Choosing a college as an LGBTQ student poses unique challenges. About 23% of LGBTQ students are more likely to experience harassment and are less likely to feel comfortable on campus than their non-LGBTQ peers, according to a survey by Campus Pride.
To help LGBTQ students and their allies select a college where they’ll feel welcome, comfortable, and safe, several publications release annual rankings of the best colleges for LGBTQ students.
But what makes some schools more LGBTQ-friendly than others?
According to the Campus Pride Index—Campus Pride’s tool for helping colleges and universities become more LGBTQ-inclusive—LGBTQ-friendliness can be broken down into eight factors. Using these guidelines, I analyzed the methodology of five of the most popular rankings for LGBTQ-friendly colleges to determine what resources, services, and policies the most inclusive colleges have on campus.
LGBTQ support and institutional commitment
Great Value Colleges argues that inclusivity is best understood by how colleges and universities “teach acceptance and understanding for all people.” What is an institution’s level of commitment in ensuring all students feel safe, accepted, and comfortable on campus? Even more, how are institutions teaching those outside of the LGBTQ community about awareness, acceptance, and respect for all students, faculty, and staff?
LGBTQ student life
The Princeton Review measures inclusivity based on how strongly students agree that their peers treat all individuals on campus equally, regardless of gender identity or expression. And the College Consensus ranking suggests that a vibrant LGBTQ student life is essential, and a vocal, well-promoted campus pride organization or network shows that campus leaders are at least tolerant of their LGBTQ student population.
But to really gauge how welcoming an institution is, prospective students should look at campus policy, according to College Consensus.
LGBTQ policy inclusion
Nearly all of the publications look for explicit non-discrimination policies when ranking institutions for LGBTQ-friendliness. For example, the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses lay out clear penalties for hate speech, discrimination, and abuse (including faculty abuse of power in the classroom).
Beyond non-discrimination policies, the most inclusive campuses also have policies surrounding language. Is there inclusive and/or gender-neutral language in the student handbook and throughout campus resources? Are students easily able to change their name or pronouns in an institution’s database? Even more, are there policies in place to ensure faculty and staff call students by the appropriate name and use the correct pronouns?
Similar to LGBTQ policy inclusion, nearly every publication looks for gender-inclusive or gender neutral dorms and housing options. For instance, transgender students should have the option of living in a dorm where they feel safe and comfortable.
The most inclusive colleges also have gender-inclusive facilities, including gender-neutral bathrooms, on campus. For transgender and gender non-conforming students, gender-neutral bathrooms represent safety, as these students may experience harassment or emotional distress when using gendered restrooms, writes practice manager Ann Forman Lippens for EAB‘s Facilities Forum.
LGBTQ academic life
It’s important for LGBTQ students to see themselves represented on campus, according to the publications. And this representation often comes in the form of academics, such as LGBTQ classes and majors.
For example, San Diego State University offers a degree in LGBT studies. And at the University of Washington (UW), students can earn a Gender and Sexuality Studies degree or enroll in courses that explore intersectionality in LGBTQ issues.
Several campuses also have LGBTQ academic resources. For instance, the University of Oregon invites students to join the LGBTQIA+ Scholars program, a residential community that requires each community member to take one course together per term. And UW students outside of the LGBTQ degree program can still enjoy LGBTQ resources such as the Queer Mentoring Program or the Marsha P. Johnson Memorial Library (named for the gay liberation activist and prominent figure in the 1969 Stonewall uprising).
LGBTQ campus safety
According to the latest U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly a quarter (24%) of transgender students whose school communities knew they were transgender reported being verbally, physically, or sexually harassed. Of that percentage, 16% reported having left college or vocational school on account of the harassment.
Therefore, campus safety is a vital component of a LGBTQ-friendly campus. In fact, the College Choice ranking lists active campus safety trainings and procedures as a top indicator that a school is LGBTQ-friendly. At Columbia University (CU), for example, students can participate in CU Safe Zone, a three-hour training for LGBTQ students and allies to promote safety on campus.
LGBTQ counseling and health
Because LGBTQ youth are more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to experience trauma and abuse, robust mental health resources and LGBTQ-specific health care options are vital. In fact, the College Choice ranking lists LGBTQ-specific counseling services as one of the top three resources a campus must have to be considered LGBTQ-friendly.
For example, in addition to offering mental health resources for LGBTQ students, Pomona College‘s Queer Resource Center holds “Drop in Hours” a few times each week so that students can “stop by for informal counseling regarding coming out, issues with sexual orientation or gender identity, guidance on LGBTQ-related research and navigating queer life on campus.”
Several campuses, such as Pennsylvania State University, also offer health insurance plans that provide hormone therapy and surgery as part of students’ regular coverage.
LGBTQ recruitment and retention efforts
Students can likely gauge an institution’s commitment to recruiting and retaining LGBTQ students by whether or not the institution offers LGBTQ-specific scholarships, according to the publications.
For example, Emory University commits $6,000 to LGBT students annually as part of its three scholarships and leadership funding options. And Northern Arizona University (NAU) is currently building a scholarship fund for active members of the LGBTQ community on campus. NAU also has an “Out and Proud” list, which provides the names, titles, and contact information for faculty and staff on campus. Both efforts demonstrate the university’s commitment to ensuring LGBTQ students feel supported on campus.
Sources: Campus Pride Index site, accessed 9/4/19; College Choice ranking, accessed 9/5/19; College Consensus ranking, accessed 9/5/19; Great Value Colleges ranking, accessed 9/5/19; Princeton Review ranking, accessed 9/5/19; EAB research, 1/14/16
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