WUSTL scores top ratings as LGBT-friendly campus

For the second year in a row, Washington University in St. Louis has received the top rating in the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, published annually by Campus Pride.

Washington University was one of 33 schools, out of about 300 participants, to receive the five-star rating. The index is a national assessment tool for assisting campuses in improving the environment for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campus community and ultimately shaping the educational experience to be more inclusive, welcoming and respectful.

The index was developed by a team of national LGBT researchers and an advisory board that includes representatives of the Consortium of LGBT Resources in Higher Education and the Human Rights Campaign.

“I think it’s a nice recognition for work that’s been done by a whole variety of people, be it faculty, staff, students,” says Jill Carnaghi, associate vice chancellor for students and dean of Campus Life. “It really is a university effort. However, what’s more important is that we continue to build and sustain an undergraduate experience for members of the LGBT community that’s excellent in quality and welcoming and supportive of them, so they can get involved in all aspects of the university.”

WUSTL received five stars in the categories of Overall Campus Climate, Sexual Orientation Score, Student Life, Housing and Residence Life, Campus Safety, Counseling and Health, and Recruitment and Retention Efforts. The university scored 4.5 stars in the areas of Policy Inclusion, Support and Institutional Commitment, and Academic Life.

Among the items that helped garner the high score are the university’s domestic partnership benefits, health care for transitioning students and a university-wide LGBT advisory board, says Saida Bonifield, coordinator for LGBT Student Involvement and Leadership at Washington University — a position created in 2007.

“It’s helpful if there’s an LGBT coordinator,” Bonifield says. “Students feel supported.” Bonifield works one-on-one with students and advises several undergraduate LGBT student groups.

Bonifield attributes the university’s LGBT-friendly atmosphere to the overall climate. “Washington University has civility as one of its core principles,” she says. “People are always willing to talk about issues when they come up, and the administration is very supportive in that regard.

“We go above and beyond what most universities do to ensure students are comfortable,” Bonifield says. “We have a very vibrant undergraduate student community.”

“The LGBT Advisory Board has taken up the work of a Campus Issues Task Force established in 2006 to study ways to provide a welcoming atmosphere to LGBT students and staff,” Carnaghi says.

Events like the May 2010 Lavender Recognition Ceremony — WUSTL’s first — are a reason why the university received a five-star rating from Campus Pride.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, the school deans and Human Resources worked as a team to approve and support programs and policies. “I think we were thoughtful and purposeful in how we moved forward,” Carnaghi says. “We have a definite vision and mission for the advisory board. We’ve gotten some traction now and have good people who are allies and supportive of the board’s actions.”

Since the task force completed its report in 2006, the university has added “actual or perceived gender identity and expression” to its nondiscriminatory policy (see hr.wustl.edu/policies/Pages/Non-DiscriminationStatement.aspx), created a pilot gender-neutral housing program, and held WUSTL’s first Lavender Recognition Ceremony in May 2011 for graduating seniors who identify as LGBT.

The color lavender is important in LGBT history. It is a combination of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. The LGBT civil rights movement took these symbols of hatred and combined them to make symbols and color of pride and community.

“Washington University is committed to developing and enhancing diversity on campus,” the task force wrote in the executive summary of its report. “A truly diverse university community includes individuals who have widely different class, ethnic, racial, religious, sexual and gender identities that bring the riches of their individual experiences into the learning environment.”

Ann Prenatt, vice chancellor for Human Resources, adds that “I do think that having a publicized formal process to address issues that include gender expression and/or gender identity demonstrates a level of commitment that is reassuring to the LGBT community.”

Upcoming LGBT-related events include an LGBT All-Community Welcome reception at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge; Bisexuality Awareness Day Friday, Sept. 23; “OUT in the Workplace” in conjunction with the Career Center at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, in the Goldberg Formal Lounge; National Coming Out Day Tuesday, Oct. 11; and Holobaugh Honors Feb. 8, 2012, in Holmes Lounge.

For more information about LGBT Student Involvement and Leadership, see lgbt.wustl.edu/Pages/default.aspx.