College receive 5-star LGBT rating
By Felicia Schwartz, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, September 23, 2011
Following the five-star rating Dartmouth received from Campus Pride’s LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, members of the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual community on campus praise the College’s efforts to increase inclusivity but acknowledge that more work can be done to make the overall atmosphere on campus more accepting. Dartmouth was one of 33 U.S. schools to receive this ranking out of nearly 300 participating universities, Campus Pride, an online publication, reported on Aug. 25.
Students and faculty interviewed by The Dartmouth said that while the ranking reflects the positive steps that have been taken on campus, there is still much work to be done, particularly in the realms of Greek life, residential life, social spaces and availability of resources.
“As good as this feels and as good as it is, it is really imperative that we do not pat ourselves on the back for more than 30 seconds, and that we know that there are serious problems,” women and gender studies professor Michael Bronski said.
Before arriving to campus, prospective students can indicate an interest either in the LGBT community or gender identity on Dartmouth’s supplement to the Common Application. Allowing students to indicate such interests before arriving to campus allows interested students of any sexuality to receive information earlier in the admissions process instead of waiting for Dimensions weekend or matriculation, said former associate director of admissions Caroline Kerr ’05, who was instrumental in adding this choice to the supplement.
Dartmouth is one of the only schools in the country that allows students to indicate this type of preference on its application, Kerr said.
“I have to say that Dartmouth has really been a leader nationally — particularly within our peer group — in really thinking about doing comprehensive and specific outreach to LGBTQA students,” she said.
Although Kerr has left the Admissions Office, LGBT outreach remains a focus among her colleagues, she said.
“It reflects the lasting values of an institution when progressive work is not dependent upon any single individual, but becomes a permanent area of responsibility,” she said.
Since students’ sexuality does not necessarily determine whether they are interested in LGBT issues, it is important that all students have access to such information, Zack De ’12, president of Gender Sexuality XYZ at Dartmouth, said.
Students also have access to an LGBT resource room in Robinson Hall, gender-neutral housing options and specialized student-run organizations and projects, according to several students interviewed by The Dartmouth.
Organizations like OUTreach Peer Mentors and Gender Sexuality XYZ — which sends a group of students to the Ivy Q conference and hosts PRIDE week each year — both serve current students interested in the LGBT community. The Dartmouth Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni/ae Association is another important resource to the community, according to Stewart Towle ’12.
“That’s the thing that blows my mind about Dartmouth — how active our gay alumni are,” Towle said. “They’re the most active queer organization on campus.”
Academic resources play a key role in Dartmouth’s ability to address issues pertinent to the LGBT community, according to Pam Misener, who serves as the advisor to LGBT students.
Misener cited the women and gender studies program as a valuable source of information and intellectual exploration for students interested in gay issues on campus.
“We have the WGST courses, and there’s a growing number of classes where you can clearly see that sexuality and experiences relating to gender or something similar is a part of the class,” she said.
It is also important for the LGBT community to have access to faculty members specialized in issues they might be grappling with, Gus Ruiz Llopiz ’14 said. When Misener served as acting director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, many LGBT students found that it was difficult to “get a hold of her,” Ruiz Llopiz said.
“Members of the LGBT community were a little bit resentful and we wanted her back,” Llopiz said.
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson took over as acting director of OPAL after assuming her position in August, a change that has benefitted LGBT students, Llopiz added.
Misener said she wants to see more of the College’s budget allocated to LGBT students.
“Getting on the other side of the budget crisis and putting resources where we know we need to keep this work moving forward is going to be pretty important in this next year especially,” Misener said. “My hope is that students will demand it.”
Although Dartmouth scored highly in the Campus Climate Index, De said the dominance of Greek life on campus is still problematic for many students who identify as LGBT.
“The ranking doesn’t mirror a lot of other things going on on campus,” De said. “It doesn’t show what happens in frats or what’s happening for gender-queer people. How do they fit into frats and sororities when [the organizations] are labeled male or female?”
Towle agreed that the gender designations made by fraternities and sororities are challenging for some students to navigate.
“There’s no way to avoid the fact that gender-segregated Greek organizations are not helpful to the LGBT community,” he said. “There’s some good work going on in trying to make the fraternity scene safer for LGBT people.”
The degree to which LGBT students feel comfortable in Greek houses varies among different fraternities and sororities, according to Towle. One solution would be to make all Greek organizations accessible to anyone interested in joining, regardless of gender identification, De said.
“I don’t believe that frats and sororities can be queer-friendly unless they accept everyone who wants to join,” he said. “You can’t deny people the right to join a frat or sorority whether they have a penis, vagina or other genitalia.”
A significant complaint among LGBT students has been that they lack their own designated physical social space. The College recently approved an initiative to establish an LGBT affinity house and there is a committee currently searching for a location, Towle said.
“A well-established queer social space will make a big difference,” he said.
The timeline for building such a house is still being determined by “different groups at the College,” Justin Anderson, director of media relations for the College, said.
“It’s a project that’s on a list of projects that we hope to move, but the plans have not yet been finalized,” he said.
Students also face a limited LGBT-specific social scene on campus, according to Towle. Social events for gay males on campus primarily only take place once a term and “they’re kind of unofficial,” Ruiz Llopiz said. By contrast, Columbia University hosts a queer night every month, Ruis Llopiz said. The College should host “culturally queer social events” more regularly, Towle said.
“Every term, there’s a tails event for gay men and gay women,” he said. “Those are Dartmouth things with a queer body of people doing them.”
In the future, such events could include a drag ball, an event that used to occur regularly on campus but has disappeared in recent years, according to Towle.
Another problem for students who identify as transgender is the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, Towle said.
“For someone who is trans-identified and is going through a transition, [using the bathroom is] really stressful and awkward and difficult,” he said.