When beginning her college search, freshman Maura “Jazz” Harris, an Odyssey scholar from Charlotte, knew finding an inclusive community was just as important as finding the right fit for her major.

“I didn’t really ever have to come out to my family, just because they’re very accepting and my sister is bi as well,” Harris said. “It’s more about the person for them than sexuality or a label by itself. As long as they treat me well, that’s all that matters to them.”

But as a bisexual African-American from the South, Harris knows this kind of acceptance isn’t always the case.

“I’ve had friends get kicked out because of their sexuality, even when they’re under the age of 16,” Harris said. “I’ve heard of people going through their parents putting them in mental hospitals because they think something is wrong with them, conversion therapy, stuff like that.”

When looking for colleges in the South, Harris was aware that not everyone might accept her for her sexuality — until she found Elon University.

“Elon’s inclusiveness was a big part of my decision [to come here]. It is ranked number one in the South and the South isn’t usually that open when it comes to LGBTQIA things, so it was one of my main factors for coming to the school,” Harris said.

Elon is ranked No. 1 in North Carolina, No. 1 in the South and top 25 in the United States by Campus Pride index for most LGBTQ-friendly campuses. Campus Pride is a Charlotte-based nonprofit organization looking to promote LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities.

“In the past few years, the GLC [Gender and LGBTQIA Center] has put so much work into improving an already outstanding community and it feels great to have all that hard work pay off,” said Matthew Reichenbach, a sophomore student assistant for the GLC.

Campus Pride uses eight “LGBTQ-friendly factors” to rank schools. These include policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing, campus safety, counseling and health and recruitment and retention efforts.

“There’s never been a time [at Elon] where I’ve been like, ‘I don’t really want to tell someone I’m bi, or gay or that I have a girlfriend,’” Harris said. “Everyone has been really accepting. It’s a very welcoming feeling.”

Harris’ first few weeks at Elon are proof to her that the GLC’s efforts for new students have not gone unnoticed. She attended a new student welcome event put on by the GLC last Thursday, Aug. 31.

“We were really focusing on making sure incoming LGBTQIA students knew they have a resource on campus to go to for whatever reason,” Reichenbach said. “We wanted to make ourselves known and really welcome those students to Elon with open arms and a friendly face.”

The university has also made new efforts to ensure freshmen are educated on inclusivity. Along with AlcoholEDU and Haven, new students were required to complete DiversityEDU over the summer. DiversityEDU includes information about Elon’s efforts to support an inclusive environment, resources and opportunities for developing cultural competency and what is meant by the term “diversity.”

“Elon really made it a point to stress the importance of understanding differences and learning how to engage with others who might be different,” Reichenbach said.

Between Campus Pride’s rankings, the GLC and DiversityEDU, other colleges and universities did not match up to Elon for Harris.

“I was welcomed at other schools, but there’s nothing like Elon pride,” she said.