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The first logical place to examine for the creation of campus climate is at the institutional level. What kinds of notices, acknowledgements, and policy changes came directly from College administration that addressed either the LGBTQ+ population or the unique issues that affect this population?
Professor Emerita Lynn Van Dyke references in her interview the decision by a former Lafayette president to include that Lafayette did not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the Faculty Handbook. This decision reflects an institutional acknowledgement of non-heterosexual individuals that live and work on campus. It attempts to send the message that the College recognizes and validates those identities. Professor Van Dyke later states that this change in language set the tone for the Domestic Partner Benefits policy. This policy was initiated as a way to give committed same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples who could legally get married.
The decision for the College to create such a program furthers the institutional acknowledgement of a queer population and sends the message to faculty and staff that, at least on a surface level, the College is moving towards more egalitarian policy. This policy did have a positive effect, as Professor Van Dyke highlights how it was very meaningful and impactful for her as a faculty member in a committed same-sex partnership:
I think one landmark -- and, again, I’m awful at dates and remembering things but -- was the inclusion of domestic partnership as a category for things like life insurance beneficiaries and that sort of thing. And that may not have happened until Rotberg dropped his little bombshell in the mission statement. But, you know, that was, I think, significant for people like me, you know, who were in partnered relationships. [00:47:00-00:48:00]
The policy created a professional rhetoric around same-sex relationships that validated queerness at an institutional level in saying that yes, there are employees that identify this way and we will give them the same treatment as other employees.
When this policy was first adopted, a letter was sent to all College employees alerting them to the change and outlining the requirements. The policy was not quietly adopted but rather was proactively sent out in a notice to all College employees. This institutional recognition was disseminated across the board, whether employees were queer or not. This is extremely important, as it presented this issue to the entire Lafayette employee community rather than just the community that would be affected. Queer employees no doubt thought about this issue often, as it directly impacted their lives and families, while heterosexual employees might not have even given this a second thought. Sending this notice out to everyone makes it everyone’s business and sends a wider message about the presence of a queer Lafayette population as well as the inclusion of that population into mainstream campus culture.
While the creation of this policy was very symbolic in that sense and sends a supportive message to queer faculty, the criteria to qualify for this program is very specific. Employees wishing to enroll in the program must live together, be exclusively committed, and be financially responsible for one another. These criteria send a very specific message on what kind of queer person is acceptable. Any other kinds of relationships are left out of the conversation and deemed too deviant to be accepted by the institution. If you don’t live together or cannot demonstrate that you are in a monogamous relationship, you will not qualify for these benefits and will be excluded. In order for same-sex couples to be considered legitimate and worthy of institutional acknowledgement, they had to fit the conventional standard of a married heterosexual couple. The limiting criteria included in this policy illustrate that College policy has a ways to go to be more inclusive.
Policy change also does not necessarily mean climate change. Just because there is policy allowing employees in committed same-sex partnerships to have insurance benefits does not mean that the climate on campus is inclusive and welcoming of those employees. Six years before this policy change, the Princeton Review published a list of the most homophobic college campuses in the United States, and Lafayette was first on the list.
Creating an inclusive benefits policy for same-sex couples represents an effort from the College to rectify this ranking, but it does not mean that the campus climate completely shifted to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ community members. While policy change is important for setting the precedent of what the College’s ideal standards of inclusion are, the actual climate for those with marginalized identities is often slow to catch up.