college

Can You Trust the Princeton Review’s Gay-Friendly Rankings? Probably Not

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To figure out how to rank colleges as “gay-friendly,” the Princeton Review asked just one question to the 122,000 students it surveys. And it was a terrible question, at that. Some people think this is a faulty methodology.

Because it so is! And quite problematic for students and their families who want to send their kid off to a campus where there’s a welcoming queer population.

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New York University and Stanford are the gay-friendliest schools, says the Princeton Review’s latest rankings. The third pick was a tiny school called the New College of Florida. And the Review also ranked the gay-unfriendliest, which led to a drag queen staffer at Southern Methodist University trying to save his school’s rep.

But to get those rankings, the Review relied on answers to a single question: Do you agree or disagree that “students, faculty, and administrators treat all persons equally regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression”? The more “Yes” answers, the higher up the school’s ranking went.

It’s a pretty generic question to determine what’s unarguably a huge criteria for America’s graduating high school gays. And that’s what the group Campus Pride (an organization “for student leaders and campus organizations working to create safer, more LGBT-friendly colleges and universities”) is arguing in a new report that says the Princeton Review’s gay-friendly ranking aren’t just worrisome, but they’re practically malpractice. Reads a statement:

“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.”

While Princeton Review— a widely trusted company—believes that their rankings are created to help parents and students determine which school is right for them, Campus Pride believes that parents who are truly concerned for their children’s safety and well-being will be misled by these particular findings. Campus Pride strongly believes that given the rise in violence and harassment among LGBT students, there are serious issues to consider when looking for the right college.

Another reason for concern is the dated use of the words ‘alternative lifestyle’ when referring to the lives of LGBT people. “It’s disrespectful and out of touch because it alludes that being gay is a choice and something that can be cured,” Windmeyer said. “The insensitivity to language is a major warning sign that this guide does not have the nuanced perspective to be a trusted resource and to truly understand the complexity of LGBT students’ lives and needs.”

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So what’s the alternative? Well Campus Pride has its own rankings! The Campus Climate Index is available free to students and parents, and goes much more in depth into all things gay-friendly. There, schools are ranked on a 5-star scale, calculated on a set of factors like student life, academic life, campus safety, and policy inclusion. (There are also separate scores for sexual orientation and gender identity; interesting.)

Which schools score well on this index? Princeton, Syracuse, Penn State, UC Berkeley, UPenn, and the University of Vermont, among others. Way at the bottom? University of Southern Indiana and Carroll Community College in Maryland.

And how did the Princeton Review’s top picks compare? NYU scored 4 out of 5 stars, while neither Stanford nor New College of Florida were ranked.

Is either guide perfect? Of course not. But the more information students have — and the more they understand how schools earn these scores — the better. And then there’s the tried and true method of knowing whether a campus will satisfy your gay-friendly needs: ask current and former students. We hear there’s this amazing thing called “Facebook” that can help you with that.