For some reason there are entities that we blindly trust. They can be found everywhere, across a host of spectra and media. They seem to exist to perpetuate a state of comfort for hungry consumers of information. For some this comes in the shape of blind faith. For others it means trusting the advice of elders. For many individuals seeking information about one of the more important decisions of their lives, the choice of a college, this trust gets placed in The Princeton Review. I take serious issue with that.
Last week The Princeton Review released its latest ranking of the allegedly least LGBT-friendly colleges in America. The list includes my alma mater, Wake Forest University, which comes in at number 7 this year. We rose in the ranking! Huzzah! Go Deacs! But here's the thing: This ranking is crap. Let me explain.
In recent years Wake Forest has established and grown an LGTBQ center and hired a phenomenal director to run it, all in response to a movement ignited by students. It has extended tax equity benefits to same-sex partners of university employees. And in the midst of the uproar over Chick-fil-A's questionable donations to anti-gay organizations, Wake Forest conducted a year-long dialogue on the issue with well-attended discussions and panel presentations. Oh, yeah: For the 2012-13 school year I, an openly and vehemently homosexual man, served as the popularly elected president of the Wake Forest student body.
Let me be abundantly clear: I do not believe that my election was some panacea for a school steeped in conservative traditions and still rife with narrow-minded individuals. Just as President Obama's election did not signal the end of racism in America (shocker, I know), my election did not herald a new era of equality and tranquility on Wake Forest's campus. However, I would assert that my election and subsequent tenure were proof positive of something that's becoming more and more apparent: My generation doesn't care whom you sleep with.
Back to The Princeton Review. If I were a 17-year-old high school junior and soon-to-be-reborn gay baby, I would shutter at the thought of even considering one of the schools on this list, let alone actually attending one. What is the method behind The Princeton Review's rankings? Who participated in the survey? What was the sample size? The world may never know. But as ill-gotten as the information within this survey is, its power cannot be underestimated. It's hard to challenge the claims of an organization with the considerable heft that, for whatever reason, The Princeton Review carries. Given the immense deluge of information that we consume on a regular basis, a sensationalized "least LGBT-friendly colleges in America" list is just waiting to be digested.
This list offends me. It purports to be a helpful guide for prospective college students and their parents, but I believe that a more fitting title for this list would be "Are You LGBT? Don't Even Consider Going To These Colleges." It amounts to self-segregation. As a gay man living in a world where LGBT rights are being fought for and earned literally on a day-to-day basis, I believe that poisonous and misguided information like this ranking sets back the movement for equality even more than a ballot measure or asinine court ruling. Its very premise -- assigning schools the moniker of "LGBT-unfriendly," which only functions to ensure that LGBT students will never venture to these places -- is offensive. The movement won't be finished until every sector of every part of this country is "friendly" to each and every citizen of this country.
We should be asking whether every institution of higher learning can readily cope with any number of diverse aspects of potential students' lives. Does a robust counseling department exist? Are there faculty members who are equipped both in their disciplines and in sensitivity training? Are there support organizations on campus? These questions don't even need to be limited to the LGBT experience. These are questions and qualifications that should be put to every institution that is committed to educating the populace. We're a diverse country. Let's try acting like it.
Wake Forest isn't perfect. No school is. Based on my personal experience, I'd say that more certainly can be done at Wake Forest and elsewhere. But rankings in general should always be taken with a grain of salt and an immense amount of scrutiny. Here's what I believe to be true:
- LGBT students should feel free to go to college anywhere. LGBT people are everywhere, so they shouldn't feel that any ranking prohibits them from going where they feel most comfortable.
- We need to stop ranking things and instead focus on making progress occur wherever it is necessary. Lest we forget, Prop 8 passed in the progressive utopia that is California. Where's the ranking that explains that?
- The Princeton Review needs some serious reviewing when it comes to LGBT issues on campus. Perhaps they should look to the good people at Campus Pride for some guidance. Or maybe they should end this particular ranking altogether. Just a thought.
Whatever The Princeton Review does, they need to think twice before perpetuating more of this nonsense in the public arena. I'd much rather be called "faggot" every day for the rest of my life than live with this misinformation being bandied about. Do better, Princeton Review. Do so much better.
This story appears in Issue 62 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, August 16.