Columbia ranks 19th most gay-friendly

By Heather Scroering

While Elmhurst College was busy re-doing its application to appeal more to the LGBTQ community, was ranking Columbia No. 19 in the Top 20 list of gay-friendly institutions in the nation.

“I feel really good that someone outside [the school] acknowledged it,” said Russell Yost, president of Common Ground, a student organization open to the LGBTQ community.

According to the Daily Beast’s website, institutions that made the list “have a diverse and accepting student body” and provide campus programs for LGBTQ awareness.

“At an arts and communications college, people who are interested in connecting are automatically more accepting,” said Terri Griffith, instructor of “Gay & Lesbian Studies II: 1980 to Present” at Columbia.

According to, a website dedicated to compiling reviews and research on more than 7,000 colleges and universities, Columbia was graded a B+ in diversity.

Of students who reviewed the college on the site, 76 percent said Columbia was “very accepting of minority students.”

“Columbia paints itself as a very inclusive community,” Griffith said. “I’ve worked here for 10 years.  All the moves that Columbia makes are toward diversity. Most students are from all over. I like that Columbia prioritizes these things.”

According to Griffith, many departments offer gay-focused classes, including humanities courses  like “Gay and Lesbian Studies I & II,” covering history from 1600 to the present. Classes are welcoming to all students, not just those who identify as gay, she said.

“I used to think [my class] was for someone who identifies as gay, but I found that in that class, maybe only half identify with the community,” Griffith said. “I always assume everyone has a reason to be there.”

Non-academic programs, such as Common Ground, are also offered to students.

According to Yost, there is an ever-growing interest in the organization. More than 700 people, excluding incoming freshman, signed up for the newsletter during the summer, he said.

“If we ever get an accurate count on our LGBTQ students, I’m fairly certain it would be larger than anyone thinks,” said Victoria Shannon, instructor of “Gay & Lesbian Studies I: 1600 to 1980.”

Common Ground offers many social events, fundraisers, guest speakers and political activism opportunities, Yost said.

“Common Ground always likes having a political backbone,” Yost said. “We create our own protest ideas, such as Flash Marriage, where we all wore wedding attire and marched down Michigan Avenue in blizzarding weather while holding hands and singing ‘Going to the Chapel.'”

He said it is important to the group that the political activism they participate in is “driven by the voices and ideas of

[the] members.”

A major criterion that determined gay-friendliness in the Top 20 list was whether the colleges had an LGBTQ Campus Center.

According to Griffith, the LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community runs Common Ground, creating a bond between students,faculty and staff.

“LGBTQ students are included under Multicultural Affairs, which adds major LGBTQ programming on campus from guest speakers to support groups,” Yost said.

However, the coordinator of the LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community, K. Bradford, recently left her position to pursue a graduate degree in California. According to Yost, the position has yet to be filled.

“K. Bradford did an amazing job adding pizazz to the LGBTQ office,” Yost said. “Though Multicultural Affairs has done so much to help us, I still have not heard any information on when the search for a new coordinator will begin or when the job will be posted and [administration] accepting applications.”

Because Columbia has such a vast LGBTQ student population, certain student services have been tailored to specifically accommodate those who identify with the community, according to Yost.

“Our counseling services have tweaked their system so well to include any problems that might walk in the door, from sexual identity to coming out,” he said.

Though Columbia tries to accommodate all students, Griffith, Yost and Shannon agree the college could do more to be a transgender-friendly campus.

Shannon and Yost said they would like to see more gender neutral bathrooms on campus. Yost recognized that there are issues in Residence Life that exist for transgendered individuals, and he believes Columbia could have a higher ranking in the future, if those problems are weeded out.

“I came to this school not knowing anything about the trans[gendered] community, and going here has opened my eyes with education,” Yost said. “I think everyone should have the opportunity to expand their horizons and find out

something new.”

Yost reiterated that transgendered individuals are always welcome at Common Ground, but the club could be more educated about the community.

“We also need to put more effort into educating the staff and faculty about transgender issues,” Shannon said.

Overall, Yost, Griffith and Shannon agreed Columbia’s ranking was a positive one. Griffith said diversity is one of Columbia’s biggest strengths and can be found everywhere throughout the college’s advertising and branding.

“I’m surprised that we are only [ranked] 19th,” Yost said. “So many LGBTQ students call Columbia home and use this campus to thrive.”