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Penn currently has a rating of five out of five stars in the Campus Pride Index. Credit: Max Mester

Penn has consistently ranked as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly universities for the past 10 years — a title some LGBTQ students say is deserving of the University.

Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization that supports LGBTQ student leaders and campus organizations, included Penn in its "2020 Best of the Best LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges & Universities" list, featuring 40 institutions in no particular order. LGBTQ leaders and students commended Penn's support in building a strong LGBTQ community, a forte which proved to be the deciding factor for some students when deciding to come to Penn.

College senior Sophia Schiaroli transferred to Penn as a sophomore from Franklin and Marshall College to find a larger LGBTQ community on campus and believes that the ranking is an accurate reflection of Penn's commitment to its LGBTQ students.

“I definitely believe that if you want that community, you can have that community,” said Schiaroli, who previously served as the Vice President of Education for Lambda Alliance, the umbrella organization for LGBT student groups.

Like Schiaroli, College senior and former chair of Lambda Alliance Bryce Nguyen decided to come to Penn because of its LGBTQ-friendly campus. 

“I pretty much googled LGBTQ-friendly campuses in America, and Penn was the first one,” Nguyen said. “That, coupled with a pretty rigorous academic program, I knew it was the place that I could fit in.”

Director of the LGBT Center Erin Cross echoed Schiaroli's sentiments, citing gender-neutral housing offered by Residential Services and Safe Space and Safe Zone trainings conducted by the LGBT Center as ways the University has supported its LGBTQ students. The trainings teach residential advisors, graduate associates, staff, and faculty about LGBTQ identities and ways to support LGBTQ students. The LGBT Center has also advocated for all-gender inclusive multi-stall bathrooms and trans-inclusive health insurance.

Both Cross and Nguyen, however, pointed to areas in which the Penn community can strengthen its support for LGBTQ students.

“[Penn] is a great place to be LGBT, but it can obviously improve in a lot of different ways,” Nguyen said. “Not just thinking about resources and support for queer students, but socially in different communities there is a large trend of homophobia and transphobia.”

Cross called on the University to provide more support for its transgender students, for whom there is no counseling staff and only one multi-stall gender-inclusive bathroom on campus in the McNeil Building. She added some students are gendered incorrectly with wrong pronouns when receiving correspondence from the University.

“I think it’s really important that people know that we are serving the trans community, but there is a lot more to do,” Cross said. “On a daily basis, our trans students’ identities are erased or negated.”

Inclusion in "2020 Best of the Best LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges & Universities" list is based on the institution's overall score given by the Campus Pride Index, for which Penn received five out of five stars. The index considers institutions' LGBTQ-inclusive policies, practices, and programs. In order to be included in the index, a university official must complete an assessment that weighs eight different factors: LGBTQ policy inclusion, institutional support, academic life, student life, housing, campus safety, health and counseling, and recruitment and retention.

Cross, who completes the assessment for Penn every year, acknowledged that the Campus Pride Index makes it difficult to directly compare schools, a likely reason for why the Campus Pride does not distribute individual rankings to the top 40 colleges and universities. Cross pointed out that LGBTQ programming across institutions can differ based on factors such as school size, student population, and whether the school is public or private.

Dartmouth College was not included in the top ranking, Cross said, but has more robust programming for Native American students who are part of the LGBTQ community in comparison to universities like Penn with a smaller population of Native American students.

Cross said Penn’s inclusion in the list is crucial to promote its LGBTQ community, gather inspiration from LGBTQ-friendly peer institutions, and create an even more inclusive environment for its students.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Cross said. “We can always use help, advice, and knowledge from other people.”

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