Angela Nichols is the woman behind the curtain. As the only full-time staff member working at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) GLBT Services Office, she took nothing and created near perfection. She recently spoke about what it’s like at UMD—past and present.
As Nichols recalls, “Basically it was uncharted territory. I had a really warm welcome by the GLBT community, and a lot of the staff and faculty said it was about time that UMD hired a GLBT Director.”
With the help of only one part-time student, Nichols heads the Services Office.
Last year, UMD received a 4.5 out of 5 on the GLBT Friendly Campus Climate Index—a huge achievement for any school. The index has a series of questions asking everything from housing policies and health services to police training and having a full-time GLBT services staff member.
Nichols points out where UMD came short of a perfect 5: “We weren’t able to [check off] for police training and health service forms for transgender people. We’ve since changed the forms, and did a training on trans health care.”
Natalie Klueg, Student Chairperson of the Queer and Allied Students Union, says, “I know that any time I am faced with a campus policy that isn’t inclusive of the GLBT population, GLBT Services is there to help me challenge that policy, and put in the work to make change and always work to improve the campus climate.”
Nichols is proud of the work she has accomplished so far, noting, “When I first started, I had what I called the first round of hate mail, then it calmed down. It’s pretty widely known that UMD doesn’t put up with any harassment.”
Today, UMD has instituted a new housing policy. Unlike Lavender House at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where all the students live on a single floor together, the UMD policy allows student to live where they wish.
“Students can indicate anywhere on the housing application [that that have a GLBT preference], and one person from resident life and I pair up students who ask for this type of housing. Students were informally asked what they thought of a floor, and they didn’t want that. They didn’t want to be all strung together,” Nichols explains.
But housing and a harassment-free environment aren’t all that Nichols has achieved in short eight years. She also helps students apply for scholarships and grants that are specific to GLBT students—something many wouldn’t even know existed without her help.
Nichols acknowledges that this assistance is not exclusive to UMD, but, in her words, “it does give people an idea where to look for money for school.”
Being different is never easy, but UMD makes it as easy as possible.
Klueg finds that UMD is a great place for GLBT students, commenting, “That we have a GLBT Services office, and a paid staff member to run it, is a huge help to the students at UMD. That office works tirelessly to make sure that UMD is an inclusive and welcoming environment for GLBTA students. We are extremely lucky, and the students know it. Our campus has been doing a lot of work to alleviate the stress of on-campus living for GLBT students. I would love to see even more progress in that direction, as I feel it’s a very large issue on campuses everywhere.”
Nichols remarks, “My goal when I started was to put myself out of a job. I think, though, that we will always have things to deal with, and people to educate, and this is a great place to do it. I don’t think our movement has reached its peak.”