Where OU stands as an LGBTQIA+ friendly campus

From 2017 through 2020, Campus Pride Index (CPI) ranked Oakland University the most LGBTQIA+ friendly campus in Michigan. As of 2022, OU is no longer number one on the list — the university is third in the state. 

Currently, OU has four and a half out of five stars on CPI, a rating system that is “an overall indicator of institutional commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policy, program and practice,” as per the website. 

The CPI is an assessment meant to be completed by campus employees who oversee LGBTQIA+ related programs and services. The CPI not only acts as a tool to measure campus inclusivity, but also assists universities and colleges in learning how they may improve their institutions. 

To calculate ratings, factors such as LGBTQIA+ policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing and residence life, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts are individually ranked out of five. OU also received four and a half out of five stars for both its sexual orientation and gender identity/expression scores.

Regarding OU’s shift from first to third most LGBTQIA+ friendly campus in the state, Graduate Assistant of the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) Jackie Weisenfelder says: “Other institutions with additional policies in place that are used as criteria for the ranking system have filled out the survey in the last few years that is used to gain data for the rankings.” 

Coordinator of the GSC Grace Wojcik filled out the CPI assessment and called it a “roadmap” into what areas could be improved across campus. In the past decade, OU has made progress.

“When I completed the first-ever CPI on behalf of OU in 2011, we received two and a half out of five stars, ranking us in the middle of all the Michigan institutions who had completed the index at that time,” Wojcik says. 

Supports in place that contribute to the university’s current high ranking include the GSC, the university’s resource center dedicated to the retention and graduation of LGBTQIA+ students. 

The GSC offers a variety of initiatives focused on education — peer mentoring, a Lending Library, the SAFE (Students, Administrators and Faculty for Equality) training program — and community-building — Pride Month celebrations, Lavender Graduation and weekly Q*mmunity Discussion and Support Group meetings, to name a few. 

“Despite the lower ranking, OU continues to be one of the most LGBTQ-friendly/inclusive campuses in the state, though the GSC was only established in 2005 and has a smaller professional staff (and perhaps budget) than many other LGBTQ+ resource centers at institutions across the state,” Wojcik says. 

Additionally, OU offers gender-inclusive housing, gender neutral bathrooms accessible in every building, an active Gay-Straight Alliance student organization and inclusive on-campus counselling, as well as on-campus medical care available by professions who are trained in health care needs of LGBTQIA+ communities. 

OU also has numerous policies in place to ensure gender identities, pronouns and preferred names are respected. 

In April of 2018, OU passed the 840 Preferred Name Policy which allows community members to have their preferred name on university records. The 845 Gender Identity/Personal Pronouns Policy was updated in October of 2021 to allow community members to self-select their gender identity and personal pronouns within OU’s information systems. 

“I think this is more just a broad education thing — sometimes I’ll come across people outside of the Women and Gender Studies classes and mention my pronouns and people just kind of look at you and they’re very confused,” says senior Isabella Levitt, an English major and LGBTQ Studies minor. “That’s because I use they/them pronouns, and a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, grammatically, that doesn’t make sense.’ So occasionally, I’ve had professors who try to fight me on it and be like, ‘well, that doesn’t make any sense.’” 

“This was a couple of years ago, so it’s possible that it’s changed over time,” they say. “But you know, it’s not a great feeling for your identity to be challenged, especially when we were in-person. It was in front of everybody. It was a little bit embarrassing. So I think it’s more of an individual professor kind of thing — some people take change easier than others, and it’s a learning curve for others.”  

Additionally, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning offers a recommended syllabus template which includes a section about students preferred name and pronouns so they may be respected in the classroom. The section also describes how to update one’s name in MySail.  

“[Something I’m impressed with] is how kind of second nature it is for every syllabus to include a note about pronouns and name usage,” Levitt says. “I’ve been at a couple of different schools — I went to Alma my freshman year and then I was at OCC for a little while as well. No other school that I’ve been to has had a note on every syllabus in every class I’ve had noting about pronoun usage and name changes.” 

Another factor that contributes to cultivating campus inclusivity are the courses and programs of study dedicated to LGBTQIA+ education. In 2015, OU introduced the LGBTQ Studies Minor

“We had students asking for the minor before ours was officially created, and we see demand for new courses in the area all the time,” says Ami Harbin, Ph.D. — associate professor and director of Women and Gender Studies. “One of our faculty members, Professor Lacey Story, will be offering a new course in winter 2023, WGS 3040: LGBTQ+ Lives Through a Global Lens.”

One student in the LGBTQ Studies minor program is Rebecca Dwyer, a senior double majoring in Women and Gender Studies and Psychology. 

“I never had a negative experience on campus, with professors, students, anybody at this point — [the environment has] always been very supportive,” Dwyer says. “I’ve heard the numbers too that we used to be number one and now we’re three and I don’t quite understand that or why, because for me I feel like we’re number one still — just from my experience.”