U of U weighs in on campus climate scale for first year

by STEPHANIE FERRER-CARTER

When interns and the advisor from the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah go recruiting at local high schools in an effort to turn graduating students into the school’s next batch of freshmen, they’ll have the U’s honor roll standing to aid them.

In today’s competitive campus atmosphere, students are not the only ones being evaluated on whether they meet the qualifications of a school. Students seeking a school that caters to their individual needs and desires in areas outside the curriculum also are scrutinizing universities nationwide.

While the U is looking at applicants’ grade point averages, some students will be looking at the school’s gay point average. The University of Utah is one of two Utah colleges and universities ranked on The Campus Climate Scale. The scale is designed to measure and rate how LGBTQ-friendly a certain campus is and ranks colleges and universities nationwide, giving future students access to the school’s ratings and the ability to search different schools online.

Daniel Hill, 18, is the youth program coordinator for Tolerant, Intelligent Network of Teens(TINT), a chapter of the Utah Pride Center, which serves teens, between 14 and 20 years of age. Hill, who is gay, graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City in 2005.

Hill said an LGBTQ-friendly campus is more important than incoming students may realize. “At the time when I was trying to figure out what colleges I was going to go to, or whether I was going to head straight out to a university, it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “But then when I got into the scene and I got my job here, I heard stories saying how it can be just as bad than, if not worse, depending on what college and what state you’re in. So I would totally think that [the U’s ranking on the Campus Climate Scale] would be a beneficial thing for anyone.”

The U has an overall ranking of 4.5 out of five stars, placing it in the top 30 LGBTQ-friendly campuses on the list nationally, and in the top 10 in the Western region of the schools featured.

“This is more based on the certain policies we have at the University of Utah,” said Cathy Martinez, director of the U’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center. “This isn’t based on a survey of students.”

Martinez said researchers who created the Web site contacted her and sent her a survey, which she completed by calling various departments at the U. She spoke with people within the departments who were best qualified to answer the specific questions of the survey.

“I didn’t answer it based on what I thought was true,” Martinez said. “I answered it based on talking to somebody in housing and residential life, or campus safety and what their answers were.”

Martinez then returned the survey to the Campus Climate Scale, which calculated the U’s overall score according to the site’s assessment standards.

According to the site, the national average is a three-star rating. Utah’s only other ranked campus, Utah State University, has a two-star rating.

But what looks like a below-average score may not necessarily mean USU isn’t making the grade.

Martinez says the LGBT Resource Center at USU is new this year. A search of the school’s Web site did not yield any specific web pages or contact information for the center.

“The fact that they have a resource center is a positive thing,” she said. “It’s taken us since 2002 [the year the U’s LGBT Resource Center opened] to get to this point.”

Martinez says she believes USU is taking steps to become more LGBT-friendly, and that the low ranking does not mean it is not a good school.

The U scored a full five stars in areas like Academic Life, Student Life, Counseling and Health and Recruitment and Retention Efforts due to efforts to improve the services offered by the LGBT Resource Center and annual student recruitment.

The U’s lowest rankings were three out of five stars in LGBT Policy Inclusion and Housing and Residence Life.

However, Martinez cautioned that these rankings could be misleading.

Some of the U’s missed points came from policies concerning employees, not students, such as cheaper health care for married employees or the ability to buy life insurance for oneself, but not one’s partner.

Martinez also said that not every answer to every question was clear-cut. The U does prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but she says the policy could be made stronger by also including gender expression and gender identity in it.

The U’s low score in LGBT Housing and Residence Life may be due to the fact that the school does not provide themed housing for LGBTQ students. Martinez said the school does have a diversity-themed house, which may not be specific to the students, but certainly includes them.

Overall, Martinez said she feels the U’s score is an accurate reflection of the campus’ climate.

“It says a lot to LGBT students. It says the university is actively making changes, acknowledging the fact that these services for LGBT students, faculty and staff are important,” she said.

But the fact that the survey isn’t student-based could bring the U’s high score into question. Martinez said there are surveys conducted by students that have listed the U as the least LGBTQ friendly.

“So depending on who you’re asking the questions of, you’re going to get different answers,” she said.

David Daniels, 21, a volunteer at the U’s LGBT Resource Center, thinks the poor student evaluations could be due to students not finding the resources that the university does have to offer.

“I know students who are on this campus and don’t feel like it’s very LGBT friendly,” Daniels said. “I think the university does a lot of things to just be aware of the diversity population that we have here on campus. And I think there are a lot of outlets. However, I don’t know if we do enough here to make those outlets available and known to people.”

It has yet to be seen whether the U’s honor-roll ranking on the scale will influence incoming freshman.

“I think certainly, to a degree, when you have information like that, it can have an impact,” Daniels said. “What’s more important is finding out for yourself; going to a campus, doing a tour and actually asking people who are there.”