Southern Oregon University was named one of the 25 most friendly LBGTQ campuses in America for the third year in a row by the national leading organization for acceptance and resources, Campus Pride. The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual Queer community has held a strong presence within the Raider student life for many years but has seen significant growth with the Queer Resource Center extending activities and trying to reach out to more students. 

Campus Pride is the only national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students. This is the seventh year that the organization has listed the top institutions and according to its website, selections of the Top 25 are made, “based in research on policy, program and practice and is conducted for and by LGBTQ experts in the field of higher education. Each campus updates their index annually and uses the Campus Pride benchmarking tool to make improvements for LGBTQ life on campus.” 

That benchmark is the result of 50-plus self-assessing questions that range from categories of specific to LGBTQ safety and campus life which are answered by a campus official then scored and reviewed by Campus Pride. 

Janelle Wilson was appointed Associate Director of Student Life for Social Justice and Service last Monday, the same day the Top 25 listing came out. Though she has a new title, Wilson isn’t new to the LBGTQ community on campus, as she served as coordinator for the SOU QRC for the last decade. 

“One of the great things about SOU is that the size makes it easier to talk to different departments and work across campus to be inclusive and supportive,” Wilson says, “It’s outstanding that SOU is doing important work for the student population and is being nationally recognized.” 

Acceptance and inclusion some of the main themes that the QRC tries to spread to new students, returning students and the entire Rogue Valley. Along with a multitude of meetings and counselling that SOU students can receive, the QRC also puts on annual events that consistently have large turnouts including: GAYme Night, Winter’s a Drag and the Erotic Ball. 

“I can say that as a queer and trans person of color, I never expect to be included except as an after thought of someone that host a poor social justice practice. But, at SOU staff and admin work tirelessly to edify their social justice practices! More importantly they are always open to being edified by students,” says Ahsante Sankofa Foree, a fourth-year student at SOU. 

Ahsante agrees with Wilson that communication among departments is part of what makes the programs and outreach so successful. “With every year it becomes easier,” they explain, “There is an intense culture of love and care between the centers that makes working together a priority and a pleasure.” 

Foree is working to create another space in the community during the upcoming school year, called the QTPOC Cutie Crew. The group hopes to hold gatherings where Queer and/or Transexual People Of Color can meet to be seen and heard in a safe and supportive area. 

Those looking to get involved with the community will be able to jump right in at the start of the new year. SOU will be sponsoring the Southern Oregon Pride Festival which takes place Oct. 10 in downtown Ashland. Wilson hopes that having the school sponsor the event will help increase the student turnout as well as community support because even though the campus has been nationally recognized, there’s always room to grow.

Ashland freelance writer Eli Stillman is editor-in-chief of The Siskiyou, the student-produced Southern Oregon University newspaper. Email him at stillmane@sou.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @eliment13.