Members of Students Creating Opportunity, Pride and Equality, building on a strong history of LGBTQ advocacy at University of Richmond, have founded a new organization in search of something new on campus – a group that promotes diversity, inclusion and fun.
“We spent time last spring and over the summer trying to figure out what we can do to make [the group] more open and diverse, and not quite as exclusive as it was before,” said Michelle Ferrell, co-president of SCOPE and Westhampton College ’15.
Part of emphasizing openness and diversity means providing spaces for allies, or members of the campus community who do not necessarily identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender-queer or questioning, but who are concerned about related issues.
“The old organization, SASD [Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity], wasn’t seen as being very open to allies,” said Amaury Perez, co-president of SCOPE and Richmond College ’16. “So we’re trying to change that now.”
SCOPE arose out of the reorganization of a few previously existing campus LGBTQ groups, including SASD and Black Alliance for Sexual-Minority Equality. Upon the graduation of BASE’s leaders, the group went dormant, leaving a gap in student-led support for issues regarding queer people of color.
In addition, SASD predominately concentrated on issues of sexual diversity, according to Lopez, which deemphasized the vital support of those concerned about or questioning their gender identity. “It was mainly seen as LGB [lesbian, gay and bisexual], but not really as friendly to gender-queer students,” Perez said.
“SCOPE’s goal is to create a more diverse and inclusive student organization that could create the safe spaces that those students didn’t have before with SASD,” Perez said. “The old group had to expand its SCOPE.” Hence the name.
Incorporating allies, gender-queer students, queer people of color and members of the campus community as a whole is a big job, but SCOPE’s new structure allows for any and every topic of concern. The group will include “student caucuses,” or subgroups within SCOPE that will focus on specific issues.
“For example, if a student is very interested in religion and LGBTQ issues, they could create their own caucus to explore that intersectionality,” Perez said.
“I think what SCOPE is doing is really cutting-edge,” said Ted Lewis, associate director for LGBTQ campus life. “The coalition model, these specific subgroups – this is 21st century stuff.” Lewis works through Common Ground, the university’s office for diversity and inclusiveness, and was hired in 2012 to help direct LGBTQ activities on campus.
Since Lewis came on board, the university has been recognized for its variety of LGBTQ-themed programming, including such special events as the Q-Summit and the LGBTQ College Sports Summit, both of which happened last spring. Both events were co-sponsored by multiple campus, local and national LGBTQ organizations.
SCOPE is an independent student organization that occasionally partners with Common Ground, and members appreciate the efforts by the university administration to create a more inclusive environment. “I think the university is going in the right direction,” Perez said.
“The university community has definitely gotten a lot more accepting over time,” Ferrell said. Such efforts have not gone unnoticed. In May, the Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth presented the university with its 2014 Catalyst Award, which honors organizations that are “champions of LGBTQ progress.” Sept. 2, Advocate.com published an article ranking the university among its “7 Brave Campuses for LGBTQ Students in the South.”
Despite the accolades, SCOPE members think much can still be done to support an inclusive community at Richmond. Hurtful comments by board of trustees member Paul Queally, RC ’86, published last spring, as well as discriminatory graffiti on a fraternity lodge in April are still embedded in the memories of many students. SCOPE members expressed the confidence that university policies have gone a long way to rectify these situations, and will continue to do so.
SCOPE will host "Live Homosexual Acts," a theater piece highlighting the stories of LGBTQ students, in the fall, and will also be hosting documentary screenings in partnership with multiple campus organizations. “As we move forward we’re really trying to go beyond advocacy and reach out to the community by having social events,” Ferrell said.
Contact reporter Chase Brightwell at firstname.lastname@example.org