Preceding the start of the term, nonprofit Campus Pride released its annual ranking of the top 25 LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. Portland State is a veteran to this list and was once again ranked as one of the best schools.
Students responded with frustration and contrary testimonies, however, when the announcement was shared on the PSU Facebook page. When looking at these radically different views side by side, it’s clear there is a disconnect between how PSU is perceived on a large scale and what daily life is like for its LGBTQ students.
The disconnect arises in part through the criteria by which Campus Pride judges schools. The organization claims to “support campuses in assessing LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs, and practices” by encouraging a campus representative to complete the site’s self-assessment. Craig Leets, director of PSU’s Queer Resource Center, asserts that this ranking doesn’t provide the full picture. The Campus Pride Index provides a star ranking based solely on those policies and available resources. Unfortunately, because students aren’t involved in the process, it doesn’t indicate if these resources and policies are actually meeting the needs of students.
This undermines the ranking’s good intentions as an ally to LGBTQ college students. The very students the organization is trying to support are brushed to the side and disregarded. Mason Pierce was one such student who responded on social media: “I have yet to be asked what my experience has been as a queer, trans-man attending PSU […] you make these posts about providing a safe campus for your LGBT students, and yet you never take the time to actually ask the students themselves.”
Pierce in a subsequent interview describes his experience within the classroom at PSU as largely positive and the Queer and Women’s Resource Centers as safe spaces. On a larger scale, however, Pierce believes PSU should be doing more to ensure that queer students feel safe on campus, reflecting on being faced with transphobic slurs written in campus restrooms and having “been chased through the Park Blocks by homophobic individuals.”
Student Tori Mize also responded that PSU needs to do more. She admits to being “not convinced at all that PSU cares about me or other queer students.” Mize is currently taking several terms off from PSU due to a lack of support.
Faculty member and adjunct professor Michael Hulshof-Schmidt, however, expresses a more favorable view. Hulshof-Schmidt works with the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion, which has been “quite lovely and supportive of the Queer community” in his experience. He continues with the belief that “PSU works very hard to be allies of the LGBTQ community,” but agrees that “of course, there is always more work that needs to be done.”
Despite varied responses, it’s safe to say that PSU is probably one of the better schools out there. But perhaps the bar isn’t set very high to begin with. Rather than becoming self-congratulatory, Leets sees the ranking as something to spur us on, giving PSU energy to continue doing more. Looking ahead, both Leets and Hulshof-Schmidt hope to further support those at intersecting communities. The QRC hopes to not only span campus resource centers, but to do more for queer students of color, of diverse religions, queer students with disabilities and others.
There is potential value in the varied responses to the Campus Pride Index rating from students and faculty; discussion brings the need for more integrated support to light. But in my experience, that isn’t what students are crying out for. They primarily just want their voices to be heard.
Pierce concluded, “My issue comes from the lack of conversation between administration and students […] It is not enough to check off a box that says PSU has a QRC; PSU needs to actually speak with students in order to call itself an LGBT-friendly campus.”
PSU needs more communication between administration and students to really know if the needs of LGBTQ students are being met. One example of the strength of increased communication comes in the form of a Viking Voices article published last spring, in which a bisexual student shared the difficulties they face regarding Gay Pride. This is the type of platform we need more of. The voices of students and faculty from all demographics need to be seen as valid—because they are.
PSU can be ranked as an LGBTQ-friendly campus by an organization on the East Coast, but doesn’t friendliness imply talking? If we claim to be a friend to queer students and faculty, we can’t act like strangers. PSU must give attention to the age-old secret to healthy relationships: communication.