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UW-Eau Claire ranked No. 3 in country for LGBTQ-friendly colleges

| Denise Olson

A core mission of UW-Eau Claire is to create an inclusive community where all students thrive and find the programs and support needed to reach their full potential. That type of goal is sometimes hard to measure, but recent national rankings regarding our support for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) students and staff is a strong indication that we are making great progress.

For 2017, UW-Eau Claire has jumped from No. 44 to No. 3 in the College Choice rankings for the 50 Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students. The College Choice organization seeks out those schools that protect their LGBTQ students through policy inclusion; those that offer a number of resources and services for LGBTQ students, from specific health care and counseling services to safe spaces and resource centers; and those schools that promote LGBTQ perspectives in their curriculum.

Coming in third, behind Princeton and MIT, UW-Eau Claire is recognized by College Choice for the following factors: 

  • Diverse cultural programming
  • Wide array of support services
  • The LGBTQ Resource Center, the Bridge
  • Safe Space training
  • Eau Queer Film Festival, produced and directed by students
  • The Fire Ball annual drag show
  • Inclusive curriculum that includes queer theory, politics of sexuality, sociology of sexuality, and gender and sex in history

College Choice bases its rankings, in part, on the scoring of institutions by the Campus Pride Index. Christopher Jorgenson, the director of the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center, actually places a bit more value on the score UW-Eau Claire receives from Campus Pride, which is a much more holistic and detailed metric.

"This metric is much more complete. It's a five-star system, and we are one of three UW schools to earn a 4.5, with UW-Green Bay and Milwaukee. It includes everything from faculty, staff and student experiences, to LGBTQ inclusion policy, institutional commitment, campus safety, academics — it's all in there. And it's public — the scores in all areas can be seen by prospective students, which is the point," Jorgenson says.

UW-Eau Claire's Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center has an award-winning director in Jorgenson (see related story), along with a talented and dedicated staff of 10 student interns who carry out the mission of the office. These interns come from diverse academic fields, as well as diverse backgrounds as either LBGTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual)  community members or allies. Under Jorgenson's leadership, the team is recognized as some of the highest quality student leadership on campus. 

Alyssa Rae Plano, a sophomore English major, is one of the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center interns, and is proud of the number of services this campus has available to LGBTQIA+ students, in comparison to some schools.

"UWEC, like any other institution, has progress to still be made in terms of diversity; however, we are fortunate to have a Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center, bias incident reports, the Center for Awareness of Sexual Assault, free access to counseling services, and administrators who support diversity. Not all college campuses have support systems like UW-Eau Claire does," Plano said.

The work that goes on through the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center provides interns the opportunity to develop interests and skills in many areas, from event planning and networking to grass-roots advocacy work.

Graduating senior Kallie Friede, women's studies and public relations double major, is no stranger to peer education and advocacy work. She has worked on the SWAT health educator team and the former Center for Alcohol Studies & Education office. Friede has discovered through her time working with Jorgenson that her passion lies in student affairs, and will be pursuing a master's degree in student affairs administration online through UW-La Crosse. Luckily for Blugolds, she will be completing her graduate assistantship right here in Jorgenson's office.

"Professionally, working in this office is what got me interested in student affairs. I think the work the office does is integral for retention of students because it provides support, resources, programming and a community for LGBTQIA+ students, women, etc. Before working for this office, I was unaware of the importance of these programs and services," Friede said. "Personally, it has allowed me to grow in many ways. I’ve become a better critical thinker, and more aware of the impact of politics on everyday lives. Working here helped me to seek out resources for my own sexual assault. Had I never stumbled upon the office, I wouldn’t have had any of these experiences."

When it comes to his staff, Jorgenson attributes the increased sense of community strength for LGBTQIA+ students and staff to the dedicated work of his interns. It is, after all, the student voice and perspective that is most important in these types of rankings, and the work of taking that temperature here on campus is carried out by the student interns. 

"The community building is really the hardest work to do. Administration can tick off a list of agenda items and can follow national trends to try to keep us where we want to be, but it’s student input that tells us how this campus is doing — policy can't do that for us. Fostering commitment to a real sense of community is something these students take very seriously," said Jorgenson.

According to Jorgenson, there is always more work to be done in this field. He is hopeful, however, that the next set of ratings from the Campus Pride Index will have UW-Eau Claire listed as a five-star campus.

"We're already a Premier Campus, which is good. We have now added a couple LGBTQIA+ specific provisions in Counseling Services and Student Health Services, which we think should be enough to bump us up to five stars. That would put us in the top 18 nationwide," he said.

While it is clear that the work done by Jorgenson and his resource center interns is crucial to the success of this campus in creating the positive climate for LGBTQIA+ staff and students, he is grateful for institutional priorities that underlie all that they do in his office.

"None of it is possible without an administration that for five plus years has really put its money where its mission is. We've had leadership that is able to acknowledge where we started, and never lose sight of where it is we need to go. That's our real advantage," Jorgenson said. 

Women's & LGBTQ Resource Center Staff, top imageBack row: Evan Andor, Chandler Roberts, Devin Dawson, Ivy Arora, Alyssa Rae Plano, Ben Johnston, Summer Underwood  Front row: Kallie Friede, Savannah Gaines, Christopher Jorgenson