friendly in what ways?

The PSU Daily Collegian reported last week that Penn State earned five starts for its LGBT-friendly learning environment according to Campus Pride. The report is based on programming and services, so it doesn’t accurately reflect the “friendly learning environment.” As is pointed out in the article, there isn’t a mention of who or how many students access these services, nor a good representation of how students actually feel about being here.

Not that you can ever fully get the gestalt of such a thing in a report like this.

But it seems highly disingenuous to release such a report while ignoring the lived experiences of students on campus. Just last night a friend of mine was walking home downtown, and he was called a slur. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard “faggot” downtown or had friends tell me about being called “faggot” over the last few months.

Of course, most of these instances are downtown, and these things happen everywhere, so one might say that’s not part of the learning environment. But when these slurs are coming from fellow students, it’s quite obvious this is going to carry over to a campus climate.

Additionally, I know students who have had to deal with threats and slurs written on their dry erase board of their residence hall doors, who have felt excluded in classrooms by their peers, who have had problems regarding exclusion in student organizations, all because of their sexual orientation. The school’s past support of discrimination in the sports program, as recently as 2007, is reprehensible. This includes keeping Rene Portland on as women’s basketball coach for so long. And don’t tell me this doesn’t communicate something to students (those students aware of it).

I don’t mean to portray the situation here as awful, because it isn’t, and it could be much worse. I just have a lot of hesitancy granting reports like this any credence when their methods are so limited. Even with the admission of those limitations, I think assigning numbers and trying to be quantitative about it just gives universities another selling point. I don’t really want Penn State to say they earned five stars in the Campus Climate Report. Because it’s not a five-star place when it comes to LGBT-friendly learning environments.

What if these types of reports, instead of trying to quantify things (all these rankings reek of instrumental rationality), they instead offered extended narratives from a variety of perspectives? What if, if I’m interested in really knowing opportunities and setbacks at a place, I could read or watch or listen to various stories that explained people’s lived experiences in a place?

This is a lot of work for groups collecting research, and takes a lot of attention from those interested in the reports. But the information available would be a lot richer and evocative of the learning environment.

The Campus Climate Index is available here.

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