Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012
In a recent report by Campus Pride's Campus Climate Index, Hobart and William Smith Colleges were recognized as a leader for LGBT-inclusive policies, programs and practices. The Index awarded HWS an excellent score, receiving five out of a possible five stars.
"I am very proud of the Colleges' progress in our work together to foster an inclusive campus," says President Mark D. Gearan. "This ranking reflects our commitment to inclusive excellence in all aspects of life at the Colleges."
The Campus Climate Index is owned and operated by Campus Pride, the largest nonprofit organization in the country serving student leaders and campus groups working to create more LGBT-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities. The Index is a tool for helping institutions improve and discover opportunities to make their campuses more inclusive and respectful of LGBT individuals. The score is based on a self-assessment by the institution focusing on eight LGBT-friendly factors such as housing, academic life, support and institutional commitment, and campus safety.
"Academically, we have long been on the forefront of these issues," explains William Smith Associate Dean Lisa Kaenzig, who is a member of the HWS Commission on Inclusive Excellence and who leads the Commission's subcommittee on LGBT issues. "We had the first LGBT undergraduate program in the country and one of the first women's studies programs. In addition, we have some of the top scholars of these issues working and teaching here."
The Commission, first convened by Gearan in 2007 to address issues related to equity, diversity and justice, includes members of the senior staff as well as student and faculty representatives.
"This would not have happened if the President had not made it a priority. After that we had the ability to really get things done," says Kaenzig.
A member of the faculty since 1986, Craig Rimmerman, professor of public policy studies and political science, reflects that the good news is also thanks to the "hard work of an array of people, some who are still here, and some who have long since departed the Colleges, over many years."
He also notes the need to continue to make improvements. "We also must recognize that there is still much work to be done to create a climate where our students who are wrestling with sexual identity issues, as well as members of our administration, faculty, and staff, can feel validated and supported by all aspects of our campus community. We must also recognize that Geneva poses particular challenges that must also be taken into account as we assess the overall climate for LGBT people on our campus. So, yes, good news, but so much more work needs to be done by diverse people working together in the interest of creating a more supportive, validating, and affirming community."
A number of initiatives have been implemented or supported by the Commission since its inception. This year, the Office of Intercultural Affairs funded a new collection of books on LGBT issues. The books were purchased by student affairs as the result of the LGBT task force recommendations brought to the Commission this past fall. In June, the Colleges hosted Camp Vision, a summer program designed for middle school students who have a learning disability or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and for the third consecutive year hosted The Arts Experience, formerly Disability and the Arts Festival, celebrating inclusion and the arts. The Commission continues to seek ways to improve the campus experience for everyone through changes big and small.
Chaplain Lesley Adams, the leader of the Commission on Inclusive Excellence, notes the focus is not just on students. "The Index takes into account the experience of LGBT staff, faculty and even alums."
At Reunion this year, a group of alums, ranging from the classes of 1955 to 2012, gathered for the first official LGBT gathering at Reunion.
"We are definitely in a unique position as coordinate colleges," explains Adams. "Because gender is inherent to the organization of our institution, we face some interesting challenges. Our coordinate nature, though, has allowed us to have the kinds of conversations that have pushed us toward being a leader in this field."
Kaenzig adds, "Our score reflects a true long-term commitment. Even though we rated very highly, we all believe that there are places where we can improve. This leaves us in a really good place moving forward."