Achieving inclusivity at UNG: First steps on a long road

According to the University of North Georgia’s website, the school “is an environment that is welcoming, respectful and inclusive of individuals and groups from a range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds — an environment that embraces varied perspectives, values and unique experiences.”

However, when asked, “Would you say UNG as it stands is an inclusive place,” both Jacqueline Adams, coordinator of student leadership at the Oconee campus, and Lindsay Bailey, director of student involvement at the Oconee campus, responded in unison, “No.”

One group that is facing challenges with inclusivity is members of the LGBTQ community.

(Pixabay)

“The larger culture dictates what the culture of UNG will look like,” Adams said. “That’s not to say that UNG is totally in the wrong, but that’s what has been culturally accepted up to this point and UNG needs to challenge those cultural expectations on how we treat LGBTQ folks.”

Adams teaches free Safe Zone training at UNG, which can be taken by any student, faculty member or staff member.

“This isn’t a mandatory training, so when people are hired on they are not required to be inclusive,” Adams said.

To learn more about Safe Zone training at UNG, read “Safe Zone training prepares faculty, staff and students to be LGBTQ allies” by Megan Broome.

UNG has changed the signage on many bathrooms to indicate that they are gender-neutral. The full list of gender-neutral bathrooms is here.

Despite these steps by the administration, the driving force behind fostering a more inclusive environment at UNG needs to be the students, Adams said.

“I really encourage students to consider the culture of the state of Georgia and the political culture of the state of Georgia and to take that into account for how change happens. Let’s not forget that in the Civil Rights movement, half of that movement was students,” Adams said.

Not all students were raised in an environment that taught them to be inclusive or to be an ally, but regardless of that, every student has the potential to help cultivate change in the UNG community.

“Not all protesting has to be loud. Making an active effort to care for one another is a form of protest,” Adams said.

One simple thing students can do is state their pronouns when introducing themselves. It helps to normalize the concept of pronouns; for example, using they/theirs instead of he/his or she/hers. (As it stands, students can add their preferred first name in Banner, but cannot specify their pronouns.)

Another simple thing that students can do is to ask, “How does this space make you feel?”

“To craft a culture of inclusive behaviors and to craft a nurturing environment, there is a big difference between tolerance and nurturing,” Adams said.

The community needs to “engage with other people and come from a loving stance,” Bailey added.

“If students want to see something change, do not forget that you have agency,” Adams said.

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