October 31, 2007

C.U. Given High Rating for LGBT Policies on Campus

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Cornell received high marks for its policies regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues earlier this month from a new national index that evaluates colleges and universities on a range of criteria.
Campus Pride’s first-ever “LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index” gave Cornell an overall score of 4.5 stars out of a possible five. The survey measured LGBT inclusion based on eight specific factors ranging from institutional commitment to student life to campus safety. Cornell received the highest score in all areas except “housing and residence life” and “recruitment and retention efforts,” in which the University scored three out of five and 3.5 out of five, respectively.
“Cornell has done very well in supportive policies. We have a lot of tolerance and a fair amount of acceptance,” said Gwendolyn Dean, director of the LGBT resource center.
Cornell ranked equal to Princeton University, slightly below the University of Pennsylvania (5 out of 5) and above Yale University (3.5 out of 5).
Dean, who submitted information about Cornell to Campus Pride for the index, said the University’s ranking is important “because Cornell has a commitment to diversity and that includes the LGBT community. It’s good to recognize that, and it’s good to let prospective students know that.”
“We are happy to be included on the Campus Pride LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index. Creating, maintaining and improving an environment of inclusiveness and mutual respect is a key mission at Cornell,” Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for Student and Academic Services, stated in a press release.
Campus Pride, a South Carolina-based non-profit LGBT advocacy group, spent about five years developing and testing the web-based “Campus Climate Index” with LGBT experts and college administrators. Since the assessment launched in September, 120 schools have participated, according to Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride.
“Taking responsibility is just as important as already having a gay-friendly environment,” he said.
By participating in the index, “a campus is coming out of the closet” itself by acknowledging that it wants to evaluate its policies and try to become more accepting, Windmeyer added.
In addition to feedback for school administrators, the index also provides information to prospective students seeking a campus that is accepting of the LGBT community.
“Colleges are seeing it as a way to recruit LGBT students,” he said.
The index, in which Cornell scored the lowest on housing issues, came several weeks after the S.A. debated and approved a proposal to make gender-neutral housing available on campus.
Dean said that she welcomes gender-neutral housing as an option for students, but would not like to see all trans-gendered students limited to one housing option as appropriate solutions vary widely from case to case.
Dean said she was unsure how the index might shape future administrative or University policy.
The index was compiled by analyzing schools’ answers to a self-reporting survey of over 50 questions. The topics ranged from inquiries about insurance benefits for same-sex partners and University personnel to more general questions about the language administrators use when discussing diversity.
“The assessment doesn’t measure the attitudes or perceptions of the people at these colleges,” Windmeyer acknowledged, “but it definitely gets campuses on the right path.”
Windmeyer said that his organization’s index is more accurate than other listings because of the range of questions it asks schools. The Princeton Review, for example, asks only one question about LGBT issues, he said.
Campus Pride provides schools with a personalized, confidential report based on its questionnaire responses that include recommendations.
For lower-scoring schools, these recommendations often include appointing a faculty advisor and appropriating adequate funding for the LGBT group. For higher-scoring schools, like Cornell, the reports emphasizes continued LGBT acceptance.
“A five-star campus is going to be challenged to not rest on its laurels,” Windmeyer said.
For instance, these schools can attend LGBT college admissions fairs, he said. On Dec. 1, Campus Pride will host such a fair at the University of Pennsylvania that is expected to draw between 200 and 300 students. Windmeyer said Cornell had not yet registered for this event.
Dean also recognized the need to bridge the disconnect between Cornell’s LGBT-friendly policy and the community’s acceptance of LGBT students on an individual basis. To actualize the policies, Dean emphasized “lots of education, lots of publicity and lots of programming.” The LGBT resource center has scheduled a workshop for allies of LGBT students for next semester.