Written by Grace Thomas|
February 17, 2012
The Campus Climate Index, a new system of rating colleges for their “friendliness” on policies, programs and practices toward LGBT groups on campus, rated the College of William and Mary as a 3.5 on a five-point scale.
The survey shows that the College received perfect scores in the category of LGBT support and institutional commitment and in the category of student life. However, the College fell short on both campus safety and policy inclusion, receiving a 1.5 and 2.5 respectively.
Lambda Alliance Co-President Cassie Cole ’12 said that the shortcomings are not entirely the school’s fault.
“Being a Virginian public school … when could we get a five in the next 10 years? A lot of that is the political climate,” Cole said.
The state government controls several of the issues that the survey addresses, especially gender-neutral housing.
“The state law in Virginia requires us to house students according to their legal birth certificates,” Director of Residence Life Deb Boykin said.
The state government has also attempted to further control issues that the survey addresses. In May 2010, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent a letter to Virginia public universities that asked them to eliminate campus policies that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“[Cuccinelli] sent out a letter to the public universities in Virginia saying that they didn’t have the authority to include gender identity and orientation in their campus-wide anti-discrimination policies,” Cole said. “And that happened in part because William and Mary was about to include it.”
Among institutions of higher education, the College placed in the middle of the pack with an average score of 3.5, with the University of Virginia also receiving a score of 3.5. American University was one of the few campuses to receive a perfect score of 5, while Old Dominion University and Hampden-Sydney College only received 1.5 stars each.
While the College received an above-average ranking, some members of the campus community recognize that there is room for improvement. Lambda Alliance secretary Mikki McCall ’13 recalled an instance when she and a group of friends were called “a bunch of faggots.”
“We do have harassment that does occur,” Cole said.
According to campus safety records, the problem is relatively contained, with only one incident of a hate crime of any sort occurring in the last 10 years.
As Thomas Heacox, professor of “Literature and Homosexuality,” suggested, such harrassment may result from ignorance.
“The students who come here are simply more mainstream in their background and upbringing,” Heacox said. “I think they haven’t had quite as much experience of sexual and cultural diversity as some of the students in other schools.”
Heacox recognized a general change in the general campus atmosphere toward LGBT issues.
“Things are getting better,” Heacox said.
Campus organizations continue to work to improve campus attitude toward LGBT issues. Kim Green, a SafeZone coordinator, has helped to plan events to raise awareness for LGBT issues.
“We have three workshops and we
already have people on our waiting lists,” Green said. “I hope this will increase campus safety because more people will know how to talk about [the problems of homophobia and heterosexism].”
Academics at the College have also continued to change to support an atmosphere of LGBT friendliness.
“Gay material is finding its way into many, many courses,” Heacox said.
Additionally, Earl Gregg Swem Library contains more than 1,000 books dealing with LGBT subjects and more than 20 periodicals with gays and lesbians as their target audience.
In the category of health care and counseling, the College received an score of 3.5. According to Director of Student Health Virginia Wells, the Student Heath Center staff is trained in a program entitled “Advocating for LGBT Cultural Competency in Medical Settings.”
“A recent survey revealed that none of the students indicated gender identity as a barrier to seeking care,” Wells said.
While the survey pointed out various areas of improvement in the handling of LGBT issues for the College, the rating established the College as an LGBT-friendly school.
“I think overall it’s very positive,” Cole said.