The vote is still out on whether Yale’s gay-friendly reputation truly matches campus reality.
Despite Yale’s reputation as the “gay Ivy,” students have long complained that the University does not provide enough institutional support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students. Though this past month brought three major steps forward for Yale’s LGBTQ community — suggesting that the University now has the momentum for change — students said the University will need to establish more concrete LGBTQ resources before it can claim to match those available at some of its peer institutions.
This semester saw the arrival at Yale of George Chauncey, an eminent scholar of gay history, and Maria Trumpler, who will be the first special advisor to the administration on LGBTQ students. In addition, last weekend the Yale Corporation approved the expansion of the University’s nondiscrimination policy to include “gender identity or expression.”
“I think they all reflect a common concern in LGBTQ issues in different parts of the University,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.
The administration’s apparent commitment to LGBTQ issues comes after the University was scored below many of its peer institutions in the “Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students” — published this past summer — which scored colleges and universities on their policies and programs for lesbian and gay students. Yale scored 12 points out of 20 in the survey, which placed it in the bottom 20 of the 100 schools ranked, below the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Duke and Stanford universities.
Yale lost points for the absence of a resource center for LGBTQ students, procedures for reporting bias and harassment and specialized housing, among other criteria. The University also lost one point for not including gender identity in its nondiscrimination policy at the time the book was written.
Although students quoted in the guide said favorable things about the atmosphere on Yale’s campus, its authors noted that the University has often needed prodding to change policies or add programs for gay and lesbian students.
“A quick glance at the history would show that LGBT students have had to fend for themselves,” its authors wrote.
Indeed, student organization by the Queer Political Action Committee was key in last year’s push for the nondiscrimination policy amendment, and the creation of Trumpler’s position followed a recommendation by the LGBTQ Needs Assessment Task Force.
Rudy Kleysteuber LAW ’07, who served on the Task Force, said Yale’s reputation as the “gay Ivy” masks the fact that the University is rarely on the cutting edge when it comes to policies and programs for LGBTQ students.
“We don’t have to be the ‘gay Ivy,’ but what we do have to do is at least be able to compete with our peer universities, which tend to have a much more welcoming climate,” he said.
But Trumpler’s appointment shows a willingness on the part of the administration to begin addressing deficiencies in its approach toward the LGBTQ community on campus, Kleysteuber said. The Task Force report described a lack of institutional support structures for students, such as counseling for students in the process of coming out.
“It acknowledges a shortcoming, and these are clear and obvious steps to improve that,” Kleysteuber said.
Trumpler said the convergence of the three advancements has invigorated the LGBTQ community at Yale and has created a fertile ground for future projects.
“I feel like I’m sort of at a party,” Trumpler said. “Everyone is sort of upbeat, and there’s lots of new energy.”
Jessie Ellner ’08 said she is optimistic about the opportunities created by Trumpler’s arrival, since she will be the first person to conduct a comprehensive examination of LGBTQ issues on the administrative level. Though students may not immediately see the effects of the new liaison and the changes to the discrimination policy, Ellner said, the changes indicate that the administration has made LGBTQ issues a priority.
“It might be the case that a lot of those things don’t directly affect student life, but I think the administration is giving a signal of openness,” she said. “It definitely creates an environment where there’s acceptance and welcoming.”
Ellner said she eventually hopes to see the creation of a permanent position in the Dean’s Office to administer programs for lesbian and gay students, as well as the expansion of the space allotted to the Queer Resources Center. The QRC is currently housed in a space at 305 Crown St. that is cramped and far from students’ dormitories, she said.
The availability of courses in lesbian and gay studies is important to establishing a climate friendly to lesbian and gay students, Kleysteuber said, because students and faculty need to understand the concerns of the gay and lesbian community, not just accommodate them. He compared the push for lesbian and gay studies at Yale today to the call for the introduction of African-American studies during the Civil Rights movement.
“It’s hard to be respected as a community until people recognize that your community not only has an identity, but that it also makes contributions,” he said.
Chauncey’s course “U.S. Lesbian and Gay History” will explore Yale’s record on LGBTQ issues through an oral history project pairing current students with Yale alumni. Interviews will serve as the basis for a paper analyzing the subject’s experience at Yale and placing it in a historical context, according to the syllabus for the class.
While the convergence of Trumpler’s hiring, the new nondiscrimination policy and Chauncey’s arrival all contribute to improvements in LGBTQ life at Yale, the fact that they all happened this month may be coincidental. Chauncey’s hiring was in the works for months, while the Task Force and QPAC worked independently in lobbying the administration.
“It’s part of the overall picture, [but] the fact that it all happens at once is just a little bit serendipitous,” Kleysteuber said.