Pictured: Pride flag in the Queer & Ally House window. Photo by Mandy Moe Pwint Tu (C’21).
By Katherine LeClair
Two weeks ago, I attended the Out in Front conference at Vanderbilt University which hosted a variety of workshops that focused on the LGBTQ experience in the South. This conference was attended by several hundred students from surrounding universities.
Pessimistically, I thought, “this could never happen at Sewanee.” While Sewanee is somewhat of a liberal haven among the surrounding areas, when we look at our political progress compared to other noteworthy universities, we fall flat.
One of the conversations at this conference centered around the online Campus Pride Index. This website quantifies LGBTQ inclusion at universities on a five star scale. Its intention is to communicate with prospective students in particular, providing them with information about the safety and integration of LGBTQ students on each campus.
The Pride Index is broken down into a few categories, and while Sewanee scores relatively high in “Policy Inclusion,” we have a ways to go in regards to “Campus Safety,” “Counseling & Health,” and “Recruitment & Retention Effort.”
Overall, where does Sewanee fall? We have two stars. As a queer person living on this campus, did this surprise me? Yes and no.
Fortunately, I don’t fear for my safety at Sewanee. I regularly organize and attend events that address queer issues. I feel like my voice is heard. But, I’m one person, and Sewanee is not meeting the needs of other LGBTQ students here, particularly when it comes to counseling. Additionally, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the homophobia and transphobia occuring at Sewanee, even though I rarely encounter it.
In regards to our two lonely stars, I could blame the Pride Index, because we meet a few criteria that the Index overlooks. We do have a LGBTQ Facebook page, run by the GSD Alliance. And we do frequently plan LGBTQ social activities. The Queer & Ally house hosts an event nearly every week. Yet these features are not well advertised outside of Sewanee, which results in, debatably, a lower score than we deserve.
Now, because this article has felt extremely negative, I’d like to highlight some of the efforts taken by students and alumni to increase our Pride Index score.
Virginia McClatchey (C’21) and Campbell Stuart (C’20) recently spoke to incoming Arcadians, encouraging them to integrate information about LGBTQ recources at Sewanee into their tours. Beginning in the Advent 2019 semester, the official Arcadian script will be amended to include this information. This specifically addresses criteria in the “Recruitment & Retention Effort” section of the Pride Index.
To raise our score in “Housing & Residential Life,” Hannah Habit (C’19) is working with the administration to change the gendered labels on single-stall restrooms to gender-neutral. Additionally, Habit is in the process of building a website for LGBTQ student life, giving another resource to prospective students.
Thanks to the dedication of James Gipson (C’66), we also just reached the $50,000 goal for the Rainbow Fund, a scholarship that will provide aid for LGBTQ students.
My hope for the next few years is that these successes will be communicated with the broader collegiate community. By focusing on these efforts and advertising them to our prospective students and alumni alike, I believe we can promote a more progressive narrative and raise our Pride Index score.
CORRECTION 3/12/19: While The Purple originally reported that the LQBTQ Facebook page was run by a few alumni.” However, it has come to our attention that the Facebook group is run by GSD Alliance. Additionally, though it was initially reported that “This Fall, when the first few scholarships are awarded, we will be able to check off another box under ‘Recruitment & Retention Effort,'” the Rainbow Fund does not have a confirmed date for awarding the scholarships. The story has been updated to reflect this change.