When it comes to southern college and university campuses in the United States, Emory is a haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, according to a list of the 50 most LGBT-friendly schools recently released by the nonprofit organization Campus Pride.
The Top 50 LGBT-Friendly Colleges and Universities list, which does not include specific number rankings (the schools are simply alphabetized), contains only three schools from the south, and Emory is the only one of those in Georgia.
“It’s a challenge – it’s a real struggle to find schools in the south with LGBT tolerance,” Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride’s executive director, said. “Emory is really an island of LGBT inclusiveness.”
To participate, schools answer eight questions compiled by researchers at Campus Pride who, according to Windmeyer, review and update the questions every year and check to make sure schools’ responses are accurate. The school’s responses determine a star rating, the maximum of which is five stars.
Emory achieved an average of five stars, with four stars in three categories and five stars in five categories, which were LGBT counseling and health, campus safety, recruitment and retention efforts, student life and support and institutional commitment.
“Being on this list is really indicative of the progress we’ve made,” Danielle Steele, the interim director of the Office of LGBT Life, said. She, along with the office’s former director, Michael Shutt, now the interim director for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, submitted answers to the eight questions that make up the Campus Pride Index.
As for why Emory only scored four stars in the areas of LGBT housing and residence halls, academic life and policy inclusion, Steele said the issue was a matter of resources – “how much time we have for the things we want to do.”
Some, like Kolia Kroeger, ‘15C, the Vice President of Internal Affairs at Emory Pride, think areas like the Woodruff P.E. Center and other areas could use gender-neutral bathrooms.
Still, Kroeger said, Emory needs improvement in areas beyond infrastructure.
“There are still some big gaps of acceptance on campus – I know of some queer and trans[gender] students who have been verbally harassed by other students,” Kroeger said.
As for recent strides Emory has made toward total LGBT-inclusiveness, Kroeger pointed to the new gender-inclusive housing available to third- and fourth-year Clairmont Campus residents, as well as new instructions for orientation leaders and resident advisors to include personal pronouns in introduction circles.
Steele noted her office’s collaboration with the Office of the Registrar to streamline the process for students seeking to change their names in accordance with their gender identity.
Asked whether prospective students pay attention to this list, Kroeger said, “There have been many students who said, ‘Oh yeah, I looked into the LGBT acceptance at the school’ in making their decision to come to Emory.”
Steele agreed and said that “we definitely have some very perceptive students here – they use Campus Pride, they see our website, they know about our office” when applying.
Emory also made the list – which, until this year, included only 25 schools – in 2011 and 2012. According to Windmeyer, Campus Pride expanded the list this year to accommodate for a larger number of colleges and universities achieving an overall score of five stars.
“What this recognizes is that more and more campuses want to be called ‘LGBT-friendly,’” he said. “Campuses today at least want to recruit and have a diverse group of students.”
Windmeyer said the organization has no plans to expand the list soon, but possibly in the long-term.
—By Lydia O’Neal
On any typical afternoon at Emory University, the campus is rife with students relaxing in between classes and meetings – chatting with friends or squeezing in quality time with significant others to relieve stress during an otherwise hectic day.
As a third-year graduate student in the Laney Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Karen McCarthy normally has a fairly busy schedule. However, she spends the majority of whatever free time she has on campus with her girlfriend.
“[My girlfriend and I] hold hands and kiss goodbye and all of that other sappy stuff people who are crazy for each other do,” said McCarthy, who studies in the Philosophy department. “No one I know has ever been less than happy for us, and we’ve never encountered anything like harassment.”
McCarthy, who came out approximately 10 years ago, identifies as a member of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community at Emory, an environment where she said she feels “perfectly safe” from most instances of homophobia.
Outside organizations have now taken notice of the University’s commitment to a healthy LGBT-community, and recently Campus Pride recognized Emory as having one of the top 25 most LGBT-friendly campuses in the country.
Campus Pride, a non-profit organization that collaborates with organizations and leaders at colleges across the nation to generate support for LGBT students, worked with the Huffington Post to rank 339 colleges, according to an Aug. 21 Huffington Post statement.
Emory University was the only institution in the southest to make the list.
According to Michael Shutt, the director of Emory’s Office of LGBT Life, Emory has always implemented progressive policies and programs geared towards increasing inclusion and fostering a positive environment for the University members who identify as LGBT. He added that Emory was the first university in the Southeast to open an Office of LGBT Life 21 years ago.
“We set a bar at that point in time because we were also the 10th [university] in the nation to do that – to hire someone and provide resources,” Shutt said. “It was early on that we were doing that.”
In addition, Shutt mentioned that this year marks the 40th anniversary of Emory’s Gay Liberation Committee, a group founded on campus in 1972 after the Stonewall Riots, an event that drove the beginning of the gay rights movement. The Gay Liberation Committee seeks to empower what Shutt called “queer leadership” at Emory.
Despite efforts that the University has made towards creating a safe space on campus for the LGBT community, some students believe that the University still has much room to improve.
