When Maxwell Reiver arrived as a first-year student at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016, he had high expectations for the how the University supported its Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) students.
“This had been the most important factor in determining whether or not a school would be right for me,” said Reiver, a Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, native who is pursuing degrees in Japanese and English Literature in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, with a certificate in Asian Studies from the University Center for International Studies. “As a gender non-conforming trans person, I was especially concerned with how I could have a positive college experience while safely navigating living away from my parents in a new city.”
Reiver said, from the start, he was accommodated with a single occupancy room and a private bathroom on a gender-neutral floor in a campus residence hall. At the time, Pitt hadn’t yet developed its Gender and Sexuality Living Learning Community—which is just one of the ways Reiver said that Pitt has come far in the past few years in its support for LGBTQ+ students. And this week, Pitt was honored by being named a Best College for LGBTQ+ students by Best Colleges in partnership with Campus Pride.
Reiver, who said he is “thrilled” Pitt has made progress in its support for LGBTQ+ students, said he found his community through a student organization called Rainbow Alliance.
“Through those same friends from Rainbow, I was introduced to a group of trans and non-binary students who would casually get together over snacks before Rainbow meetings. This group went on to become T is For, an organization for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming members of the Pitt community,” said Reiver, who currently serves as president of T is For. Reiver said even during the COVID-19 crisis, the group continues to have weekly meetings over Zoom to “feel a little less apart during these strange times.”
Always in progress
Reiver said that the expansion of gender-inclusive housing, implementation of the preferred name process, the creation of more gender-neutral bathrooms and the development of more LGBTQ+ student organizations have made a positive impact—but said there’s room fro growth.
Katie Pope, Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for Civil Rights and Title IX agrees.
“This June during Pride Month, I’m especially proud that Pitt has been named a Best College for LGBTQ+ students, but there’s certainly more work to be done,” said Pope. “At Pitt, the work is always in progress to live up to our commitment of ensuring that all members of our LGBTQIA+ community feel safe, respected and valued.”
More about the rankingThe Best Colleges for LGBTQ+ Students ranking “recognizes U.S. schools that have established the highest standards for inclusive environments while maintaining strong academic programs for students.” The ranking is also intended to help prospective students of various gender and sexual identities with their college search.
In the ranking, Pitt received a five out of five stars, this is the fourth year that the University has been ranked on the index.
- Policy inclusion
- Support and institutional commitment
- Academic life
- Student life
- Housing and residence life
- Campus safety
- Counseling and health
- Recruitment and retention
Led by Pope, Pitt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) puts a strong emphasis on education and offers a spectrum of resources to support the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community on campus. To better foster an understanding of LGBTQIA+ issues and to create a more inclusive environment, ODI leads customized trainings to groups across campus on a variety of topics. In the fall, ODI will resume its LGBTQIA+office hours,where all members of the University community are able to discuss their questions, concerns or ideas for improving the LGBTQIA+ experience.
A strong partner
Another strong partner of ODI, Pope said, is Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) Program in the Dietrich School.
“In the GSWS Program, we’ve worked hard to create a strong curriculum in LGBTQ studies and queer theory, and our new minor in LGBTQ and Critical Sexuality Studies (launched in spring 2019) is an important contribution to that curriculum,” said Nancy Glazener, director of the GSWS Program.
Outside the classroom, students who are interested in LGBTQIA communities and sexuality studies have landed internships at organizations like the Girl Scouts, the Midwife Center, Planned Parenthood and the City Gender Equity Commission.
“While we value the rigor associated with academic work, we also emphasize that our faculty and students are a community, and the events that we sponsor help foster close collaboration between faculty and students, and exposure to new scholarship that helps students think through their place in the world,” said Frayda Cohen, the GSWS Program’s director of undergraduate studies.
Both Glazener and Cohen said Julie Beaulieu, lecturer in the GSWS Program, has done a great deal in making Pitt an institution that received a good rating on the Campus Pride index, calling her an “incredible resource” for the Pitt community as a whole—leading many workshops and collaborating with ODI, student groups and Pitt organizations such as the Transgender Working Group.
Another project in the works: Beaulieu, along with Robin Kear and David Grinnell of the University Library System, recently received an Innovation in Education grant in order to develop an online discovery tool for LGBTQ archives in the Pittsburgh area. Pitt students, through classes and internships, will be centrally involved in developing this tool and working in the archives it accesses.
“In addition to building on and helping to document existing histories of LGBTQ Pittsburgh, the Pitt LGBTQ Archival Education Project will make a strong contribution to sustaining Pitt’s commitment to diversity, and it helps us to heal some wounds by telling untold stories,” said Beaulieu. “We’re particularly invested in collecting information about archival materials that uplift the voices of black and brown LGBTQ people in Pittsburgh’s community.”
“As faculty in GSWS, I see nothing but enthusiasm for Pitt’s progress and I’m incredibly honored to do my part; it’s a way of saying thank you to those that gave me a chance,” said Beaulieu. “We should take pride in the fact that most of us at Pitt are eager to get ahead of the curve simply because it’s objectively good to serve our LGBTQ students.”