UCSD also scores well; USD fails to participate in survey
By Margie M. Palmer/GSD Reporter
It was less than three years ago that the local media spotlight shone on San Diego State University (SDSU), when The Koala, a student-run newspaper spoofing campus life, printed an virulent antigay attack against Doug Case, the university’s openly gay coordinator of fraternity and sorority life.
In a November 2007 interview, Ben Cartwright, former president of SDSU’s LGBT Student Union, was quoted as saying that the ongoing anti-gay sentiment had become commonplace, and that a “heterosexist, macho athletics climate” was pervasive on campus. Cartwright said he had personally witnessed eggs being thrown at LGBT activists earlier that semester.
Yet three years later, SDSU appears to have made significant strides toward LGBT inclusiveness. The university recently received a five-star ranking from Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization that works to create a safe and welcoming college environment for LGBT students.
Three years ago Campus Pride introduced its Campus Climate Index, which rates the atmosphere for LGBT students on campuses nationwide. Via a voluntary questionnaire submitted by students and faculty to Campus Pride, colleges are ranked from one to five stars based on a school’s LGBT-friendly policies and programs.
Campus Pride has ranked more than 230 colleges, though only 19 received SDSU’s five-star rating this year, including UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and Humboldt State University in California.
“It definitely shocked me,” said Cartwright, who has since graduated and is now on the staff of SDSU’s Associated Students. “There have been a lot of changes in the past few years… . Back then I figured we would never make it into the top 500, let alone the top 20.
“SDSU now has a number of Safe Zones throughout the campus which are marked by a pink triangles, indicating intolerance will not be stood for,” he said. “We have [an annual] rainbow flag-raising; the school now offers LGBT studies as a minor … and this year we had our first Lavender Graduation, a mini-commencement ceremony in which LGBT students can honor and celebrate their achievements. Twenty-one students signed up and we packed the house with over 100 attendees.
“For as unfortunate as The Koala incident was,” Cartwright said, “it really started conversations that needed to be had.”
Though Case said he feels the attack against him was more of an isolated incident, he agrees that it may have served as a catalyst for the positive changes that have since occurred at SDSU.
“More important than what happened with The Koala was how the campus responded,” Case said, also noting a well-attended rally against hate that was organized shortly after, at which SDSU President Stephen Weber “very eloquently” denounced the incident.
“The support that came from that I think speaks volumes,” said Case, noting a Queer People of Color Conference held this spring on the campus.
SDSU was not the only local university to receive high marks for its LGBT-friendly programs and practices. The University of California San Diego (UCSD) received a 4.5 ranking from Campus Pride.
Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride and creator of the Campus Climate Index, said that though UCSD scored a half-point lower than SDSU, it should nevertheless be commended for its LGBT-inclusive efforts.
For two years UCSD hosted Campus Pride’s LGBT-Friendly College Fair, while Shaun Travers, director of UCSD’s LGBT Resource Center, “has really done amazing work,” Windmeyer said.
“I would be really surprised if they don’t have a five-star rating [in the future],” he said.
Case said he was “a little surprised” that SDSU ranked higher than UCSD.
“I think that in order to get the top ranking [a college] ought to have an LGBT resource center on campus, … one that is funded and run by the university,” Case said, noting plans for a new student union building at SDSU that would include such a center.
Conspicuously absent from Campus Pride’s rankings list is the University of San Diego (USD), a Roman Catholic institution located in Linda Vista.
Erin Lovette-Colyer, director of the USD Women’s Center, said she doesn’t know why the university wasn’t ranked.
“I don’t know if our LGBT undergraduate organization is connected to any national pride organization, so I don’t know if our students had access to the questionnaire or knew about the nominations process,” she said.
However, Windmeyer said he spoke at the campus two years ago and has since invited USD officials to participate in the survey at least four times.
“For whatever reason they’ve chose not to [participate],” he said.
Lovette-Colyer said USD is not behind the times in its treatment of LGBT students.
“We have our undergraduate organization called Pride,” she said. “The law school also has its own organization called Pride Law. The university offers a safe space program, and we also have a program called Rainbow Educators, which goes into classrooms and educates students about diversity issues.”
Cartwright, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree at USD, said his experience on that campus has been a positive one.
“I’ve walked the campus—I’ve seen posters taped up announcing USD gay pride week,” he said. “There was a big gay carnival in May which was sponsored by the university. When I started my program, it was during the Prop. 8 vote and we’d have discussions about it in the classroom—and all of my teachers expressed they felt the proposition was unfair.”
Windmeyer said that oftentimes campuses fill out the questionnaire, then ask not to be listed in the rankings—either because they didn’t rank as high as they’d hoped or because they may be seeking silent guidance on their handling of LGBT issues.
“I deal with Catholic campuses all the time,” Windmeyer said. “They want to do things really well [for LGBT students], but don’t always want to” be recognized for such efforts.
“USD tends to be a little bit conservative,” he said. “They’re doing some great things. I don’t know why they haven’t filled out the survey, other than their Catholic background—and as a Catholic, I find that really disturbing.”
Cartwright said that “to automatically assume USD isn’t a gay-friendly campus because of its Catholic [affiliation] is unfair.
“It’s quite the opposite, which I find to be absolutely fascinating,” he said.
Whether colleges score high or low on the survey, Windmeyer said a paradigm shift is evident in that colleges are “actually arguing and competing to be more LGBT-friendly than the college down the street. We would never have been having this discussion five years ago.”
He said Campus Pride plans to raise the benchmark before next year’s survey, and that campuses that received five stars this time, may not fare as well next summer.
Case noted that this will be Weber’s last year as SDSU’s president, after which he will be retiring.
“It will be critical that we get another president who’s going to be as supportive of LGBT issues as he’s been,” Case said, adding that while the ranking is good news, he hopes it won’t prove to be a double-edge sword.
“It may give us a sense of complacency when I think we still have some work to do,” he said.
—GSD Editor Pat Sherman contributed to this report