Gay-Friendly Campuses–and the Princeton Review

From Inside Higher Ed:

The Princeton Review regularly is criticized for its ranking system, which is based on surveys of students — a system that critics find unscientific even by the standards of college rankings. At the same time, the Princeton Review is popular with students in part for providing analyses of many unofficial issues, such as which institution is the top “party school.” On Thursday, the Princeton Review was attacked by a gay rights group, Campus Pride, for using its regular surveys (which on many campuses may be filled out largely by straight people) to rate colleges on how gay-friendly they are. “This list is an erroneous, misleading indicator of acceptance for LGBT youth and their safety on campus,” said Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride (which does its own “index” on colleges for gay students, based more on policies or programs than a broad student survey). Robert Franek, senior vice president and publisher of the Princeton Review, noted in an interview that many gay groups have praised his publication for making gay inclusiveness a measure of college quality. Franek also said that his publication believes students “are the experts” and so he sees no reason to change the methodology.

I was particularly interested to see this because I wasn’t impressed to begin with by Princeton Review’s treatment of LGBT students’ college experience—the fact that they used the phrase “gay-friendly” instead of “LGBT-friendly” and titled the list of the least welcoming schools with the phrase “alternative lifestyles” says a lot about how much they sought to get a sense of the LGBT communities on the campuses they surveyed (the survey question, “Is there very little discrimination against homosexuals?” sounds as if it hasn’t been revised since the 1960s). And as Campus Pride (an awesome organization, by the way) said in a press release:

Their rankings were based off one single question asked to 122,000 students at the 371 top colleges — whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Students, faculty, and administrators treat all persons equally regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”

“This list is an erroneous, misleading indicator of acceptance for LGBT youth and their safety on campus,” said Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride and the author of The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students, the first-ever guide profiling the 100 Best LGBT-Friendly Colleges, released in 2006 by Alyson Books. “The majority of students responding to such a question – irrespective of response – will be straight. Their perceptions of equality are likely quite different from those of LGBT students.”

To me, this makes perfect sense.

Campus Pride uses its own methodology to rate—instead of rank—colleges on a variety of criteria including availability of gender-neutral housing/restrooms, LGBT-related course offerings, student organizations, staff diversity training, and that sort of thing (interestingly enough, Princeton gets five stars out of five—which makes sense, as its institutional community really is one of the very best—it’s the organic, noninstitutional community that could use some work). Looking at Campus Pride’s list is an interesting counterpart to some of the weirdness of the Princeton Review list—such as the suggestion that Stanford is more LGBT-friendly than Reed or Simon’s Rock—or indeed Berkeley, which doesn’t appear at all on Princeton Review’s list, but which offered the first undergraduate queer studies course in the country, as early as 1970.

Rankings are so pointless that it’s pointless to discuss how pointless they are, and so it seems worthwhile, I think, to draw a contrast between using criteria to grade an entity on how well it accomplishes something and trying to put the entity in a list that compares apples and oranges—Princeton Review puts liberal arts colleges and research universities, religious schools and military academies, all together, and that’s just not sensible.

Oh yeah, and I have one final question for Princeton Review. Why, in their “Alternative Lifestyles Not an Alternative” list, are the five military academies (which actively discriminate against LGBT students under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) not at the very top? That alone should be enough to call Princeton Review’s rankings into question.

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