Campus scores perfectly in all but housing in national index

By Jenny Hottle, staff writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Originally posted on diamondbackonline.com.

Until one football game last year, Riley Bartlebaugh said she had felt comfortable being out on the campus.

But the sophomore English and theatre major said as she left the stadium, striding hand in hand with her girlfriend of nearly two years, a group of students began heckling her. Bartlebaugh said the “obviously inebriated” group’s calls were more frustrating than threatening, but they reminded her there is still room for progress in the most welcoming environments — including at this university, which recently earned top marks as a safe and welcoming campus for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

“Since then, we don’t hold hands when walking across campus, especially at night,” Bartlebaugh said.

Earlier this month, the national nonprofit organization Campus Pride named this university one of the top 25 LGBT-friendly colleges and universities. Several administrators said it’s a sign of how far the university has come in recent years that the school received the highest possible marks on the organization’s LGBT-friendly campus climate index. However, the report also sheds light on areas the university can still improve upon, such as LGBT housing and transgender students’ issues, said Rodrigo Lozada, co-president of the campus Pride Alliance.

“It’s good, but it can be better,” Lozada said. “Topics such as addressing bullying and discrimination as well as addressing the needs of the campus transgender community would help make this university a better place.”

The index categories included student life, campus safety and counseling and health. Kumea Shorter-Gooden, the university’s chief diversity officer, said a major factor in improving the university’s index ranking was the Board of Regents’ recently approved policy adding gender identity and expression as a protected group. And about two years ago, the LGBT Equity Center and the New Student Orientation Office launched the ONE project, a first-year experience program for LGBT students to get acclimated to the university.

“We are really proud to have this designation,” Shorter-Gooden said. “I think it really reflects the longtime work of the LGBT Equity Center and the President’s Commission on LGBT Issues and the work of many, many others who step-by-step have been putting together programs and initiatives and advocating for policy.”

The only category in which this campus did not receive a perfect score was LGBT housing and residence life. Erin Iverson, the resident life assignments and public inquiry manager, said last fall that her department was exploring how the university could provide LGBT students with better housing options. The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  — which features a living-learning community with a residence hall designated for LGBT students and allies — was one campus that received a perfect score in the housing category.

Lozada said he also noticed a shortage of gender-neutral restrooms on the campus.

“Accessibility to bathrooms is a huge issue for members of the transgender community, as they may be uncomfortable entering gendered bathrooms due to negative reactions by others,” Lozada said.

While university officials continue to work on initiatives to better accommodate members of the LGBT community, Lozada said members of the Pride Alliance and other campus organizations will also be discussing issues such as the same-sex marriage referendum this fall.

“The student body, for the most part, is more than accepting,” Bartlebaugh said. “I have talked openly about my sexuality in discussion-based classes, and I think the open-mindedness of the student body contributes to the quality of academics. If you are not willing to understand someone else or something foreign to you, how can you hope to learn from it or about it? Maryland is pretty awesome that way.”

hottle@umdbk.com

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