News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After UT Arlington quietly ends LGBTQ+ programs, students demand answers

A UT-Arlington pride sign near the campus liberty on Jan. 25, 2024.
Juan Salinas II
/
KERA
A UT-Arlington pride sign near the campus liberty on Jan. 25, 2024

Students at the University of Texas at Arlington are looking for answers after the school quietly disbanded its LGBTQ+ program.

In order to comply with a new state law banning DEI offices at public universities and colleges in Texas, UTA restructured some of its administrative offices.

But student employees of the now disbanded LGBTQ+ program say after university officials told them UTA would find a way to maintain it under Senate Bill 17, they removed the program entirely at the last minute.

“To be quite frank, it feels like (UTA) is abandoning their queer students,” said Ryan Hoffman, who works as a UTA pride peer offering guidance to LGBTQ+ students

Hoffman said he was informed by his supervisor that there were multiple meetings during which UTA “higher-ups” repeatedly assured his supervisor that the campus would find a way to keep the LGBTQ program, which provided health services, counseling, and similar resources related to DEI. It also gave students a sense of community on campus, Hoffman said.

School officials floated several ideas, according to Hoffman, such as continuing the program – which was housed under Student Affairs – under a different department or rebranding it to “Maverick Pride Initiative.” But as the spring semester started, school officials informed Hoffman and other student workers that the program was disbanded, he said.

“Even my boss did not know until the last week of class in December,” Hoffman said.

The campus LGBTQ+ program webpage, where students could find resources and upcoming events, is now broken.

UTA did not respond to students’ claims that they were caught off guard by the program’s ending, but told KERA services will now be offered through the newly created Intercultural Student Engagement Center.

“The Center was created in collaboration with the Division of Student Affairs in an effort to comply with SB 17,” chief communications officer Joe Carpenter wrote in an email. “In addition to launching new student engagement programming, the ISEC now provides student support services for the entire UTA student population, including those students previously served by the LGBTQIA+ program. In compliance with SB 17, students also have the support of a number of LGBTQIA-focused student-led groups that provide resources and assistance.”

Last fall, UTA President Jennifer Cowley updated students and faculty on how the school would comply with SB17. For example, UTA renamed its Office of Talent, Culture and Inclusion to the Office of Talent, Culture, and Engagement to focus on engagement and belonging.

However, the campus-wide email didn’t mention changes to LGBTQ+ resources.

Pride peers are no longer allowed to promote themselves openly and can’t do school events alone, and an outside grant must fund events, Hoffman said. He and other pride peers contacted the campus’s Progressive Student Union to help spread awareness of the sudden backtrack.

It was very abrupt,” said PSU president Michael Anderson, who organized a small protest on campus this week. “This is the first time we heard about this.”

At the same time as the protest, the school was hosting a campus activity fair – where pride peers were given a script to talk about the changes to the now barebone program.

“The LGBTQ+ program has been completely disbanded as a result of SB17. Us pride peers and many of the services that were offered by the old program will continue to be offered through the Intercultural Student Engagement Center!” the script reads. “However, this isn’t just a rename, we still continue to do all that we can to support UTA’s students as much as we can while using solutions that remain compliant with SB17!”

Hoffman said the school is downplaying the changes it has made to comply with SB17.

“It felt like I was lying to people for an hour straight,” Hoffman said.

Anderson with the Progressive Student Union said services the LGBTQ+ program provided are essential to students who are now at risk without them. He pointed to how the University of Texas at Dallas and other schools in the UT system still have their LGBTQ+ programs in some capacity.

“It shows a severe lack of care on the [UTA] administration's part,” he said.

Anderson said he wants UTA to own its decision to remove the program and be more proactive in helping LGBTQ+ students find services and resources.

Hoffman, the pride peer, said he wished school officials had been transparent about their decision to remove the program entirely and tried harder to keep it on campus somehow.

“This is incredibly important to me,” Hoffman said. “I'm not going to be quiet about this.”

Juan Salinas II is a KERA news intern. Got a tip? Email Juan at jsalinas@kera.org. You can follow Juan on X @4nsmiley

Juan Salinas II is currently studying journalism at UT-Arlington. He is a transfer student from TCC, where he worked at the student newspaper, The Collegian, and his reporting has also appeared in Central Track, D Magazine, The Shorthorn and other Texas news outlets.