Despite the Dallas university’s broad range of programs and outreach to the LGBT community, students still rank it worse than even Baylor when it comes to ‘LGBT friendly’
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
Southern Methodist University in Dallas is the 12th most LGBT-unfriendly school in the country, according to the annual ranking compiled and issued by the Princeton Review.
But LGBT faculty, staff and alumni and straight allies say that Princeton Review doesn’t look at the whole picture and their school simply doesn’t belong in the same category as other schools whose policies are clearly discriminatory.
And rather than acknowledge strides the school has made in recent years, the list moved SMU to No. 12 this year, up from the 16th
position the Dallas university occupied last year.
The conservative Baptist school Baylor University in Waco, in the No. 11 spot last year, didn’t make the list at all this time around.
Dallas has the distinction of being the only city with two schools on the list — SMU and, at No. 9, the University of Dallas. And Texas is the only state with three schools on the list. In addition to the two in Dallas, Texas A&M comes in at No. 10.
SMU, which has been on the list for several years, is the only school in the group whose non-discrimination policies specifically include protections for the LGBT community.
Karen Click, director of the Women’s Center at SMU that includes LGBT programs, said she was hoping her school was moving off the list. She was disappointed that it moved up instead.
“As the staff member charged with improving the climate, it’s frustrating,” she said.
Click said that Campus Pride also surveys schools about the climate on campus and provides useful input. A new LGBT faculty and staff group was organized at the school this year as a result of recommendations from the group.
In June, a new LGBT alumni organization met for the first time. Openly gay Dean David Chard hosted the first reception for the group in the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas reception lounge in the new Simmons School of Education building.
In contrast, Baylor alumnus Patti Fink said, several years ago when a group of alumni tried to organize an LGBT alumni group, rather than welcome their donations, Baylor sent them a cease and desist order.
Chard said he was probably the only openly gay dean among any of the schools that made the bottom 20.
Fink joked that she didn’t have a list of Baylor’s gay deans handy.
“Even if I looked for a month, I probably wouldn’t find them,” she said.
Chard echoed Click’s frustration. He said that among other things, the school was about to present an anti-bullying conference and has hosted the Gayla Prom on campus for at least a decade.
Fink said there’s never been an LGBT dance on the Baylor campus nor any sanctioned LGBT organizations.
“SMU has been a sponsor of Black Tie Dinner, supported by almost all of the deans on campus, for three years,” Chard said.
And the Simmons School counseling program internship with the longest waiting list partners with Resource Center Dallas.
“We’re doing good work for members of our community,” Chard said.
Fink said she knew of no programs at Baylor that were tied to Waco’s LGBT community. The school has made no donations to fundraising events that support the community. She said her alma mater doesn’t hold an LGBT job fair, which SMU does annually, nor do any Baylor departments partner with any LGBT community groups.
Click said that a Baylor student read an article in Dallas Voice last year about the LGBT-unfriendly rankings. That student contacted her from Waco to help find any resources on the Baylor campus. Click connected her with faculty who are unable to be out on the Waco campus.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m working for two schools,” Click said.
She said that SMU has four LGBT groups and a fifth is forming. And, she said, support for the LGBT community is not new.
“Spectrum [the undergraduate group] has been operating since the 1980s,” she said.
An LGBT group at Perkins School of Theology is active and has the support of that school’s dean. Two other graduate schools with LGBT groups are the law school and business school.
Not only is SMU the only school on the Princeton Review list with a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, it has also offered domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff members’ partners since 2001.
To top it off, Fink said she doesn’t think any of her school has any staff members that perform on film or at a nightclub — or anywhere else for that matter — in drag.
But SMU does.
Joe Hoselton is graduate admissions coordinator at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, but in the LGBT community, he’s better known as Jenna Skyy.
Click said she is pretty sure that no graduate admissions counselor at any of the other schools on the list have ever taught classes on makeup or appeared at a president’s dinner in drag. And Fink confirmed that Baylor President Kenneth Starr is certainly unlikely to host a drag dinner.
Hoselton has done both those things at SMU.
Hoselton said that he thinks the Princeton Review ranking plays into SMU’s stereotypes, something he said he deals with all the time when he’s talking to prospective students.
Hoselton said that while the school has a reputation for its Greek culture, fraternity and sorority membership is capped at a third of undergraduates. When grad students are added, that’s only a sixth of the student body.
Hoselton said he thinks many of the respondents to the survey came from SMU’s business and law schools. Both schools have their own LGBT student organizations but are more conservative than the student population in general.
Hoselton said he thinks students from those schools are more likely to answer lengthy surveys and more likely to answer that there is discrimination, reflecting the stereotype rather than the reality.
Hoselton said that a theology student at Baylor spoke to him before applying to Perkins. That student told Hoselton he came out to a Baylor dean who told him he could continue to study at Baylor but would not graduate and would not find placement help.
The student transferred to Perkins at SMU, where the dean supports him.
Justin Nichols graduated from SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. He said that a regular financial aid application that included parent’s income indicated that he could afford the tuition. However, because he is gay, his father cut him off, so he filed a “special circumstances” form.
“They made it affordable for me to attend,” he said.
Fink said that she doubts being lesbian would have qualified her for special financial aid consideration at Baylor.
Despite the official policies and variety of programs, the ranking is based solely on how students view their own campus. Students from at least 20 other colleges think their schools are more homophobic than Baylor. And students at SMU think gays and lesbians are not treated very well.
“The message that remains from an undergraduate student body is they feel it’s a homophobic campus,” Chard said.