UC Berkeley awarded five-star LGBT campus climate rating

For the second year in a row, UC Berkeley was awarded a five-star campus climate rating for providing a safe and inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and staff.

The Campus Climate Index, released August 3 by the nonprofit organization Campus Pride, placed the campus in the ninetieth percentile, giving it the highest possible rating of five stars in seven of the eight categories, including LGBT policy inclusion, academic life, student life, campus safety and counseling and health.

“Colleges use the index as a way to become better,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. “We assess whether they did what they were asked to do on index to improve the school.”

The campus was one out of five University of California campuses to receive a five-star rating. The others are UCLA, UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara.

According to Jesse Bernal, UC systemwide university diversity coordinator, UC campuses tend to rate well in assessments like these because all campuses except UC Merced have LGBT resource centers. He added that the UC Office of the President will launch a campus climate survey to understand the experience of LGBT students, faculty and staff.

“That index is really based on what exists on paper. Are there policies, resource centers, residential halls dedicated to LGBT students?” Bernal, who is a former UC student regent, said. “We want to find out how effective are those things and what gaps are there in the actual experiences of students?”

According to Bernal, UCOP will form focus groups, led by a team of students, faculty and staff, at all 10  campuses that will be used to create surveys administered to UC students in fall 2012.

The office has already formed working groups to investigate how to bring policies from campuses with strong LGBT support to campuses with weaker programs, Bernal said. He added that a specific example of this would be to bring LGBT specific residential halls to campuses that do not have them.

Bernal said that though the index shows potential students that the university is open to people of all backgrounds, a challenge that the university will face will be protecting the limited resources campuses already have, which may face cuts due to reductions in state funding.

“Overwhelmingly, our campuses are positive and welcoming to students, but when it comes to LGBT resources, some campuses have more funding than others,” Bernal said. “I think because of limited resources and stretched staff, some campuses continue to struggle — there continue to be gaps in services. But more still needs to be done. Campuses want to be as supportive as possible, so we are looking at innovative solutions.”

At UC Berkeley, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the LGBT Community at Cal recently worked to bring a new policy change that allows LGBT staff members to use sick leave time to spend time bonding with a child, said Sam Sheffield, co-chair of the committee. He added that while the assessment did not cover staff diversity and contributions to LGBT equity, this policy was a big a step toward equity.

“The committee’s challenge is to create a campus that is very welcoming for future faculty, staff graduate students, staff,” Sheffield said. “Part of the committee’s mission is to start a dialogue between all different sections of students, faculty, staff and administration, pick up on issues and concerns that other people have and bring that up to the chancellor.”