Texas Tech University ranks top in state for inclusivity efforts

By Amamda Castro-Crist

When Jody Randall, director of the Texas Tech University Office of LGBTQIA, first visited the campus in spring 2016, she noticed several things about the climate for LGBTQIA people at the university.

“There was sizeable student population, a visible presence among faculty, staff and alumni, and an institutional commitment towards strengthening the community,” Randall said. “What was missing was strategic direction in the oversight, planning and implementation of educational awareness and learning programs. At that time, much of our efforts were responsive and done within silos verses shared across areas and in collaboration with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners.”

In January 2017, Randall returned to Texas Tech to lead the Office of LGBTQIA. One of her first tasks was assessing where Texas Tech was as benchmarked among other institutions within the Big 12 Conference, in Texas and across the country. One of the tools used to analyze this data is the Campus Pride Index (CPI), which evaluates the progress of colleges and universities in becoming more inclusive for LGBTQIA individuals.

Texas Tech's CPI overall score at the time was just 2 out of 5 possible stars. Randall laid out a vision to get Texas Tech to a 3-star ranking by April 2018.

In August 2017, eight months ahead of schedule, Texas Tech raced past that goal, earning not just a 4-star ranking, but also designation as a Premier Campus. This summer, the university continued the trend, earning 4.5 stars in the 2018 rankings and placing at the No. 2 spot among ranked Texas universities.

“We're now near the front of the pack, tied with the University of Houston and second only to the University of Texas at Dallas, which received a 5-star ranking,” Randall said. “The University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University are 4-star institutions.”

On the heels of that success, Texas Tech also has been featured on the SR Education Group's 2018 list of the Most Affordable LGBTQ-Friendly Online Colleges. To be considered for the list, an institution must have at least a 4-star CPI ranking and offer 15 or more fully online degree programs – Texas Tech offers more than 100 fully online degree programs.

“It has been an incredible honor to be part of a team of colleagues and a community who demonstrate what it means to be a truly inclusive campus community,” said Carol Sumner, vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. “We celebrate this very esteemed recognition and see it as a reflection of the work that Jody has been tirelessly leading alongside a group of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. Our motto ‘Strive for Honor' is embodied not just in the spirit but in the actions of our Red Raider community, and we work every day to create inclusive spaces, celebrate the breadth of our diverse community and provide equitable opportunities for all who call Texas Tech their own.”

A community effort

In determining an institution's CPI score, several aspects are examined, including policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing and residence life, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts. With the exception of housing and residence life, which stayed the same, Texas Tech's scores increased across the board, including a 26 percent increase in campus safety.

Randall said several things have contributed to the university's progress, especially the unwavering commitment of senior administrators who know inclusivity is the right thing to do and understand what an institution of today must do to thrive.

“It also has been the efforts of our ally community, comprised of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who understand their role is not just a title they hold, but a responsibility,” Randall said. “Our student leaders have been tireless in their efforts to tell our stories and speak to their experience on campus, in Lubbock and the greater West Texas region.”

Multiple entities have worked alongside the Office of LGBTQIA, including Student Affairs, the Division of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, the Risk Intervention and Safety Education (RISE) office, the Student Counseling Center, Women's & Gender Studies, Human Resources and student organizations like the Tech Gender and Sexuality Association, TTU OUTlaw and the Texas Tech University Health Science Center's Gay-Straight Alliance.

“I would be remiss if I did not specifically name our biggest community partner, PFLAG Lubbock, and the 25-plus years of work they have done in Lubbock and at Texas Tech,” Randall said.

Several initiatives spearheaded by Randall and her team have contributed to Texas Tech's recognition by the SR Education Group and the increased CPI ranking.

“From daily meetings with students, faculty and staff, to the campus-wide signature events such as Texas Tech Pride Week and the Big 12 LGBTQIA Summit, Jody's presence, expertise and warm heart have brought about positive change here at Texas Tech in terms of inclusivity of our LGBTQIA community and bringing our Red Raider family closer together,” said Catherine Duran, the associate vice provost for Student Affairs. “An inclusive environment is so important for our students, faculty and staff, not only for everyone to be successful and productive, but also for living one's authentic self.”

Over the past year and a half, peer education programming has grown to include 60 presentations and 27 events impacting nearly 3,000 students, faculty and staff. Through partnerships with Women's & Gender Studies and the Department of History, academic offerings relative to gender and sexuality include a new LGBTQIA history course this fall. Recognizing that creating a more inclusive educational environment for students can only go so far without LGBTQIA faculty, staff and alumni, the office also launched the LGBTQIA Faculty/Staff Association and the Texas Tech Alumni Association National Pride Chapter.

“Universities have an implicit social responsibility to develop an educated citizenry,” Randall said. “We do this through the curricular and co-curricular experiences of campus life, as well as through our organizational practices, polices and expectation of each other. Data suggests that a high-quality education tends to result in higher social capital and democratic development as a society.”

Randall said this type of work requires effort from everyone. Historically, an equitable playing field for underrepresented populations has not always existed.

“This is one of the many reason we do this work,” she said. “The inclusive environment of a campus like Texas Tech is the vehicle through which our students experience cultural and social life. It prepares them not just for a future job, but to be part of something larger.”

Looking forward

Randall said it is important to recognize that as Texas Tech continues to demonstrate success in the areas of inclusivity and support, there is still more work to do. Among other things, the upcoming year will include efforts to establish PrideSTEM to empower LGBTQIA students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math; work on preserving the rich histories of social progress at Texas Tech and West Texas through the LGBTQIA Archival and Oral History Project and continuing to build campus partnerships and expand programming.

“There is now greater awareness of the experiences that LGBTQIA individuals have here at Texas Tech,” Duran said. “I am very proud of the progress we have made and am looking forward to continuing strides in the upcoming year. We are very glad Jody joined us here at Texas Tech; it's exciting to see such improvement, especially in this short period of time.”

From educational programming to new course offerings, each effort showcases an institution-wide effort to educate every Red Raider on the importance of inclusivity.

“Having done this work for a while, it is uncommon for an institution to achieve success like we have,” said Randall, who served as LGBT coordinator at Murray State University before arriving at Texas Tech. “It makes me think of our motto, ‘From here, it's possible.' That says it all for the work we are doing to make Texas Tech a more affirming place for all of our students, faculty and staff.”

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