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Emory ranked best campus in Georgia for LGBT support

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Beverly Cox Clark

Emory students, staff and faculty participate in the annual Atlanta Pride parade. Emory is the only Georgia university to earn the “Top 50” rating for LGBT issues.

Emory University has been named among the nation’s "best of the best" for cultivating a supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students as one of Campus Pride’s 2014 Top 50 LGBT-Friendly Colleges and Universities.

With a five-star overall ranking, Emory is the only university in Georgia and among only three colleges and universities in the southeastern U.S. to be included in the Top 50.

Campus Pride is a national educational organization for LGBT student leaders and campus groups dedicated to building future leaders and safer, LGBT-friendly schools, colleges and universities.

Although Emory was also honored in 2012 as one of Campus Pride’s Top 25 LGBT-Friendly Colleges and Universities, this marks the first year that the non-profit organization has released a list of the 50 "best of the best" — an important marker of "positive progress" in supporting LGBT students in higher education, according to Campus Pride.

"For six years in a row, Campus Pride has seen an increase in the number of campuses coming out as LGBT-friendly and making notable improvements to LGBT academic life, so we decided to honor 50 campuses with our national distinction," says Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride and creator of the Campus Pride Index, a national benchmarking tool which assesses LGBT-friendly policies, programs and practices.

Based upon the index, Emory earned top marks — five out of five stars — in LGBT support and institutional commitment and LGBT student life, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts.

Emory also scored 4.0 or better in areas of LGBT academic life, policy inclusion, housing and residence life.

To those connected through Emory’s Office of LGBT Life, the Campus Pride recognition comes as a gratifying acknowledgement of years of hard work to create a more inclusive, equitable and safe learning environment.

"It’s inspiring to know that we have students, faculty, staff and alumni who have been working together for 23 years, and beyond, engaged in important work and conversations that haven’t always been easy," says Michael Shutt, director the Office of LGBT Life and interim director of Emory’s new Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

"But because we have a community that is connected and willing to work together that has made all the difference," he says. "The story this recognition tells is that we have intentionally committed ourselves to creating community."

A history of hard work

Founded in 1991, Emory’s Office of LGBT Life is the 10th oldest LGBT campus office in the nation and supports leadership development and student programming to advance networking, professional development and educational opportunities.

Over the years, the office has worked to help secure domestic partner benefits for students and employees, a revised Equal Opportunity Policy that includes sexual orientation, and more recently, an inclusive student health plan.

"When we made Campus Pride’s top 25 list, we were in that place, in part, because we were one of the earliest institutions in the country — and the first in the Southeast — to provide LGBT support services, and we’ve continued that progress," Shutt says.

"Across the country, people are engaged in this work, but at Emory we’ve continued to be a leader," he adds. "And we have not been lazy in our work."

This year, for example, Emory’s Department of Residence Life and Housing is implementing for the first time a fully Gender Inclusive Housing policy that allows all students — including LGBT students — to request a roommate of any sex or gender in the Clairmont Residential Center.

Those kinds of considerations are making a real difference in the recruitment and retention of LGBT students, according to Shutt, who says that his office receives a growing number of inquiries from students as young as high school sophomores who’ve taken notice of Emory’s favorable Campus Pride ratings.

 "Being at Emory means that I can say more than ‘I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it’ — it also means that my lived experience and my voice are valued," says Zeb Trelor, a masters of divinity student and president of Sacred Worth, a LGBT support and advocacy organization in the Candler School of Theology.

"I am able to say, ‘Here's where our school is excelling and here is where our school can better support future students who are also LGBTQ,’" Trelor says. "And I know that the president of the university, the dean of my school and the faculty take our needs seriously."

The Campus Pride Index features more than 425 campuses online and highlights 56 campuses that achieved the highest ranking of five stars overall, which marks the largest number of institutions of higher learning to date, according to Windmeyer.

For the third consecutive year, more than 80 percent of participating colleges improved their ratings from the previous year. Notably, the top 50 list reflects an uptick in campuses located in the South, religiously affiliated campuses and minority serving institutions, which have often proven points of struggle for LGBT advocacy, he adds.

"Recognition from Campus Pride highlights the incredible work that administrators, faculty, staff and students are doing to change Emory institutionally and culturally … it makes me very proud to call the Emory community my home," says Nowmee Shehab, a rising junior at Emory and vice president of Emory Pride.

"However, it also makes me reflect on the status of LGBT equality in Georgia and the amount of work that needs to be done," Shehab says.

For that reason, seeing Emory included among the "best of the best" for advancement of LGBT issues "is a significant achievement, particularly in the South, and germinates from a long history of advocacy by students, staff, and involved and invested alumni," says Lilly Correa, (1973, College) and co-chair of GALA: Emory LGBT Alumni

View the full Campus Pride Top 50 List.

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