By Mia Kologranic
The Campus Pride Index is a nationally recognized website that ranks colleges and universities around the country on how inclusive they are. Georgia Southern University is one of only four universities in Georgia to be listed.
The website launched in 2007 and quickly became a helpful resource for people researching the inclusiveness and safety of LGBTQ+ members at certain colleges or universities. The website was developed with the help of LGBTQ+ researchers and an advisory board that includes several members who work within the community.
To get a university on the pride index, it starts with a representative of the school filling out the assessment. Lisa Costello, Director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program at Georgia Southern, took that first step.
The program received a grant in 2017 from Ted Tucker. After receiving this grant, the program was able to invest more in campus resources, classes and research for the LGBTQ+ community. This increase in resources led to the interest of wanting to apply for the index.
“Joining the Campus Pride Index was one of the top things we (WGSS) wanted to do to make our program’s work more visible and make Georgia Southern more visible on a national scale,” Costello said.
Making Georgia Southern visible on a large scale was important because of our location. Georgia Southern University falls within the bible belt. “The bible belt” is a term given to the southeastern and midwestern U.S. where religion is the backbone for many.
There can be a feeling of discomfort from members of the community when it comes to states in the belt. They do not want to feel like they don’t belong or that they aren’t safe somewhere because of their sexuality.
With the university being on the pride index, this shows that regardless of location – our campus and school strives to be a safe place for everyone.
And it really does take a campus effort. Even though it might have been Costello that applied, it takes multiple aspects of campus life to ensure an inclusive experience. Communication with human resources, health services, and other services or groups on campus was a big step in the application process.
The index ranks a school based on 8 LGBTQ-friendly factors, which include: academics, housing, student life, campus safety, policy inclusion, support, counseling/health, and recruitment efforts. These 8 factors are why a cohesive campus effort is very important.
Georgia Southern is currently ranked 3.5 out of 5 stars. Our highest ranked factors were support commitment, counseling/health services and campus safety. The university fell short on the scale when it came to LGBTQ+ recruitment efforts, housing, and policy inclusion.
“I feel like when it comes to the smaller departments, we are doing very well,” Akalah Favors, student assistant for the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, explained. “It’s really the higher-level departments where we don’t have control of that brought down our grade.”
She went on to express that departments such as Admissions don’t advertise the community very well in brochures or anything that someone might see before applying. Departments such as this would fall under the “Recruitment and Retention Efforts” factor, in which Georgia Southern received 1 of 5 stars in.
While Georgia Southern currently sits at a 3.5-star ranking, there’s opportunity for improvement. The index does an evaluation every year from the original application date.
“I think that it is a statement that says we are working. And you can reach goals when you are working toward them as a collective,” Costello says.
The university’s next evaluation is coming up this fall. Costello mentions that the yearly evaluations are good because it keeps the website up to date and allows for the most accurate ranking.
Since the last evaluation, Costello has helped put together an LGBTQ+ Alumni group. This will help the score increase, along with other improvements she hopes to see prior to the fall.
Chase Amoroso, a current student at Georgia Southern and member of the LGBTQ+ community, says that he feels just as valued as the next student. But he wishes that the index had more of a student population perspective to it as well.
“I think it’s one thing to see how a school facilitates its dedication to inclusiveness,” Amoroso states. “But it’s a completely different thing when talking about inclusiveness represented amongst the student body.”
Amoroso explained that he thinks the university itself is doing a good job at offering resources to diverse groups of students, but that there’s definitely changes needed among the students who attend the university.
Georgia Southern University has groups and organizations such as the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, Gay-Straight Alliance, and the Gender Minority Closet.
Costello and the WGSS program also put on the Lavender Graduation yearly since 2018. This is a graduation that honors members of the LGBTQ+ community and acknowledges them and their successes.
“It’s about visibility and the ways in which visibility can create a culture of acceptance,” she says. Having the Lavender Graduation is a way to highlight and show members of the community that their contributions and accomplishments are important.
The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies is working hard to grow a more inclusive campus for all students at Georgia Southern.