August 28, 2014

Students Contest Campus LGBT Ranking

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While Cornell’s recent rating as a Top 50 LGBT-friendly campus has received positive press and promotion in local news and social media, some Cornellians — particularly leaders within the LGBT community — question how the rating was assessed and the message it conveys to new students.

The list, which also features Ithaca College in the top 50, was compiled by Campus Pride, a national non-profit aimed at providing a safer college environment for LGBT students, according to its website.

Cornell received an overall rating of five out of five stars on Campus Pride’s online index, which ranks schools based on criteria such as campus safety and counseling and health services.

Though a spot on the Campus Pride index is often cited by colleges and universities in promotional materials, some within the Cornell community question the high value placed on this system of rating.

“One can’t encapsulate the queer experience with a checklist,” said Jevan Hutson ’16, President of HAVEN, a student administrative umbrella for many LGBT social and support groups on campus. “Cornell would have definitely received a different ranking if it were gauged in a more student-centric fashion.”

A September 2013 report on the survey prepared by Institutional Research and Planning concluded that Cornell students “identifying as queer reported the highest incidence of feeling insulted or threatened.” The report also observed that “compared to heterosexual peers, students reporting other sexual

orientations felt less safe and less valued at Cornell.”

Abu Yusif Habib ’15 said he does not believe Cornell “or any other school” deserves a five star ranking for LGBT friendliness.

“[While] Gay and lesbian students … have certainly become a lot more accepted and integrated into the mainstream Cornell culture, the same cannot be said for transgender people or people who otherwise choose not to conform to identify by the gender assigned to them at birth,” Habib said. “For queer people of color, they face a double whammy because they are oppressed on multiple fronts as a result of their gender/sexual identifications and behaviors as well as their belonging to particular ‘race’ or ethnic community.”

Hutson agreed that the University has more work ahead in order to deserve a perfect ranking.

“Cornell has done quite a bit and the support they give our organization is substantial; however, I wish Cornell and other universities were more excited to be as actively involved in queer communities as they were to post Campus Pride’s rankings,” Hutson said.

Despite criticism of the rating, Arthur Peterson ’15, vice president of HAVEN, said he does not see it as an impediment to continued change and progress within the Cornell community.

“Campus Pride’s ranking will not lead to complacency,” Peterson said. “I do not believe that the ranking will substantially impact Cornell’s queer culture. I imagine that it will foster continued debate around the strength and character of our queer community.”

Habib, however, said the way “LGBT-friendliness” is defined remains a central issue.

“[People] fail to consider that what some queer people on this campus desire is an end to heteronormativity as a system, an end to a gender binary system which oppresses both ‘men’ and ‘women,’” he said. “We want a Cornell where we do not feel pressured to conform to society’s expectations of us … a Cornell that addresses racial and class oppression.”