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NIU Today | NIU earns national recognition for providing an LGBTQA inclusive environment

University achieves 5 out of 5 stars—its highest ranking ever—on Campus Pride Index

Northern Illinois University ranks among the most LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities in the nation.

Setting the bar for LGBTQ-inclusive polices, programs and practices, the national Campus Pride Index recently awarded NIU a 5-star rating—the highest possible rating and the university’s highest ranking yet.

“This is a tool for LGBTQ+ students, their families and allies use to choose colleges and universities. It’s a big deal and an exciting way to showcase who we are and what we do for our students,” said Molly Holmes, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) and advisor to the LGBTQA Residential Community.

Both the GSRC and the residential community—where students receive support as they connect with each other, faculty and staff—were among the many valuable resources highlighted as part of the Campus Pride Index’s NIU profile.

A free online tool used by prospective students to search a database of LGBTQ-friendly campuses, the Campus Pride Index is the premier LGBTQ national benchmarking tool for colleges and universities to create safer, more inclusive campus communities.

Based on a rigorous survey, NIU’s 5-star ranking serves as not only a testament to the programs and resources offered specifically for LGBTQ+ students, but also to the university’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a whole, as prioritized in the university’s mission , vision and values ​​and the Strategic Enrollment Plan (first unveiled in 2019).

University-wide efforts to ensure all Huskies feel welcome, included and valued are woven throughout countless programs, events, classes and initiatives throughout campus—both inside and outside the classroom.

Among numerous programmes, NIU’s Campus Pride Index profile showcases the LGBTQ+ Ally Training and Trans Ally Training offered through the GSRC, the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, the LGBTQ+ Speakers Bureau and the LGBTQ+ student organization, Prism.

“NIU offers a campus experience where LGBTQ+ students and their allies have community and can pursue academic and extracurricular interests inclusive of their identities,” the profile states.

As Prism President, staff assistant at the GSRC and a member of LGBTQ+ Speakers Bureau, fourth-year student Trevon Smith has experienced the resources highlighted in the Campus Pride Index frequently.

“This is big for everyone here at NIU, especially the queer and trans students.” he said. “With this five-star rating, we can hold our campus to a high standard of accountability when it comes to the care and support of our LGBTQ students. This five-star rating is not a stopping point. It’s a reason to raise the bar and the ground floor.”

Research and studies have shown that queer and transgender students in particular do quite a bit of research about colleges and universities before applying, said Katy Jaekel, Ph.D., an associate professor of Higher Education and vice chair of the Presidential Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

She has worked closely with queer and trans students for several years to research the reasons why they chose NIU, along with the ways in which they experience college both in and out of the classroom. The topic of how different student populations experience higher education also permeates the courses she teaches.

Along with resources like the GSRC and the LGBTQA Residential Community, LGBTQ+ students look for classes, academic programs and faculty that are inclusive, Dr. Jaekel said.

“While we have these things, what this 5-star ranking will do is elevate us so we can better communicate those nuances of what NIU does have to offer,” Dr. Jaekel said. “It also communicates that we have leadership on this campus that values ​​them as people, policies that ensure they’re seen as Huskies.”

As summarized in NIU’s Campus Pride Index profile, graduate and undergraduate programs offered through the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality allowing students to major, minor or pursue certificates in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, LGBTQ+ Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies .

And resources, such as the LGBTQ+ speakers Bureau and the TransAction Task Force, provide outlets and intervention opportunities for all Huskies to be part of campus education and activism.

“One of the things that helped elevate us are the ways in which our university highlights student voices,” Dr. Jaekel said. “We have always been very good about pushing for support for these students, but we couldn’t have done it without their advocacy, their support.”

The rating shows that NIU leaders, including President Lisa Freeman and Executive Vice President and Provost Beth Ingram, listen to students and welcome their input.

“I think that is one of the coolest things, an administration that takes student feedback seriously,” Dr. Jaekel said. “We’re an institution that engages in change, and I think that’s something really powerful.”

Gender-inclusive restrooms across campus provide accommodations to all, including trans people, and NIU students now can use the preferred/proper name option in MyNIU and update their name on their NIU OneCard ID without incurring a fee. The option gives students the opportunity to be authentic to who they are and how they want to be seen when navigating NIU.

“NIU is proud to be an empowering and affirming campus for LGBTQ+ students, inclusive of all of their intersectional identities,” the profile states.

As the university continues to put systems, structures and supports in place to be widen and open the door for visibility and representation, more students are coming to campus because of these resources, university leaders say.

The LGBTQA Residential Community has reached its highest capacity ever (46 residents, with a 10-person waitlist, as compared to a capacity of 12 when it opened in 2014).

“A lot of this is about the dedication of Molly and her team,” Dr. Jaekel said. “I think this has been a lot of work to push forward. I think, in particular, her efforts on this campus have been just amazing.”

Even amid the pandemic, connections with and between students were made through virtual opportunities and other “new and dynamic ways,” Holmes said, as university-wide collaborations and partnerships flourished.

NIU’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts recognize that many students have multiple minoritized identities and need multiple types of support, she said.

“It’s a wrap-around acknowledgment of the breadth and the holistic way we view diversity, equity and inclusion,” Holmes said of the Campus Pride Index rating. “It’s been really exciting to see our efforts being rewarded.”

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