App State faculty hosts panel for LGBTQ+ community


Zoey Sigmon, Reporter

App State faculty hosted a panel for the LGBTQ+ community Oct. 12, discussing their experiences as community members at the university and hopes for the future. 

Kristen Benson, associate professor and faculty director for LGBTQ+ communities through the office of diversity, hosted the event intending to present “visibility and amplify voices.”

Benson said the event with a focus on sexual orientation and gender identity is titled “We’re Here: LGBTQ+ Communities at App State,” is part of a “larger series” led by Jamie Parsons, the Chief Diversity Officer. Benson said these events intend to “amplify voices that sometimes don’t have as much voice.”

“We wanted to very intentionally have a faculty member, a staff person, a graduate student, an undergraduate, to talk from the perspective of all these different types of members of the App State community and what it’s like for them around this shared identity and various perspectives,” Benson said. 

Benson, who also shared her experiences with the panel as an alumna, said since returning to App State as a faculty member, she had seen a “real change” regarding the community’s on campus presence. Benson also noted a change within the student body, saying community member students can now speak for “what they need” rather than settling for what “they can get.”

“There’s a different kind of expectation, which is important because students should have access to whatever it is their needs are and get those needs met,” Benson said.

Benson said the numbers of incoming students indicate a “significantly larger” number of students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, with 20% having intersectional identities, according to Benson. 

“​​Visibility is important. Those connections are important,” Benson said. “I’m not a big believer that we need to have numbers in order to be inclusive, we just need to be inclusive and then the numbers can be wherever they are.”

Shanshan Lou is an associate professor and acting assistant chair in the Department of Communication. She was also a panelist at the event. Speaking from her advertising and marketing background, she said the difference between “being in the industry and being in academia” is “in the industry, people are very open about celebrating their identities on a regular basis.”

Lou said while she “loves that aspect about the industry,” she believes the university can do more to celebrate diversity. 

“I feel like the university might be able to do a bit more sort of like events, programs to have the variety of, I guess, celebrations that sort of tackle that,” Lou said. “We could invite speakers and leaders to be on this campus to do presentations at events so our community can be seen.”

Jax Lastinger, residence life coordinator, said they find it difficult in their position to “engage around these types of topics at a community level” due to the “political atmosphere that we’re in as an institution and as a system.” 

Lastinger said they hope for policy changes at the institutional and policy levels. 

“There’s a lot of work that can be done at the policy level that can make our students and our faculty and our staff’s experiences more enriching when it comes to the community,” Lastinger said. 

Benson also talked about her hopes for change at the university, saying part of her hopes are changes on campus and within the community. Benson said she believes there is “still a long way to go in our local community.”

“My hope is that our campus is more integrated with our local community and that more people vote in local elections because those make such a difference and have an impact on this campus as well,” Benson said.