By Tatyanna Carman
Rider scored a 3.5 out of 5-star rating as an LGBTQ+-friendly university on the Campus Pride Index in December 2019, which has a “report card” to evaluate LGBTQ+ policy inclusion, student life and campus safety.
Co-chairs of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee Cindy Threatt and Jonathon Sun said in their joint statement that the index requested that they submit examples of LGBTQ+ inclusion on campus. The assessment included dozens of questions responding to eight different LGBTQ-friendly factors, half of which address sexual orientation and half of which address gender identity and expression, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg.
“I am very proud of Rider’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion, and how this has been recognized through the 3.5-star rating by Campus Pride,” Fenneberg said. “We are one of only 358 colleges and universities across the country who have exercised their commitment enough to invest in explicit efforts for LGBTQ+ inclusion and the subsequent process of initiating an external review of our progress.”
She also said that the score makes Rider University eligible for the Campus Pride Index honor roll, which recognizes colleges and universities that score three stars and above.
Rider has added improvements for more LGBTQ+ inclusion such as establishing gender-inclusive housing, events like the LGBTQ+ dessert reception and an LGBTQ+ mentoring program.
“The rating aligns with Rider’s commitment to inclusive excellence. As outlined in the Inclusive Excellence Plan, Rider is committed to promoting a safe and welcoming physical environment and campus climate that garner a sense of belonging, and that is explicitly inclusive of people who identify as LGBTQ+,” Fenneberg said. “This rating provides a clear indicator of this commitment that I believe will help members of the LGBTQ+ community feel this respect and sense of belonging.”
Prevention Education Coordinator Susan Stahley was one of the people who reviewed the submission for the Campus Pride Index. She also shared how she felt about this rating and the work it took to earn it.
“I know from talking with students that gender-neutral housing has helped folks be their authentic selves as well as knowing where gender-neutral bathrooms are,” Stahley said. “It has taken a village to make all of this happen and work is ongoing to increase opportunities for continued inclusiveness.”
Junior radio, TV and film major Demara Barnes shed light on her thoughts about the rating.
“I think that the scoring is accurate being that Rider is just now having more outlets and things for the LGBTQ+ community on campus and making it more comfortable,” she said. “However, Rider still needs to expand on the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community because we really don’t have many events or anything on campus to spread our love and show our presence on campus.”
Barnes suggested that there should be more LGBTQ+ events like the Cranberry and White Affair to support other types of students on campus. Barnes is also a part of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and commented on how well it was including LGBTQ+ students on campus.
“[CDI] is doing the best they can to reach out to the LGBTQ+ community. With that being said, they really don’t promote it unless it’s during specific pride dates like Oct. 11, Coming Out Day and they do a pride walk. CDI is more geared toward inclusion of different races and cultures, but still making sure that they reach out to the LGBTQ+ community through their events,” she said.
Threatt and Sun said in their statement that the scoring report has raised awareness on LGBTQ+ issues on campus and increased participation with the Allies SafeZone Training, a voluntary program that supports and adds resources to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think student accountability of campus policies is valuable and helps to design campus policies around the student experience,” Sun and Threatt said. “Having Rider’s Campus Pride Index score, makes students’ and other individuals aware of what Rider is doing and can be part of building a more inclusive campus.”
Fenneberg added that the Campus Pride Index was a benchmarking tool and is currently being reviewed by the LGBTQ+ advisory committee to prioritize the next steps and communicate with relevant offices.
“A couple of specific efforts I know are underway include supporting the expansion of Spectrums peer mentoring program, expanding the campus systems in which preferred name integrates, enhancing education to students, faculty and staff on LGBTQ+ identities and inclusion and more actively recruiting students, faculty and staff who identify as LGBTQ+,” she said.
Fenneberg commended the work of a former Student Government Association (SGA) President John Modica toward initiating an LGBTQ+ advisory board, which influenced Rider’s rating.
Sun and Threatt also added onto what how LGBTQ+ inclusion on campus can be improved.
“LGBTQ+ inclusion can be improved through structural policy changes, but must also include the day-to-day between students. Change cannot only be bottom-up or top-down, there must be change in both directions. In doing so, change must include creating more inclusive policies that differentiate and recognize all facets of an individual’s identity, and students must be able to recognize and normalize understanding of an individual’s identity.”