Making your 2024 come to life on campus

Guest blog post by Tristan Wright of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley

Guest blog post by Tristan Wright of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley

#Fact: Roughly 40% of all Americans have a college degree, which means that just under half of us have experienced the arduous process of looking at and applying to colleges. We all brought our own priorities to the process: did it have the program we wanted? Was it far away enough from our parents? Could we afford it? Today’s high school seniors have countless measures of university quality, from the US News & World Report to the Princeton Review. Significantly, over the course of the last decade, campuses have begun seeking status on a new type of ranking: LGBTQ friendliness.

There are two major rankings of campus GLBTQ friendliness: the Princeton Review, which conducts an annual survey of over 100,000 students across 300+ campuses nationwide, and the Campus Pride Index, a comprehensive institutional self-review. Where the Princeton Review surveys students about their campuses, the Campus Pride Index surveys campuses about themselves. The Index analyzes eight different categories of LGBT friendliness: Policy Inclusion, Support & Institutional Commitment, Academic Life, Student Life, Housing & Residence Life, Campus Safety, Counseling & Health, and Recruitment & Retention Efforts. Participating campuses are asked to self-report by completing an in-depth questionnaire, which is then analyzed by a team of researchers at the Campus Pride Q Research Institute for Higher Education. Results are then returned to the campus with an accompanying set of recommendations. Although the Princeton Review’s “Top 20 Most LGBT Friendly” list holds brand recognition, the Campus Pride Index- which was designed as a tool for institutional development, rather than institutional marketing- offers more useful information.

A common theme in many of the futures envisioned for 2024 are campuses that are more supportive- not just by having a student organization or a tiny resource center, but by making substantive, structural and policy-level changes. Ensuring that all buildings have an adequate number of gender-neutral bathroom spaces as part of standard building code on campus is as significant as making it simple for transgender students to have the correct name and gender marker on their transcript and school ID. Although apparently dull, these impact the everyday experiences of transgender students- imagine having to run to another building to use a safe restroom, only to be late to a class where the professor uses the wrong name and pronoun during roll call, outing you to everyone in the room.

As My2024 comes to a close, the conversation shifts to crafting a declaration and taking on responsibility for our next steps. The Pride Index is a tool, a way to identify specific gaps in policy and structure that can be changed to improve the campus’ ability to serve LGBTQ students. Many of us here are part of campus communities, as students or as advisors- these can be some of our next steps. Since 2004, LGBTQ students have become a significant force on campuses nationwide, and the Pride Index highlights those colleges and universities that have successfully created new- and often simple- ways to improve the college experience for queer students, as well as helping campuses identify how they can make those changes, too. If, in the last ten years, the Pride Index has grown from an idea to a ranking of over four hundred campuses, how many could we add by 2024?

Virtual Communities & the Digital Divide

Guest blog post by Tristan Wright of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley

Guest blog post by Tristan Wright of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley

The Gay Alliance, the local LGBTQ non-profit where I work here in Rochester, NY, just had a community forum where we did our own version of My2024 the old-fashioned way, with post-it notes. The most common response from our participants was a desire for community space. A few weeks later, I’m sitting here, on my bed, in my pajamas, collaborating with people on the other side of the country- marveling at this scaled up, 21st century post-it board. Its fascinating to participate in something so widespread, with such potential to collect real and substantive goals for the next decade- a virtual community space, embodying the unique potential of the digital world to meet the needs that aren’t always as easy to create in physical space. Or, in cases like My2024, spaces that simply couldn’t exist in physical space.

There’s a statistic that always nags at me, though: a quarter of Americans live without home broadband access. That includes those who only have a smartphone as their high-speed internet connection. Just as we’ve long created and recreated physical spaces that segregate- by design or through disparate impact- the 21st century includes a new type of segregation, where virtual space is closed to many of the same people excluded from physical ones. What gets me most, in all of this, is that it doesn’t have to be this way: 98% of us live in an area where broadband is available, we just can’t afford it. Elsewhere, in nations considered less “developed” than ours, internet is far cheaper and of better quality than what most of us get here. Clearly, the persistent digital divide doesn’t need to persist at all.

My2024 demonstrates the potential to create virtual spaces that bring together ideas and resources that physically would’ve been impossible. It opens possibilities for crafting new solutions to the digital divide, ways to bring together resources and ideas. My hope for 2024 is that LGBTQ activism over the next decade will include actions to make broadband a public resource, establishing a ubiquity of access to the virtual communities that we’re creating today.