August 29, 2012

Campus Acceptance of LGBT Students Debated After C.U. Earns High Ranking

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In a list released by The Huffington Post Aug. 21, Cornell nabbed a spot on Campus Pride’s list of the 25 most “LGBT-Friendly Colleges and Universities in the United States” — a selection some student leaders in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community called a mark of the success of University policies, while others cautioned that Cornell has a long way to go to earn the distinction.

Campus Pride — a national non-profit organization that seeks to make U.S. colleges safer for LGBT students — compiled the list using a five-star rating system to rank universities in several categories related to the quality of LGBT student life.

Cornell was given an overall five-star rating and was awarded five stars in five of the seven categories: LGBT support and institutional commitment; academic life; student life; LGBT campus safety; and LGBT counseling and health.

The University did not score as high in “LBGT policy inclusion” and “housing and residential life,” scoring four and half stars in each. Several leaders of LGBT student groups attributed this drop-off in part to Cornell’s lack of gender neutral and transgender housing.

While a number of LGBT students and student leaders concurred with Campus Pride’s generally high praises, others said the high ratings — and the University policies that they are associated with — do not accurately depict the social environment on Cornell’s campus.Anthony Santa Maria ’14, treasurer of Haven, the LGBTQ student union, said that LGBT-friendly policies at Cornell do not necessarily translate into an LGBT-friendly environment. He added that despite University policies, he has not always felt that his sexual orientation was accepted at Cornell.“Campus climate is super important,” Santa Maria said. “As a transfer from Tufts [University], I totally agree that Cornell has way better policies in place, but I still felt more socially comfortable there.”Dean Iwaoka ’13, LGBTQ liaison at-large to the Student Assembly, suggested that although University policies regarding LGBTQ students are “great steps in the right direction,” true safety and inclusion is ultimately reliant on individual students being willing to take advantage of the programs offered.“I think The [Huffington Post] article did a very nice job of summarizing briefly some of the successes of what our community has on campus and what the University has done to support that,” Iwaoka said. “But I also think that there are examples of the failures in the system, and I think that those failures are more a product of individual students not taking advantage of the great programs that Cornell has to offer and also in some ways not recognizing the great diversity that Cornell has.”Other students countered that they believed widespread acceptance of LGBT students at Cornell is in fact reflective of the University policies and programs rated highly by Campus Pride.Emily Bick ’13, president of Haven, cited her own experiences, saying she has never received negative reactions from classmates about her sexual orientation. She called the administration and the student body “very, very open.”“I think, student-wise, the population is very open and accepting, and I think that reflects young people today. And I think more importantly, the administration is just as open and accepting,” Bick said.Still, Bick noted the need for increased awareness of issues she said are frequently misunderstood — such as transgender and neutral-gender housing — as well as awareness about issues related to transgendered and bisexual people.“So there’s quite a bit of work that needs to be done in terms of awareness, but I think that at Cornell it is one of the best places … around the country to go to school. We’re constantly improving,” Bick said.Iwaoka said that although there are “tons of people [at Cornell] who need to work to create the safe and supportive environment that all students deserve,” he still thinks that Cornell is far ahead of other campuses in its current efforts.“We have a lot of progressive and forward-thinking legislation, it’s just there’s always more you can do,” he said. “We’re still a long way, but in a lot of ways we are miles ahead of other places — universities, cities, wherever.”Matthew Carcella, associate dean of students and director of the LGBT Resource Center, said that while he was happy that Cornell was named on the list, “we still have areas in which to improve.”“We’re moving in a very good direction, and so I would hope that we will be able to maintain our status in the years to come,” he said.

Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak