Published June 26, 2017
For UB staff member Krissy Costanzo, the LGBTQ experience “at times can feel like being part of an invisible minority group.”
In particular, “It can be tricky navigating the workplace when you are not ‘out’ professionally,” says Costanzo, director of resource management for the School of Public Health and Health Professions. “Having a visible group of LGBTQ employees on campus who could serve as mentors and role models would have really helped me starting out,” she says. “There was a need to develop this sense of community on campus, and I realized it was up to us to do it.”
So Costanzo, along with Ben Fabian, Jessica Baker and other employees at UB, formed the LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Association (FSA).
“UB has many LGBTQ employees, but few resources for connecting us across three campuses,” says Baker, associate counsel in the SUNY Office of General Counsel at UB. “There was instant interest in forming this association among a core group of LGBTQ staff and faculty.”
Similar to UB’s Minority Faculty & Staff Association, which promotes participation and inclusion of people of color in the UB workforce, the mission of the LGBTQ FSA is to contribute to and support a welcoming and inclusive UB community for LGBTQ faculty and staff members, Baker explains.
“By promoting community-building and visibility, and providing access to information resources on campus and in the larger Western New York community, the LGBTQ FSA serves as an asset to all members seeking to connect with each other, without regard to social identity or sexual orientation,” Baker says.
Costanzo points out that higher education research shows that faculty diversity is beneficial to students’ educational experiences. And for LGBTQ students, “it can be very powerful to have a visible faculty/staff group on campus demonstrating what it looks like to be successful while celebrating our often diverse, but common LGBT heritage,” she says.
“But more importantly, when people ask, ‘Why do you need a Pride parade?’ or ‘Why do you need a LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Association?’ I remind them that even though it seems we have made some progress, there is still so much work to be done,” Costanzo says. She cites the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12 and the murders this year of 13 transgender people — all transgender people of color — with the most recent victim 28-year-old Kendra Marie Adams, who was killed on June 13 in Ithaca.
“It is our responsibility more than ever to demonstrate our deepening commitment to supporting LGBTQ people — not our complacency.”
Ben Fabian, assistant director in the Office of Student Conduct and Advocacy, points out that UB’s status as the largest institution of higher education in the region, as well as the largest within SUNY, provides the university with an “awesome opportunity to set an example for how just, diverse and inclusive communities are created for everyone, including LGBTQ people.”
“A university that actively promotes these values is more likely to recruit and retain a diverse and talented student population, in addition to expert faculty and staff,” he says.
Terri Budek, associate director of UB’s Intercultural & Diversity Center, which supports LGBTQ student at UB, says groups like the LGBTQ FSA are important to the university’s efforts in promoting diversity and inclusion on campus. “When members of an underrepresented or marginalized community enter into a new space, it is very important that groups like the LGBTQ FSA are identified and visible,” Budek says. “It brings awareness that certain populations exist on our campus and hopefully demonstrates a commitment to building a welcoming community for all.”
The LGBTQ FSA currently has a membership of more than 65, and membership is open to all UB faculty and staff, regardless of their social identity or orientation.
Open membership is key, Costanzo says, because “everyone at UB should have a stake in contributing to a diverse community on campus.” The LGBTQ FSA is committed to promoting a campus climate that is “sensitive, representative and fair to all LGBTQ people,” she says. The group helps faculty develop pedagogical approaches that are sensitive to diverse sexual identities and orientation, seeks support from and offers guidance to the UB administration on issues affecting the well-being of LGBTQ people, and provides “that much-needed sense of community” that ideally will lead to increased retention of LGBTQ employees.
“In order to achieve these things, it does not require one to identify as a LGBTQ person. But it will require the participation and support of those who do not,” Costanzo says. “We need everyone to contribute.”
The group is working this summer to raise its profile in the UB community and to offer more unique opportunities for LGBTQ colleagues to connect with one another, Fabian says.
The group meets on the second Wednesday of every month from 4-5 p.m. in various locations across the campuses. Meeting are open to all, and the group operates a website and a listserv for FSA members and others interested in the group’s activities.
The FSA recently partnered with the Pride Center of WNY for a “meet up” at the center’s “Out for Business” networking event. The group also has sponsored a speaker’s series and joined with UB Athletics for a night at a women’s basketball game coordinated by FSA member Kelly Cruttenden, associate athletic director.
Costanzo says establishing the LGBTQ FSA would not have been possible without the collective efforts of its members, noting in particular the work of the group’s Steering Committee, which met monthly, beginning in 2014, and worked collaboratively to develop the group’s mission, vision and goals.
“The group would not be where it is today without the many people across the university who volunteered their time and believed in the value of forming this community,” she says.