The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Allies in action

Two women walked past a man Thursday afternoon in Davies Center. The man looked at the women, then looked down to see that they were holding hands. He quickly averted his eyes.

Down the hall, two men ascended a flight of stairs hand-in-hand, drawing a sidelong glance from someone passing them on the staircase.

The two hand-holding couples were a part of a group of students participating in the “Being an Ally to the LGBT Community” workshop Thursday. The workshop was a part of the Human Rights Awareness Conference put on by Student Senate’s Student Life and Diversity Commission.

About 50 students packed into the Eagle Room in Davies Center to attend the workshop. Immediately, organizers asked attendees to hold hands with a member of the same sex and walk around Davies.

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The exercise reflected the conference’s theme of “Walking in Another’s Shoes,” and was designed to give heterosexual students an idea of how homosexual students are perceived.

Sophomore Leslie Klatt, who attended the workshop, said she made an effort to notice how people reacted when they saw her holding hands with another woman.

“I don’t know if people were purposely ignoring us or not,” she said. “I saw one guy look at our faces, look down at our hands and quickly look away.”

After the exercise, participants had a discussion about different problems with how heterosexual people react to people with a different sexual orientation. Student Life and Diversity Chair Lisa Huftel, Senate President Sarah Schuh and LGBT Issues Chair Kevin Taddonio moderated the workshop.

The purpose of the event, Huftel said, was to spread the message that being an ally means more than simply not being homophobic.

“Being an ally is all about taking action,” Huftel said. “I believe that students learned a lot about taking action.”

One of the ways discussed was to try to eliminate the derogatory use of words, such as “gay” and “fag.”

“People don’t understand what they’re saying when they say things like, ‘That’s so gay,'” Taddonio said in the workshop. “It would be no different from saying something like, ‘That’s so black.'”

Along with recognizing derogatory language, students discussed ways to make people aware of what their words could mean.

“When you’re walking around and hear somebody use that kind of language, call them on it,” Taddonio said. “It’s the only way to make change. Stand up and make them understand what they’re saying.”

Klatt, who attended along with her Women’s Studies 100 class, agreed with the message.

She said that to change a person’s attitude, you have to start simple.

The class helped the attendance nearly double what was expected for the workshop, but Huftel said she was “amazed” by the turnout for nearly all of the two-day conference’s events.

Some of the other Human Rights Awareness activities included the joint celebration of Ramadan and Hanukkah as well as a presentation about human rights in Iraq, which Huftel said was attended by about 120 students.

The workshop could have long-range effects as well. Schuh said Senate would be working with the campus to conduct a campus climate survey early in the spring semester.

The survey would try to determine what the atmosphere is like on campus for the LGBT community, Schuh said.

The Student Life and Diversity Commission is trying to start a domestic partner benefits package at UW-Eau Claire, Huftel said.

This would allow domestic partners of federal employees to be granted the same benefits available to spouses of federal employees.

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