On Aug. 22, the University of Maryland was named to Campus Pride’s 2016 “Best of the Best” Top 30 list of LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities, according to a university news press release.

Campus Pride is a nonprofit educational organization that supports LGBTQ and ally college students with the intent of creating safer campuses for the communities. The “Best of the Best” list is based on the ratings from the Campus Pride Index, a national benchmarking tool that rates more than 200 college campuses based on their LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs and practices.

I asked some students questions about what they thought of the ranking and how the university is doing in support of the LGBTQ community on campus.

Fan Huang, senior public health sciences major

“as an openly gay student, I feel very included in a lot of things. maybe a few times somebody threw out a slur, but that’s to be expected in any sort of large environment. i’ve never once felt like i was uncomfortable or in an unsafe space. however in the past year with all these issues involving trans right, I realize that I have a lot of privileges trans people don’t have. If we want to talk about and include the LGB, we have to start thinking about the T.”
“As an openly gay student, I feel very included in a lot of things. Maybe a few times somebody threw out a slur, but that’s to be expected in any sort of large environment. I’ve never once felt like I was uncomfortable or in an unsafe space. However, in the past year with all these issues involving trans rights, I realize that I have a lot of privileges trans people don’t have. If we want to talk about and include the LGB, we have to start thinking about the T.” (Gabe Fernandez/Bloc Photographer)

Q: What were your initial reactions to the ranking?

A: “I guess it kind of makes sense because we do do a lot on our campus in terms of LGBTQ advocacy work. But I wouldn’t say I know that much since I don’t know how other campuses do it. I know some campuses have zero influence. Like they wouldn’t have a MICA on their campus. I know the fact that we even have a department like this doesn’t surprise me that we are somewhere at the top.”

Q: What do you think the university has done well in terms of support for the LGBTQ community on campus?

A: “I think it’s good that we have those said programs. We also bring in a lot of great speakers. I remember going to see Laverne Cox and talking about various intersections of also being a minority. The opportunities are definitely there, and the fact we’re such a big school, it’s not a big surprise. At the same time, I feel like those events cater to a specific audience and there’s not much of an effort pushing toward those who really don’t know much about LGBTQ issues. When I go to these events, it always seems like the same people.”

Q: Is there anything the university could be doing better?

A: “My biggest concern for our campus – and maybe this is a trivial thing for some, but it’s a very big deal for others – is how much information they’re giving to professors and staff members so that students feel more included. We’re such a big school, there’s going to be trans students, gay students, bi students, lesbians in almost any class, essentially, and the way we utilize language, the way we make sure that all students that all feel included in the discussion and lecture, it matters a lot. There have been times where my friends have openly given out their pronouns and the professor would completely ignore it, – not even try or just treat it like it was really silly and they would push it off.”

Oge Igboemeka, junior public health science major

while there is possible criticism towards the ranking and stuff, I’m glad that it’s that high up because it means that it’s nationally recognized which means some queer high school student might see maryland as a safe space to go to for college, which is what I think as well.”
“While there is possible criticism towards the ranking and stuff, I’m glad that it’s that high up because it means that it’s nationally recognized, which means some queer high school student might see Maryland as a safe space to go to for college, which is what I think as well.” (Gabe Fernandez/Bloc Photographer)

Q: What were your initial reactions to the ranking?

A: “I was thinking, ‘Oh I’ve seen that before,’ since it was also brought up last year and thought I could see how that was. Another part of me thought that I never really read how that rank was decided but then I thought I feel pretty safe on campus, but that doesn’t mean that everybody else does. So I wondered if anyone who disagrees with the ranking feels like we should even be on there.”

Q: Is it encouraging to see the safety of the campus validated?

A: “Yeah, I remember my first semester here I got immediately involved into LGBT stuff and realized there were safe spaces for me as an individual to go to. I didn’t feel like people were screaming mean names across the wall or anything like that. I feel safe enough that I can go to a specific place, meet people I know who are somewhat like me, and not feel threatened.”

Q: Do you think the university should be taking the lead on keeping campus as a safe environment or should it be more student-led?

A: “I feel like it needs both of us because the university can think we need ‘this and this’ but the students could think, ‘We actually need this, but we don’t have the power to get that immediately.’ For example, I’m just a student, but an LGBT coordinator has more accessibility to things to help make what I need to happen, happen, which is what we need the university to help do for us. At the same time, the university needs to see where we’re coming from with our points of view to help make the campus safer. There are a lot of things we want to do but can’t do by ourselves without administrative help.”

