By Matt Constas and Sam Kuperman
For the eighth straight year, Ithaca College has made Campus Pride Index’s list of the most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) friendly campuses in the United States. According to their website, Campus pride states its purpose as a guide for campuses to match the increasing demand for tools and resources to support campuses in assessing LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs and practices.
Luca Maurer; the Program Director at the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services at Ithaca College, noted how these rankings are getting tougher and tougher every year. “The criteria has gotten harder as time goes along and the bar is being set higher,” he said. A similar message was also relayed by Shane Windmeyer; the Executive Director of Campus Pride, via a press release, when the rankings first came out. “As time goes on, the needs of LGBTQ college and university students change,” Windmeyer said. “Therefore, we have updated our Campus Pride Index assessment to reflact that, with higher standards for campuses and a higher focus on trans and gender nonconforming students.”
Since 2007, Campus Pride has looked into a variety of subcategories and has rated colleges based on how well college and university campuses accommodate their LGBTQ students. This year, there were 95 questions pertaining to eight LGBTQ related categories; policy inclusion, support & institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing and residence life, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts.
Maurer said, for example, a question on the index could be as specific as; “do more than 50 percent of your academic buildings had at least one gender-neutral bathroom?” This is a requirement that IC meets.
Both Maurer and Bonny Prunty, the Director of Residential Life and Judicial Affairs at IC, are writing a chapter in a book explaining their methods for housing transgender students. “It (the book) is about how it was that we came to formulate our transgender housing policy more than 10 years ago,” Maurer said. “We did this at a time when other campuses weren’t doing it and now they want to learn from us.”
Since coming to Ithaca College in 2001, Maurer has helped the LGBTQ education program on campus evolve into what it is today. As Maurer reflects on his first few meetings, he mentions that, “Very few people came to my meetings to say that this was a bad idea. People had their hesitations, but nothing was negative. People wanted to do the right thing, they just didn’t know how.”
In addition to the resource room, students have been able to maintain four on-campus initiatives representing different aspects of LGBTQ education and support. Erin Kohler, a sophomore music education and viola performance major, is president of Spectrum; the bisexual and middle of identities group. Kohler mentioned that being a member of the LGBTQ community at a new school was overwhelming last year, but joining Spectrum helped make the transition easier.
“It was somewhere I could go and have all these cool people to talk to about being queer and that understood where I was coming from,” Kohler said.
This movement goes beyond students and staff, as school president Tom Rochon has also been apart of the efforts. Rochon has attended events such as the Rainbow Ceremony for graduating LGBTQ students and was the welcoming speaker.
“I am very appreciative of how supportive President Rochon has been of LGBT services since he has gotten here,” Maurer said. “He knew we had gotten a high score, but it wasn’t perfect, so he asked ‘why don’t we have it? What can we do to make it perfect?’”
Even though Ithaca College’s inclusive atmosphere is so highly regarded, there is still much room for improvement. Says Kohler: “I think education-wise people need to learn that there’s more to it than marriage equality. There are still people getting discriminated against; getting fired from their jobs and getting turned away from restaurants.”