At a school best known for its academic merit, MIT received a different kind of accolade this month: the title of The Daily Beast’s “most gay-friendly school.” But for the organizers of “Living Pink” — a student-led survey of nearly 1,300 undergraduates — the ranking came as no surprise.
Living Pink revealed predominantly positive sentiments in MIT’s undergraduate residences toward LGBTQ students (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning). Now, survey co-creator Cory Hernandez, an MIT sophomore, is using those results to guide and encourage incoming students, influence living group policy and educate the MIT community.
The survey was the first of its kind at MIT since 2005. In a month-long process, Hernandez and Jenna Caldwell ’11 constructed the survey with feedback from staff in MIT Student Life, including Residential Life Programs and the Student Activities Office, before finally moving to the Institutional Research Office, which distributes all MIT surveys.
Hernandez and Caldwell’s thorough promotion efforts, which included meeting with student groups all over campus, brought in the most responses in the survey’s history. They met with student leaders and student groups, and worked to ensure that the survey represented the dormitories, Greek residences and independent living groups.
The comprehensive survey results are guiding LGBTQ students where previously available resources fell short. Hernandez said that in the past, new classes of LGBTQ students would visit the Rainbow Lounge, an LGBTQ community space at MIT, to look for information about housing. Most of it was outdated. “Every year, students graduate and cultures change,” Hernandez said.
Upperclassmen served as better resources for the new LGBTQ students with questions about housing, but they weren’t perfect. “You can have upperclassmen tell you about places to live, but there are 51 living groups on campus,” Hernandez said. “It’s pretty unrealistic to think that an upperclassman knows every single living group’s culture.”
Freshman Erin Bailie was one of many first-year students who found the new survey results to be a helpful tool during the housing lottery. “The Living Pink guide helped me decide where I wanted to rank each dorm,” she said.
“However, I would say that I used the results primarily as a way to prove to my parents that MIT is a LBGTQ-friendly school and that this is where I should go,” Bailie said. Bailie received a number of scholarship offers from state schools in the South, but she and her parents were uncertain that she would find a welcoming environment there. The survey results were enough to persuade her parents that MIT is LBGTQ-friendly.
Returning students are also benefiting from the survey. After learning about the results, Housemaster Agustín Rayo of Senior House approached Hernandez and asked for suggestions on how to improve living conditions for LGBTQ students in his dorm.
“The first thing that struck me about the survey was that even at my dorm — the one that’s ranked the highest — there’s still work to do,” Rayo said. “If you look at the responses from the Senior House students, you can see some degree of anti-LGBTQ discourse.”
Hernandez offered Rayo a number of suggestions to make Senior House more LGBTQ friendly. Rayo responded with enthusiasm and has made a number of policy changes to highlight and celebrate the LGBTQ community in his dorm.
Hernandez expressed appreciation for Rayo’s efforts, as well as the many available MIT resources for the LGBTQ community. “We are very fortunate to have an anti-discrimination policy that includes language about sexual orientation and gender identity. We have a support center with a full-time staff member where we can talk about LGBTQ issues. We have a safe space called the Rainbow Lounge. We have a bunch of student groups,” Hernandez said.
The survey has even impacted those students with no connection to the MIT living groups, said Sean Delmore, an MIT graduate student and Rainbow Lounge program coordinator.
“One of the things I love about the survey is that it is, in itself, a form of education and advocacy,” Delmore said. He said that the types of questions presented by the survey caused students to think about their own, sometimes unintentional behaviors that could be misinterpreted by the LGBTQ community.
“Living groups are a much more casual setting than classrooms, so it’s good to make students aware of the types of language and actions that could make LGBTQ students feel unwelcome,” Delmore said.
Hernandez said he plans to keep the survey results available online for the foreseeable future. He believes that the survey is particularly important in the academically challenging environment at MIT.
“Sometimes students are so involved in p-sets, et cetera, that they forget about the LGBTQ community,” Hernandez said. “This survey gets them to think about some important questions.”
Learn more by viewing the Living Pink Guide.