Tivana Stepney, senior sociology major, LGBT studies minor

I don’t want to knock anyone down and seem like I’m saying ‘THERE’S A LOT OF WORK THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE’ or that no one cares or anything like that. The resources are there but they’re just not being communicated to the right kind of folks. You know they’re not communicating to the black and brown folks. Most of black and brown students don’t even know where the equity center is or that it exists. how do we reach out to them so they recognize where it is and so they have these resources as well.”
“I don’t want to knock anyone down and seem like I’m saying, ‘THERE’S A LOT OF WORK THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE’ or that no one cares or anything like that. The resources are there but they’re just not being communicated to the right kind of folks. You know they’re not communicating to the black and brown folks. Most of black and brown students don’t even know where the Equity Center is or that it exists. How do we reach out to them so they recognize where it is and so they have these resources, as well?” (Gabe Fernandez/Bloc Photographer)

Q: What were your initial reactions to the ranking?

A: “You know I was proud because I go to the University of Maryland so I have to have Terp pride, but I was kind of shocked, honestly. We do have a lot of events, workshops, training, initiatives, whatever you have it, but I just don’t feel that the community is that strong to the point where it would be top 25. I hate to say that, but that’s how I feel. We have this ranking; let’s prove ourselves a little bit more. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Q: What kind of work?

A: “Just reaching out. We do have a lot of things going on, but are people going? Who is going to these events? Who is being reached out to? How are we promoting? We do have gender neutral restrooms and that brings us to 30. I don’t think that having just that should push you to the top 30. We need to do more. [People of color] aren’t being represented on this LGBT campus community. There is supposed to be a strong community, but are we a part of it? I don’t think so.”

Q: Do you think your experience on campus is in agreement with ranking? If not, then who, if anybody, do you think it is more closely related to?

A: “Probably the people who do take advantage of these resources, the people who feel more comfortable taking advantage of these resources. Mostly white LGBT people who feel more comfortable coming to the Equity Center than, say, I do. There’s another question for these rankings that I have, did Campus Pride talk to these students? Are we getting student experiences or did they see what we have on paper? Because what we have on paper looks good. But the things that people are taking advantage of and the experiences students are actually having, I don’t think that’s being valid or being measured. But compared to other schools, I think UMD has started a new line that a lot of schools aren’t even close to yet. A lot of schools haven’t even taught LGBT courses. We have to compare ourselves with ourselves so I see where the ranking comes from but using these student experiences on their own doesn’t make us a top school.”

Tevin Luckie, junior kinesiology major, UNIV100Q TA

we have a lot of resources and programming here so it makes sense that we’re so high up compared to other schools but we don’t have to stop there, we can keep going, there’s still gaps and holes in many places and we can fill those things with different resources and programs to help merge everyone to be as inclusive and wholesome as possible.”
“We have a lot of resources and programming here, so it makes sense that we’re so high up compared to other schools, but we don’t have to stop there; we can keep going. There’s still gaps and holes in many places, and we can fill those things with different resources and programs to help merge everyone to be as inclusive and wholesome as possible.” (Gabe Fernandez/Bloc Photographer)

Q: Do you feel the ranking is an accurate representation of the university’s environment?

A: “I feel like compared to other universities and institutions, the fact that we have programs for LGBT students, we have the Equity Center that’s doing so much we have so many academic and social based programs that it makes sense that we are so high up in the rankings compared to other schools because they don’t have those things in place. In the long term, in the grand scheme of things, whatever we’re doing now is not as prevalent as it could be. So much more could be done, but compared to other places, we’re doing a lot.”

Q: What specifically comes to mind that the university has done well?

A: “The sheer number of diverse groups that we have on campus really helps. Not only having one’s for LGBT students, but also for students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds that merge with the LGBT Equity Center and different resources like that and having those cross sections really help people identify who they are and where they fit in the grand scheme of life.”

Q: Do you think there are ways the university could potentially improve the environment on campus?

A: “I feel that integrating more events and programming into the day-to-day lives of the students would be a lot more beneficial. It would put the programs and resources out there more so students aren’t finding them in their later years outside of the class; they can find them whenever they need to because they’re more apparent, which is something that is done but not done enough. There’s a month for it, but it shouldn’t be one month; there should be more things happening.”

Featured Photo Credit: “We have a lot of resources and programming here, so it makes sense that we’re so high up compared to other schools, but we don’t have to stop there; we can keep going. There’s still gaps and holes in many places, and we can fill those things with different resources and programs to help merge everyone to be as inclusive and wholesome as possible.” (Gabe Fernandez/Bloc Photographer)

Gabe Fernandez is a senior journalism major and can be reached at gfernandez@umd.edu. 

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