Peter Caty/The Mirror

Gathered in front of the Egan Chapel, shivering from the wind, clutching a thin white candle, a voice from the crowd suddenly breaks the cold November silence. “May we not just pray for it, but let us act as well.”

The call to action came Wednesday night at the Candlelight Vigil for Acceptance at Fairfield University — only months after the “Princeton Review” ranked the University #19 on the national list of most unfriendly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) campuses.

Did the month-long series of LGBTQ events that took place throughout October create a more hospitable climate for Fairfield University’s gay community?

Meredith Marquez, the Associate Director of Student Diversity Programs, believes that the events did have an impact on campus. “Overall, the events were well attended – especially the lecture by Hugo Benavides and the Gilbert Baker event,” the administrator said. “The film series had about 25-40 people at each movie which I was pleased with.”

Walking around campus there are many signs that suggest Fairfield is more open to LGBTQ issues than it is thought to be.  For example, anyone who enters the Barone Campus Center will see a large rainbow flag hanging from the second level.

Also, if a student happened to glance down at his feet last Wednesday afternoon while walking to class he may have noticed an announcement of the candlelight vigil in bright and multi-colored chalk on the sidewalk.

Many doors in the residence halls have a Safe Space sticker on them, indicating that owner is part of the Ally Network, a campus-wide resource available to students who are in need of support about their sexuality.

Students say they feel that there is no legitimate problem on campus. After attending the vigil last Wednesday, Kristen Rydberg ’12 and Brittany Jenney ’13 said that they have never personally seen violence or unfriendliness towards the LGBTQ community at Fairfield.  Instead of outright violence, they have sensed “an unwillingness” towards the LGBTQ community because it is a topic “not in everyone’s comfort level or not ever talked about.”

Other students grappled with the issue, including Alaina Andreozzi’13, one of the many students recently involved in Safe Space training on campus.

“For the two years I have been at Fairfield I haven’t personally witnessed unfriendliness towards the LGBTQ community on campus,” Andreozzi said, “so my first inclination is to say that it’s merely a stereotype, through Safe Space training I realized that the reality is that up until recently, this stereotype was true.”

“That being said, Fairfield University is making great strides as a community. Change doesn’t happen overnight but we are going in the right direction,” Andreozzi said.

When asked about the accuracy of the “Princeton Review’s” ranking, Marquez said: “I don’t think that the ranking is fair because I’m not sure what it was based on and so it comes across as very arbitrary. I feel many college campuses still have work to do in creating inclusive, accepting environments but I feel that Fairfield has taken steps to do just that.”

An article on the “Princeton Review’s” website entitled “How to Tell if a College is LGBTQ-Friendly” outlines the standards of a LGBTQ- friendly community. The “red flags” are no LGBTQ center, support groups or anti-harassment policy.

Marquez evaluated Fairfield University using these standards, and said, “While we do not have an LGBTQ center, the issues of LGBTQ students are explicitly stated as the responsibility of the Office of Student Diversity Programs. We do have support groups including Alliance and the Coming Out, Being Out group, run out of the Counseling Center. Sexual orientation and gender identity are mentioned in both our anti-discrimination and harassment policy in the student handbook. It would seem that a school that had only “1 red flag” as the Princeton Review defines them should not be listed on the least LGBTQ friendly list.”

Along with the low ranking for friendliness, “Princeton Review” also voted Fairfield University #2 on the list of least diverse schools. Providence College #4 and Boston College ranked #9. Both Boston College and Providence also made the LGBTQ unfriendly list, with Boston College being ranked #10 and Providence ranked #18.

These three schools and a majority of the 20 colleges ranked LGBTQ unfriendly are religiously affiliated. Unaffiliated schools like New York University and Emerson College were ranked most accepting of the gay community.

Marist College is an independent Liberal Arts College located in New York with no religious affiliation. While ranked one of the Best Northeastern Colleges by the “Princeton Review,” it doesn’t appear on either the least diverse or LGBTQ unfriendly lists.

However, an openly gay sophomore currently attending Marist College said that while “no one is mean to me, that sense of belonging just doesn’t exist.” This individual, who asked not to be identified, feels that change will only occur “when you interact with gay people, when you know someone first hand.”

The events at Fairfield University followed in the wake of many tragedies striking the LGBTQ community over the past two months. Nationwide there have been many suicides as a result of anti-gay attacks on individuals.  Most recently an 18-year-old Rutgers University student jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a video of him engaging with another man was posted on the Internet.

However, on the Rutgers University website, the school boasts: “Rutgers is listed as one of the nation’s top 100 campuses for the LGBT community in the Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students.” Rutgers University is a state school, not affiliated with any religion, and is very diverse, breaking the stereotype that LGBTQ unfriendly schools are both of these things.

Yet, a horrible act of invasion of privacy and homophobic bullying was found on the same campus. Unfriendliness and violence can happen anywhere at any time.

James Fitzpatrick, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, said that while he has noticed a “genuine effort” on campus, we still have room for improvement. “As an alumnus, I’m pleased in the direction the University is going,” he said.

At the Candlelight Vigil last Wednesday night, the names of those who have taken their lives due to homophobic bullying were read one by one.  As each name was announced, Gabby Pelle ’13 couldn’t help but imagine the name of her close friend being added to the list, just because of his sexual orientation.

As the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played in the background, Pelle joined 50 other participants at the vigil – students, faculty, and administrators – in trying to commit themselves and the school to moving beyond the low ranking and to be a more accepting and open community.

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