By Shannon Sigafoos

After a decade with a 3-out-of-5-star rating—and a year after Thomas Lee was named assistant director of intercultural development for gender and sexuality programs, bringing with him initiatives to strengthen LGBTQIA+ practices across campus—Lafayette College is now ranked one of the top five most LGBTQIA+ friendly campuses in the state, according to the Campus Pride Index (CPI).

Lafayette’s new ranking of 4.5 out of a possible 5 stars means that there’s work yet to be done—a position Lee embraces, he says, because it provides “a very clear path forward to moving up and being one of the top schools in the country.”

“One of the things that I identified last year when I arrived was that we needed to redo that assessment, which had last been done in 2012. We wanted to look at what’s still missing, figure out what we actually do and what we don’t do, and measure any progress that’s been made.”

The index rankings also place Lafayette in the top 15 of small private liberal arts colleges nationally, and in the top 100 of all colleges and universities in the country.

Thomas Lee Assistant Director of Intercultural Development for Gender and Sexuality Programs

Thomas Lee in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

The assessment, which provides a road map to improve LGBTQIA+ campus life and helps shape the educational experience to be more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ students and allies, included campus-wide participation from Campus Life, Student Health, the Counseling Center, Housing and Residence Life, Public Safety, Admissions, Alumni Relations, Student Involvement, Human Resources, and Intercultural Development.

And while Lee cautions that the CPI doesn’t measure perceptions or climate of the campus, and doesn’t measure accessibility or utilizations of existing programs and policies, he says it’s a significant acknowledgment of work that has been done within the Lafayette community over the past 10 years to make it one of the best institutions for LGBTQIA+ students.

“There are eight CPI categories, and you can see where we’ve made gains from our 2012 score in each of them. One of the biggest gains that’s really incredible is in Counseling and Health, which jumped 66% and now has a perfect score. That’s a huge accomplishment,” says Lee, who recruited more than 500 faculty, staff, and students across the College to participate in Safe Zone trainings during the 2021-2022 academic year. “We can see which indicators we achieved over the last decade, and which ones are missing. The missing ones are really important, because they show us the next steps.”

Over the past year, Lafayette relaunched the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center; opened a gender-inclusive residence hall known as Lavender Lane; held a ceremony recognizing graduating students who have made historical and significant contributions to raising the visibility and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ identified people; organized significant programming to recognize LGBTQIA+ and Women’s History months; and opened more gender inclusive restrooms across campus.

Women’s, gender, and sexuality studies has grown significantly as both a major and a minor. Skillman Library has done significant work to increase the number of literature and subscriptions related to the LGBTQIA+ community. And while those are all steps that have moved the needle, Lee sees how Lafayette can get to—and retain—an eventual 5-star CPI rating.

“I’ve identified 10 indicators that are specifically missing at Lafayette, that if we were to achieve, would put us at a 5-star rating very soon,” he says. “While some indicators, like endowing  scholarships for LGBTQIA+ students, are much bigger and will take longer, these 10 are maybe six months out and tangible to achieve with campus-wide collaboration. This is giving us a framework to continue to work and to continue to make really positive changes. I look forward to working with other departments and our students to go even further and raise Lafayette College into a 5-Star Campus for our LGBTQIA+ community.