During Pride Month, Repair the World is featuring interviews with the people and organizations who are on the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. This week: Shane Windmeyer talks about founding Campus Pride, the leading organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students.
Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind Campus Pride.
It grew out of my experience being gay on a small, rural campus in the middle of Kansas. I came out to my fraternity brothers and luckily had a very positive experience, but I knew that wasn’t the case for many people. I went to college in the early 1990s when there weren’t a lot of resources for LGBT students who were closeted and trying to come out, or students who were already out. A small handful of campuses had started centers or clubs, but students needed basic resources. Campus Pride started out as an online clearing house where students from different campuses could share and find those resources.
How has Campus Pride changed and evolved over the last decade?
The biggest and most important evolution is that we’ve moved from being an online clearing house to a full-fledged organization that provides programs and services to students. Another thing that has changed is how we talk about students, and the way we look at LGBT young people. It used to be a common idea in the 1990s that there were gay people, but they did not necessarily talk about the intersectionality of their other identities. Now younger LGBT people are bringing their full identities to the table – things like their faith, gender, ethnicity, and race, in addition to their sexuality. It’s not a surprise, for example, that young people of faith who are LGBT have a very different experience because of what their faith means to them. Our programs try to work with people across the full, complex spectrum of who they are.
What is one of your favorite Campus Pride initiatives?
Camp Pride is one of our best programs. It’s a five day, five night training and conference for LGBT college-aged students. This year we had 70 undergraduate leaders from over 60 different colleges come together. I never would have imagined that, but now we have this national presence and students who take back these ideas and resources to their campuses. In tandem, we have a professional advisor boot camp for grad students, faculty and staff who work with LGBT students.
We also have the Campus Pride Index, which is an online tool that allows campuses to analyze, benchmark and share the resources they provide for LGBT students. The index is based on research, is updated every year, and is based around different criteria – things like housing and resident life, campus safety, recruitment and retention, student life, academic life, and institutional support. Each of these areas addresses different questions like, “does your campus have a mentoring program for new LGBT students?” or “Do you have a supplemental lavender or rainbow graduation to honor graduating LGBT students?” or “Do you have gender neutral restrooms?”
Campuses mostly want to be LGBT friendly, and some think just having a club is enough. But at the end of the day it’s about institutional commitment. Only 12% of our nation’s colleges have a non-discrimination policy that includes sexuality. And while 500-600 campuses are doing great work, a number of colleges are not doing any work to take responsibility for LGBT students. The good news is, 80% of colleges participating in the index have improved year on year, which means they are adding additional services and becoming increasingly supportive to their school’s LGBT community.
Tell me about Campus Pride’s faith initiatives?
We’ve always had students of faith who have come to us and participated in our programs. For the longest time, we would refer people to Faith in America, and other organizations doing good work in that arena. But within the last two years we’ve had students say, “we’d really like Campus Pride to make a commitment on faith issues.” So it’s been a newer journey for us. Right now, we have a group of about 15 students from different academic institutions that have a religious framework, like Notre Dame. The goal is to take the voices of students that sometimes get isolated at these institutions and magnify them on a national level, while creating greater resources for these campuses.
Where do you think Campus Pride will grow in the future?
I’m excited about the next five years of Campus Pride. We’re in a good position to continue our growth, and are doing the work that needs to be done for young people today. We also have the good fortune of being closely connected to students, and hearing what is important to them right now, and in the future. For example, while marriage equality is an important topic, by talking with young people on campus, we hear what other issues are bubbling up, and are able to get our finger on the pulse for what’s coming next.
Learn more about Campus Pride’s work at their website.