George Mason University: Mason earns top honor from Campus Pride Index

George Mason University has been recognized as a “five-star premier campus” by Campus Pride Index, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating safer LGBTQ-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities.

Mason is one of only 29 U.S. institutions, out of 454 evaluated, with a five-star premier ranking, one of only three in the South, and the only one in Virginia.

Additionally, Mason is one of only four institutions nationally to also score a perfect 100 on the Athletic Equity Index, which examines how NCAA Division I institutions support LGBTQ student-athletes.

“At a university like ours, which is committed to access and welcoming to all, this sends a huge signal to our existing and prospective students,” said Rose Pascarell, vice president for University Life.

“Particularly for the LGBTQIA community, students and parents are often looking for signs,” she added. “That ranking sends a message to students and family and friends that Mason is not just trying to create a welcoming environment, but our practices and policies reflect that.”

Mason has been a leader in creating an LGBTQ+-friendly campus.

The university’s LGBTQ+ Resources Center has operated for 20 years and provides leadership and mentoring programs, and a clothing resource for trans and non-binary students. Mason’s student-led Pride Alliance, the oldest of several LGBTQ+ student organizations on campus, is dedicated to ensuring a safe, accepting space for LGBTQ+ students to live and meet.

Mason’s Living Learning Communities, including the LGBTQ+ Living Learning Community, allow like-minded students to live in the same residence hall, fostering connections and creating access to resources. The university also has a gender-inclusive housing policy for students living outside the Learning Community.

And Mason’s long-running annual “Drag Show,” held at the end of Mason’s PRIDE Week in the spring, draws hundreds of students to a celebration of the movement toward human rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

“I knew the university promotes a lot of its diversity initiatives,” said William Barker, a freshman cyber security engineering major, who during the next academic year will be the chair of Mason’s Queer Student Leadership Council. “It was a factor because I wanted to make sure I was going to be comfortable at the school I was going to.”

Juniper Mortimer, a rising junior majoring in government and international politics and a peer mentor with the LGBTQ+ Resources Center, said they were bolstered during the pandemic lockdown, when the resources center and Pride Alliance held virtual events so LGBTQ+ students could interact.

“I have been able to make all of my friends and connections,” Mortimer said, “and the Pride Index is a very good indicator that there is a space for anybody on Mason’s Campus.”

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ Resource center staff the center’s table at Mason’s welcome week. The table is stocked with various pride buttons, pride t-shirts, resource guides and other goodies.
Most important, said Josh Kinchen, director of the LGBTQ+ Resources Center, is not treating the LGBTQ+ community as a monolith, because it intersects with every demographic.

“We’re working with folks with all the pieces of their identity — undocumented, first-gen, veterans — instead of seeing them only in their sexuality and gender,” Kinchen said. “For an institution of our size and prestige, that is incredibly unique. But we can’t do it any other way, and that’s why we’ve had so much success.”

As for the index, “It shows that there is a true vibrancy here that we can prove.,” he said. “But it’s also a tool for us to hold ourselves accountable to say we have to live up to this now.”

So far, so good, Mortimer said.

“Mason has one of the most accepting and diverse environments I’ve been part of,” they said. “It’s been an amazing experience. If you’re looking for something like that, definitely come to Mason.”