URI is ranked the most LGBT+ inclusive campus in Rhode Island. Photo by James McIntosh.
The University of Rhode Island has been ranked the most LGBTQ+ inclusive college in Rhode Island by bestcolleges.com, which is in part due to the existence of the Gender and Sexuality Center and the campus resources the University offers.
When the Gender and Sexuality Center opened its doors in 2015, it became the first building ever on a college campus to be designed for the specific purpose of creating a resource center for the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the center’s most beloved events is the Big Gay Picnic, a welcome event held on the first day of classes with an authentic barbecue cuisine. The event features entertainers, such as drag queens and locals who run non-profits. The entertainers join the festivities to engage with the students.
“It’s something to get folks excited for the year and give them a piece of entertainment so they can have something exciting to start the year off with,” said Annie Russell, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center.
Student healthcare at the University of Rhode Island is conscious of the LGBTQ+ community as well. Student healthcare coverage offers hormone therapy and up to 90 percent coverage on transitional surgeries, such as breast mastectomies.
One of the Gender and Sexuality Center’s most popular resources is the Safe Zone trainings that they do in the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. The trainings inform participants about LGBTQ+ identities and how to be conscious of issues facing the community.
The sessions are held throughout the week at the Gender and Sexuality Center. In addition, any organization that has five or more people interested in being trained can book the trainers to hold a session.
Several departments, such as the Counseling Center, Health Services and some academic programs require their staff members undergo the training. The center has trained over 3,000 people on campus to date.
“The way that the center has changed the climate of the campus with all the outreach that we do and all the safe zone trainings, as well as just our general existence are probably the biggest accomplishments the school has made in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusion,” said Emery Chobar-Caya, the social media coordinator and social media specialist for the Gender and Sexuality Center.
Through the center, URI offers LGBTQ+ specific housing in Ellery Hall. The community, which consists of about 30 residents, is a safe place that focuses on LGBTQ+ issues.
Despite the accomplishments of inclusion on campus, there are still demands from the community that are not being met. The A group of 20 students took to the Quad on Nov. 7 to protest the lack of gender-inclusive bathrooms in the academic buildings on campus, a problem that URI President David Dooley pledged to fix over five years ago.
“We might be number one, but we still have a lot of things we have to do here,” Russell said. “Frankly for me, getting that ranking puts even more pressure on us to stand up to that reputation. If we are going to be number one we have to be about it.