This is a letter to the editor in response to the story "Rankings, Realities and Varied Experiences" that was published in the Dec. 2 print edition of The Pendulum. Letters must be signed and submitted in a Word document to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Pendulum reserves the right to edit for length, clarity and grammar.
I’m writing in regard to the article “Rankings, Realities and Varied Experiences” published in the Dec. 2 Pendulum. I was pleased to read the article, but I noted a couple of errors/misrepresentations that I wanted to address.
The simplest is that Elon had its first Lavender Graduation in May 2012, not 2013. We have Jess McDonald ’12 to thank for suggesting it to me (in my role at the time as LGBTQ Coordinator) and for doing much of the planning. We also have Provost House to thank for both the first official speech at the event and for supporting our handing out of rainbow tassels for students to wear at Elon’s commencement even since.
Graduating seniors chose the guest list to ensure that closeted students would be able to participate without fear of exposure, and every senior was featured individually. It was a moving, personal experience, and I’d hate for the class of ’12 seniors to see it erased from history.
The other issue I saw in the article, and one that doesn’t originate with The Pendulum itself but is here repeated, is the framing of Elon’s recent ranking as one of the “Campus Pride top 25 LGBTQ-Friendly Universities”.
I want you to note that there is a phrase frequently missing from the accolade’s full text — Elon was actually ranked in the “Campus Pride top 25 LGBTQ-Friendly Universities for policy, programs, and practice”.
These three last underlined items were the focus of the ranking, and the emphasis in the creation of that specific sub-list of the larger Index was on schools that have started asking about sexual identity in their admissions process. Elon has certainly not suddenly become one of the top 25 LGBTQ-Friendly Universities overall—either in the US generally or in the Campus Pride Index, as you can tell by this subcategorized list itself which doesn’t include the most famously pro-queer schools in the country, much less some schools the Index ranks higher or identically overall to Elon.
In your article and elsewhere, it has also been stated that Elon jumped up some 200 to 325 places to that top 25. This is simply not the case.
The previous status we had was not a ranking by number. Instead, schools that chose to fill out a form and send it in to Campus Pride were listed alphabetically by number of stars from the maximum 5 to 0. All the schools with 5 stars were listed alphabetically, then all the schools with 4 and a half stars were listed alphabetically, and so on.
At the time, the list was automatically ordered this way and numbers were given to those spots on the list to make schools easier to locate, but the numbers weren’t rankings. The stars are the form of measurement — Elon had 2.5 stars, not a specific numerical ranking — there can be no quantitative difference, obviously, between fifty-odd schools that all have the exact same number of stars.
Today, the online Index can be sorted based on a number of characteristics, and there are no numbers attached to the list as a whole. In fact, if you look at that list, there are 10 schools with 5 stars and 26 other schools with 4.5 stars overall — among them Elon, which is terrific! — but we’re thus obviously not in the top 25 even of the Campus Pride Index.
Also, if you look at the Index right now, it says it includes 207 schools. This is in part because schools choose to participate, or not, in the process of being scored — the list isn’t inclusive of all the universities in the nation, merely those that choose to contribute to Campus Pride’s questionnaire.
So the previous Index wasn’t a numbered ranking and the current Index isn’t a comprehensive ranking or inclusive of all schools in the nation — and we haven’t jumped 250-plus spots in an index of 207. We have added 2 stars, and our policies and programs have put us in a particular subcategory along with some other universities that have the similar policies and programs.
In case you are wondering, the number of stars is granted based on self-reported answers to questions on a form that any school can choose to fill out and send in — to an organization that, while nonprofit, earns revenue through the advertising on its website where the “rankings” are located, among other things.
I’ll repeat — the answers are self-reported, and schools choose whether or not to be on the list. No objective external reviewer comes to assess Elon and make this determination.
Rather, someone at Elon fills out the form and sends it in. When I was the LGBTQ Coordinator, I filled it out for the first time, in collaboration with students and staff. My job security as a professor was unaffected by my responses to the form, because my role as Coordinator was additional service, not my primary employment at Elon. We added a full star to our first score of 2.5 out of 5 (moving us to 3.5 stars) simply by hiring the current full-time Director of the Gender & LGBTQIA Center, who now has the opportunity to update the questionnaire annually.
Therefore, Elon is not one of the top 25 LGBTQ-Friendly universities in the country. Even Campus Pride isn’t saying that. But of course it’s great marketing to suggest we are and just leave reading the finest print to those whose safety might depend on it.
This is reason for concern, not just because institutions of higher learning must show integrity and accuracy, but because if we continue to suggest that we are somehow one of the top 25 schools in the country for queer, Trans*, and intersex students to attend, we provide a false sense of the current climate.
A colleague of mine suggested a strength of the misrepresentation might be that fewer homophobic and transphobic people might choose to come to Elon — while that is comforting, my fear is that we are more likely to be persuading falsely informed queer, Trans* and intersex prospectives to come to Elon with the expectation that, because we have some great policies, we also have a safe, supportive, nurturing climate for LGBTQIA people.
As the article showed, we have documented through polling and bias and discrimination reports that Elon is still a place with a lot of work to do to be considered LGBTQIA-friendly at all, much less to be ahead of the vast majority of the schools in the country.
Professor of Art History and former LGBTQ Coordinator