College senior and Emory Pride co-president Shu Ong explained that she believes administrators needed to “focus on educating Emory’s community as a whole” in order to further “create a safer and more conducive environment for LGBT individuals on campus.”
“There have been few reported cases of outright harassment of LGBT individuals on campus that I know of,” she said. “However, I would say that there is also a general sense of apathy towards LGBT issues on campus and while a large majority of students are tolerant, they may not necessarily be accepting.”
The Office of LGBT Life plans to work with different student groups to plan and host upcoming events that will help the University move forward in order to provide additional leadership opportunities and support systems for LGBT individuals at Emory, according to Shutt.
“Emory is not different from the real world,” Shutt said. “We know that our students are bumping up against sexism, racism, etc. everyday. What we want to do as an institution is ensure that we’re doing everything we can to remove barriers so that students can do everything they want to achieve.”
— By Stephanie Fang
Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community are calling for the University to remove the Chick-fil-A located in the Cox Hall Food Court.
The LGBTQ community has formed a committee focusing specifically on removing Chick-fil-A, and students have written letters to University administrators on the subject.
“The symbol of Chick-fil-A, the restaurant itself, has become a potent symbol of discrimination and inequality,” said Andy Ratto, a fourth-year student in the Laney Graduate School and a member of the committee.
Chick-fil-A has received much criticism in the past few years from gay rights activists, who have accused the nationwide chain of donating money to anti-gay organizations. During the summer, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy acknowledged these accusations, stating, “Guilty as charged.”
Then, in another interview, Cathy said, “we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’”
The committee has responded in a statement that Cathy’s interviews have “solidified Chick-fil-A as a definitive symbol and rallying point for anti-gay sentiment.” They wrote that Chick-fil-A donates money to companies such as the Family Research Council, which the South Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group.
Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair said in a statement released in August that while Cathy’s statements do not reflect Emory’s value for the LGBTQ community, Emory also emphasizes the freedom of speech.
“Emory … respects the right of people to express their disagreement with Mr. Cathy by not patronizing Chick-fil-A,” Nair wrote.
A Committee for Action
Ratto explained that during the summer, he emailed several of his friends who he thought might be interested in vocalizing support on the matter. When other students started expressing interest, they formed the committee of about 10 students, which has met twice thus far this semester.
Members of the committee launched its advertising campaign by hanging flyers around campus yesterday. The flyers include statements such as “Make Chicken, Not Judgements.” Another flyer quotes a straight ally at Emory: “I want my LGBT friends to feel comfortable in their relationships as I do. Don’t eat at Chick-fil-A, Don’t support hate groups.”
The committee has also started distributing buttons on campus to garner support from the community, according to College junior Dohyun Ahn, Emory Pride President and a member of the committee.
Nair wrote in his statement that it is the University’s “hope that our educational environment promotes diversity of thought and encourages dialogue on this issue with the aim of benefiting our local and global communities.” But, the committee’s perspective, according to Ahn, is that “Chick-fil-A has become a symbol against LGBT students, and Emory needs to do all it can to support all its students and their health,” in reference to mental and emotional in addition to physical health.
Ratto stressed that it’s not necessarily the fact that the Cathy has expressed his stance on gay rights but rather, the idea that the company’s money is going to anti-gay organizations.
“For someone like me, [forming this committee] was about realizing that this company had this history of behavior,” Ratto said.
The committee has been working closely with Michael Shutt, director of the LGBT Office, who noted that the LGBTQ community has been discussing Chick-fil-A’s stance on gay rights for the past few years.
“That [isn’t] the only thing that gave a symbol — that gave a negative message — to LGBT folks,” Shutt said. “But we know that there are racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic things that are being said in classrooms, written on bulletin boards in residence halls, [things] people hear as they walk to campus. All of these things add up. They are micro-aggressions.”
Letters to Administrators
The LGBTQ community has also expressed its disapproval of Emory’s Chick-fil-A by writing letters to administrators. In an Aug. 7 letter addressed to Nair, Karen McCarthy, a graduate student in the Philosophy department, wrote that in Nair’s statement, he “grievously misstates the actual issues at play.”
McCarthy wrote that the “focal point” of the controversy is “whether or not Emory University wishes to support Cathy and Chick-fil-A in denying myself and all other members of the LGBTQ community our position as fully human.”
In an additional letter to University President James W. Wagner, LGBTQ Emory alumni Lilly Correa (’73C) and Ryan Roche (’03OX, ’05C) wrote: “It is clear that Chick-fil-A does not represent the values embraced by the Emory University community, and allowing such an organization to continue to operate on our campus runs counter to the spirit of equality that the University claims to champion.”
Ahn explained that the committee and the LGBT community are planning more ways to engage the Emory community in the debate.
“We students live here on campus, and Chick-fil-A is here at our home,” Ahn said.
Asst. News Editor Stephanie Fang contributed reporting.
— By Jordan Friedman
Read the Wheel editorial board’s reaction here.