MSU set yet another enrollment record this past fall, with 15,688 students in attendance. From parking to infrastructure to faculty planning, the University’s growth has brought with it an onslaught of challenges. One of those challenges is diversity, and students are stepping up across campus to create a better environment for all minority students. A student organization that has been particularly courageous, bold and successful in their efforts is the Queer Straight Alliance (QSA).
QSA is “30 years in the making … a student-run organization devoted to developing community, fostering education, and empowering action.” Their mission statement continues, “We are made of diverse individuals who share the belief that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender person is an equal member of the MSU community.”
We live in a vastly complex social institution, the intricacies of which I have just begun to comprehend. Here’s where I’m at so far: to be a member of the university community can come with great privilege. On the flipside, to be an out member of the LGBTQIA+ community can come with great marginalization. According to a campus climate survey conducted by Ariel Donohue, Program Manager of the Diversity Awareness Office, a staggering 25 percent of respondents “reported that they had personally experienced hostile, intimidating or offensive conduct at MSU.” A large portion of those respondents were members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Marginalization is a human rights issue, and studies such as this climate survey clearly demonstrate that marginalization is an issue that is actively, directly and negatively affecting MSU students. QSA’s actions this year and in years past extend well beyond merely changing campus culture or succeeding as a student organization. Their demands to Montana State University have set in motion institutional changes that are necessary as MSU forges its identity in the 21st century.
But further — beyond changing campus identity — QSA’s actions tap into the original purpose of a land-grant institution. From helping rally to pass non-discrimination ordinances across the entire state of Montana, drawing attention from human rights workers in places like the Department of Justice to then bringing that passion back home to MSU for practical and necessary changes such as gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms, the greater impact of their actions is massive.
In his executive order prohibiting discrimination in state employment and contracts, Gov. Steve Bullock wrote, “Whereas four of Montana’s largest communities have taken steps to expand workplace, housing, and public accommodations protections for LGBT residents and visitors … I, Steve Bullock, Governor of the State of Montana … Do hereby order and direct the Department of Administration … to develop and implement policies necessary to ensure that all persons employed or served by state government are afforded equal opportunity, without discrimination, based upon any of the above classes.” The Bozeman Non-Discrimination Ordinance had an undeniable impact on Gov. Bullock’s Executive Order, and QSA at MSU should proudly put their name on that.
In her address to the Gallatin County Commissioners on Feb. 23, President Waded Cruzado said that the purpose of the land grant institutions is to educate the sons and daughters of the state, and that those who founded land grant institutions “envisioned a better and brighter future through education.” Students in QSA have tackled that mission head-on, plunging through the complex intersectionalities of identity that come with being an LGBTQIA+ university student and ultimately making Montana a much better place to live. I thank them for that, and cannot wait to see how they continue to make Montana better in the coming years.