Virginia Tech’s campus climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students was under review Tuesday as advocacy group Equality Virginia stopped in Blacksburg to discuss campus policies.
The stop was one of several in a statewide tour and the group had high praise for Tech’s LGBT community.
“Virginia Tech, along with a couple of other state schools such as Mary Washington and George Mason, has one of the strongest LGBT student groups in the state,” said James Parrish, deputy director of Equality Virginia. “Blacksburg has a very strong LGBT community as well. It seems like a little spot of heaven.”
LGBTA president Sara Brickman said Tech is “a lot more of a welcoming environment” than most expect.
“But there are still issues, and coming out is still hard for many people,” Brickman said.
Jean Elliott, co-chair of the LGBT Caucus at Tech and a spokesperson for the college of liberal arts and human sciences, agreed with Brickman that coming out is difficult.
“I think we have a lot of work to do and I think that there are a lot of people who dare not come out; the fear is real,” Elliott said. “But I think there’s a welcoming climate here too. I feel very comfortable. I’ve been here for 11 years and I came out when I got to campus. I’m so appreciative of the freedom that I feel here.”
Tech earned 3.5 out of five stars in the Campus Climate Index, a ranking system developed by Campus Pride, a national LGBT organization. The index ranks college campuses on the quality of life provided for LGBT students and helps set standards for LGBT-friendly policies.
Shane Windmeyer, co-founder and director of Campus Pride and an author on gay campus issues, said 3.5 stars is in the 60th percentile.
“Virginia Tech, being in Virginia, is doing well. Virginia is a very conservative state politically,” Windmeyer said. “I’m very proud of the fact that Virginia Tech is doing so well, but there’s definitely room for improvement.”
Tech’s lowest score in the index came in LGBT recruitment and retention efforts, with the university graded at two out of five stars.
“It’s not just a matter of recruitment and retention of students, it’s about faculty and staff too,” Elliott said. “We recently lost a pair of researchers who brought in millions of dollars in research grants who moved back to Massachusetts so they could get married. That’s a huge loss to a university.”
Tech scored a perfect five out of five in the “LGBT Counseling and Health” category.
William Lewis was just recently appointed vice president of diversity and inclusion, which is the top diversity position at Tech. Because he has only been here for about three weeks, Lewis said he is still learning about all of the different facets of diversity on campus.
“It’s hard for me to say how the LGBT student, faculty and staff population experience Tech because I haven’t had much interaction,” Lewis said.
While the Campus Climate Index is a good measure, Campus Pride’s website states that it is not a replacement for more holistic and focused research that should be done by each individual school.