STORY BY COLE NORUM
Drake University’s “Overall Campus Pride Score” is two out of five stars, according to the now-public LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index. A national assessment tool administered by the national organization Campus Pride. The confidential report details its comprehensive analysis of eight categories, which it says are intended to help better understand policies, programs and practices.
“This seems like a good opportunity for us … to say ‘Hey, this is a problem,’” said Joey Gale, president of Drake’s student body.
The report was prepared in response to a survey of more than 80 questions, completed by Gale along with Tony Tyler, director of Olmsted operations, and Whit Hegarty, president of the LGBTQ support group Rainbow Union.
The yes-or-no questions range from whether the campus has a “clear and visible procedure for reporting LGBT-related bias incidents and hate crimes,” to if it participates in outreach programs for prospective LGBT students.
The report converts percentage scores into stars. Drake received a “one star” rating for LGBT housing and residence life (eight percent), academic life (12 percent), recruitment and retention efforts (12 percent). A “1 Star” rating is the lowest possible rating, with Drake receiving a zero percent in LGBT campus safety.
“Due to your overall rating of two stars, it is recommended that your campus prioritize areas of improvement through a realistic action plan based on the needs of your LGBT and Ally Community … Your score shows that the campus is not meeting the needs of LGBT people to address basic safety concerns,” said the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index.
Student efforts to confront the low scores coincide with the highest rating Drake received, a “four Star” (72 percent) grade in LGBT student life.
Drake’s first LGBT advocacy group, One Voice, along with Rainbow Union launched a week of action, joining the two groups in a series of visible and displays.
A number of students took to the controversial social media application Yik Yak, voicing displeasure behind the yak’s anonymity.
A post lamented, “We get it your (sic) gay. Can you please now remove your doors from the sidewalks. I am tired of walking around them.”
The doors stood on campus, propped up by wood planks on walkways and the waning grass of Helmick commons. Green and yellow doors, emphatic symbols of Rainbow Union’s support of National Coming Out Week, bore the spray-painted hate speech from several years ago. A new door stood next to them, adorned with multihued signatures of those pledging to make their campus friendly and accommodating to the LGBTQ students.
“We saw a need on campus that wasn’t just being met, for the LGBTQ community and students in general,” said One Voice co-founder Grace Wenzel.
While Rainbow Union provides confidentiality and support for students, One Voice aims to be a representative and champion of the students who have been unable to fully express themselves, out of fear of prejudice or lack of their institution’s support.
“If we make one person feel more comfortable at Drake, then that, to me, is a good legacy,” Wenzel said
Although Wenzel and co-founder Joshua Schoenblatt began One Voice in their leadership capstone, they intend for their organization to continue its efforts beyond their graduation.
“This is more of a culture shift at Drake,” Wenzel said.
“Culture doesn’t change overnight,” Schoenblatt added.
One Voice operates under the tenant of vocalizing human progression, emphasizing that this is not an instance of misappropriated amounts of attention and resources.
“LGBTQ rights are human rights,” Wenzel said.
Gale, also a member of Wenzel and Schoenblatt’s leadership capstone, understands the varying degrees of practicality in One Voice’s efforts.
“It could be as simple as including one line, one little bullet, one box that says ‘There are resources available, there are student groups available and here’s our Non-Discrimination Policy,’” he said of Drake’s orientation packet.
One of the more difficult and controversial initiatives Gale mentioned is One Voice and Rainbow Union’s flyer campaign to create awareness surrounding the complete lack of gender-neutral restrooms.
“That takes a lot of capital. It takes converting a space which costs money,” Gale said of building new bathrooms.
Transgender students and students who do not identify on the gender binary are unable to comfortably use their school’s bathrooms.
In at least one instance, a transgender student was asked to leave a bathroom, being told they didn’t belong there.
President David Maxwell sent an email on Oct. 30 to students announcing the approval of a $65 million STEM initiative. The project will include the construction of two new buildings and renovations of numerous existing ones.
There has been no word if the new facilities will include gender-neutral bathrooms.