Portland State made the list of top 25 affordable LGBTQ-friendy online schools in the nation by SR Education Group released earlier this year.
PSU hosts an active Queer Resource Center, growing resources for the LGBTQ community, and education for professors and staff. However, the ranking does not reveal whether or not LGBTQ students actually feel safe or supported on campus.
SR Education Group, founded in 2004, researches online schools based on affordability, number of degrees available, veterans resources and, more recently, LGBTQ community support. To assemble its list, SR Education Group used rankings from Campus Pride, “a national nonprofit that worked with researchers to generate standards and tools for assessing LGBTQ-friendly policies, programs and practices at higher education institutions,” according to a statement from the group.
Colleges fill out a questionnaire from Campus Pride, which awards them up to 5 stars based on the offices, programs of study and other resources schools in place for LGBTQ students.
Just making the cut at number 25, PSU met the minimum standard of at least 15 different available degree options and at least 3 out of 5 stars on the Campus Pride Index. PSU scored 4.5 stars out of 5.
PSU’s “Campus Pride LGBTQ-Friendly Report Card” includes amenities such as paid LGBTQ support services staff, active ongoing training for hate crime prevention, LGBTQ counseling and support groups, and a trans-inclusive school health insurance policy that covers hormone replacement therapy.
Craig Leets, director of the Queer Resource Center, filled out the Campus Pride Survey for PSU. The survey includes LGBTQ-friendly policies and resources schools already in place, but does not survey students, staff or faculty members on whether they feel supported or know where to find resources.
“PSU does a lot of great work to have structures in place to help members of the queer and trans community,” Leets said. “But my critique of the [Campus Pride] questionnaire is that you don’t have to talk to students to get that ranking.”
SR Education Group confirmed they only rank colleges that choose to participate in the Campus Pride Survey.
Most college ranking methods, most notably the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, do not survey students or faculty to collect data. Rather, they look at freshman retention rates, classroom size, SAT scores, acceptance rates, and availability of financial aid. In the case of LGBTQ community support, schools might offer resources, classes or degree options that meet friendliness standards, but a ranking does not tell prospective students what the social climate is like toward members of the queer and trans communities.
Shel Pomerantz, a PSU junior and desk staff member at the QRC, said the QRC “could always use more support, more resources, more programming, more outreach and more to educate PSU community members on [LGBTQ] issues.” Speaking as a student rather than a QRC staff member, Pomerantz said, “A lot more could be done to make people feel more supported in the classroom.”
Leets said he agreed with Pomerantz’s opinion. “PSU students spend a majority of their time in the classroom,” Leets said. “More change could be most effective there.” Leets pointed out that while students can choose what clubs to join or locations on campus to avoid, student members of any marginalized group cannot pick and choose classes based on how they are treated.
“They can’t self-select out of that class,” Leets said. “They are continuously affected by their experience in the classroom.”
Leets said the QRC has had good communication with PSU President Wim Wiewel’s administration. The Office of Academic Innovation and the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion both educate professors about inclusivity and discrimination in the classroom. PSU has recently garnered praise for continuing and planning to expand its number of gender-neutral restrooms on campus despite President Trump’s repealing of the so-called Obama era “Bathroom Bill.”
However, Leets said even with the support systems PSU has put in place for queer and trans students, “If people have a certain lack of awareness or discontent, just having them doesn’t help.”
Leets pointed out that PSU does have more resources and a better environment for queer and trans students than do schools in other states. For that reason, he said, PSU has an “increased responsibility to do better.” Leets said he wants to balance appreciating what PSU has done to support the LGBTQ community and “be clear that there is lots of work we still need to do.”