Bellarmine University recently received the highest rating of any private liberal arts institution in Kentucky in a nationally recognized metric of support colleges and universities show for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Bellarmine earned four out of five stars in the Campus Pride Index, which rates the university’s support for the LGBTQ+ community through policies and practices in student life, health, residence life, safety, academics, recruitment and retention.
Faculty, staff and students involved with Bellarmine’s LGBTQ+ community say the four-star rating reflects the progress Bellarmine has made in becoming a welcoming campus, while also highlighting areas for improvement.
“I thought it was good indication of where we stand and points to where we immediately have room to grow,” said Dr. Donald "DJ" Mitchell Jr., Bellarmine’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. “I like that ranking of ‘4,’ because it shows we’re striving to do better, but there’s always work to do.”
Bellarmine began filling out the index two years ago via a committee of stakeholders and was able to participate in the full scoring process for the first time this year. Bellarmine aims to use it as a tool to help identify gaps in services and support for LGBTQ+ students.
“We’re always reviewing our policies and practices to see how we can better serve students from the LGBTQ+ population because our students demand that,” said Mitchell, who is also chair of Bellarmine’s master’s program in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice.
Bellarmine provides direct services to LGBTQ+ students through the Office of Identity and Inclusion. In recent years, university initiatives have included designating at least one gender-neutral bathroom in most buildings and enabling community members to log their chosen name and pronouns into campus systems.
Additionally, Bellarmine celebrates Pride Week and National Coming Out Day and has a Lavender Graduation recognition for LGBTQ+ students, who can receive rainbow commencement cords.
BUKnighted is an active registered student organization (RSO) for LGBTQ+ students with about 75 members who work on advocacy, community service and social and educational programming. One of these programs is Inside Out, which offers peer-to-peer support via small discussion groups.
“Truly, the students do a really good job of creating community and supporting each other,” said Patrick Englert, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, co-chair of the President's Advisory Board on Equity and Inclusion, and advisor for BUKnighted.
Erica Dunne, a senior psychology major from Bowling Green, Ky., who serves as the community outreach coordinator for BUKnighted, said she thought Bellarmine has worked to become a welcoming campus in numerous ways, but could improve. Some schools have more resources, funding and facilities for their LGBTQ+ communities, she said.
She said she’d like to see the community have greater visibility on campus and receive more active, rather than passive support. And she’d like to see a greater focus on helping trans and non-binary students feel at home.
To that end, Englert said starting this fall, several offices across campus will work with the Office of Identity and Inclusion to host meetings each semester for trans and non-binary students to discuss and learn about the resources available to them on campus as well as share concerns with campus administration.
For example, trans and gender non-binary students may schedule a meeting with Leslie Maxie, Director of Residence Life, to discuss what housing accommodations may make them feel most comfortable and safe, such as finding the right floor or discussing bathroom options.
Dunne said she appreciated that the Office of Identity and Inclusion had expanded its space available to students; BUKnighted uses it frequently for meetings and events. And, she’s always felt accepted by staff and faculty.
“I’ve loved going to Bellarmine,” she said. “It’s been great. I’ve met some of my best friends here. I do appreciate the work Bellarmine’s done to be supportive and inclusive. But if you love something, you want to see it do the best that it can.”
BUKnighted President Jordan Stacy, a senior biochemistry major from Lexington, Ky., said he was proud of Bellarmine’s score on the Campus Pride Index and that he looks forward to seeing how the platform can help the university expand options and resources.
“I’m definitely an optimist,” he said. “It’s a matter of Bellarmine using the Pride Index, not making it a one-and-done situation of, ‘OK, we got a four,’ but rather, ‘What did we not get?’ and making those changes.”
Englert said he envisions creating a working group to look at next steps and digging into the areas where Bellarmine can grow and develop. For example, Bellarmine could benefit from an alumni affinity group, and there’s interest in that, he said.
Mitchell said it’s important for the university to focus on recruitment and retention of LGBTQ+ faculty and staff, as well, as they serve as important role models for students. This past year, Asissi Pride Network, an employee LGBTQ+ affinity group emerged with the purpose of helping employees feel welcome.
“We’re striving to live out our social justice mission,” Mitchell said. “This work affirms our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. I look forward to monitoring our progress using the index, to see how we can fill the gaps that are there, to continue to compare us to our peers, to ensure that we’re better serving current and future Bellarmine Knights. I’m glad we’re participating. I look forward to what’s to come.”