everyone on campus.

“We have all of these avenues to educate and create change on our campus, and it's very imperative that we use them and use every aspect of them,” Carter said. “Resolutions and taking actions like this is one of those ways that  we can take a specific area of students and say that we recognize you face a heightened struggle because of an identity.” 

The LGBTQIA scholarship fund will be available for students as soon as 2022, and ASNAU has a goal to better serve all students by being their voice. Members of the LGBTQ+ community, Carter said, often face financial struggles and adversity when seeking higher education. It is because of this that ASNAU strives to share student concerns, to ensure LGBTQ+ voices are heard and to make student life easier.  

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