A Rainbow of College Choices

It seems that deciding which college is best for gay students goes beyond the usual questions of affordable or not, private or public, close to home or far away, and Big Ten or Big East. It also involves finding out which colleges are considered most sensitive to LGBT concerns.

This week's “My Story” section in Newsweek focused on the plight of freelance journalist Julie Halpert's lesbian daughter as she narrowed down her college choices. Halpert also managed to imply that police officers and Marines are homophobes in her exploration of the topic.

Halpert used unfortunate incidents that LBGT high school students experienced as a way to illustrate the need for LGBT-tailored policies in colleges. She highlighted 25-year-old Jacob Weldon, “who became estranged from his parents during his senior year in high school after he told his father, a police officer and former Marine, that he was gay. (He's now reconciled with him.)" Halpert continued, “Growing up in a conservative town in Texas, he became accustomed to having “fag” scrawled across his windshield.”

To be fair, Halpert did also cite sexually orientated prejudice in the “liberal community of Ann Arbor, Mich.” However, while detailing Yoni Siden's experience of coming out to his parents “three years ago” and having “been called a 'faggot' since the sixth grade,” Halpert did not feel it necessary to include the occupations of Siden's presumably accepting parents.

In addition to bashing conservatives, Halpert highlighted the Climate Index, a project of the gay activist nonprofit organization Campus Pride. She labeled it as “a way to allow colleges to connect with openly gay students.” According to the Index Web site, it is “vital tool for assisting campuses in learning ways to improve their LGBT campus life and ultimately shape the educational experience to be more inclusive, welcoming and respectful of LGBT and Ally people.”

Colleges and universities voluntarily answer a set of questions about their polices, procedures and academic programs regarding LGBT issues. But a quick look at the questions reveal that Campus Pride may be more about indoctrination than inclusiveness. 

Following is an example of the questions the Index asks schools:

    Does your campus prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression by including the words “gender identity” or “gender identity or expression” in its primary non-discrimination statement or Equal Employment Opportunity policy? Does your campus have a full-time professional staff member who is employed to support LGBT students and increase campus awareness of LGBT concerns/issues as 50% or more of the individual's job description? Does your campus have a standing advisory committee that deals with LGBT issues similar to other standing committees on ethnic minority/multicultural issues that advises the administration on constituent group issues and concerns? Does your campus provide gender-neutral/single occupancy restroom facilities in administrative and academic buildings? Does your campus integrate LGBT issues into existing courses when appropriate? Does your campus include sexual orientation issues in new faculty/staff programs and training opportunities? Does your campus include gender identity/expression issues in new faculty/staff programs and training opportunities? Does your campus regularly offer activities and events to increase awareness of the experiences and concerns of transgender people? Does your campus enable transgender students to be housed in keeping with their gender identity/expression? Does your campus offer LGBT students a way to be matched with a LGBT-friendly roommate in applying for campus housing? Does your campus provide on-going training on LGBT issues and concerns for residence life professional and student staff at all levels? Does your campus offer individual counseling for students that is sensitive and affirming for (supportive) LGBT issues/concerns? Does your campus actively distribute condoms and LGBT-inclusive information on HIV/STD/STI services and resources? Does your campus actively seek to recruit and retain LGBT students, similar to other targeted populations (e.g. ethnic/multicultural students, athletes, international students)? Does your campus include sexual orientation issues in new student orientation programs?

Every student on a college campus deserves to obtain an education without the added stress of facing verbal or physical harassment no matter what his or her ethnicity/race/religion or sexual orientation. Coerced compliance from schools to indoctrinate the other students is not the way to protect minority students from harassment.

Halpert stated, “On top of the standard academic criteria, [LGBT students are] seeking a place that provides a safe, accepting environment that allows them the chance to be themselves and find others like them—something many couldn't find in high school.”

Isn't that true of any college-bound student?

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.