When Patricia Sittikul, ’17, was going through formal sorority recruitment two years ago, she was warned by many friends to keep her sexuality a secret because it might alter her chances of getting into a sorority. She was more than relieved when, on her last night of recruitment, she was able to come out about who she really was to the women she now calls her sisters.
Although several of Lehigh’s LGBTQ individuals – such as Sittikul – have had positive experiences, and despite the numerous efforts on the part of the administration, Lehigh was still ranked No. 11 on the Princeton Review’s list of Top 20 Most Unfriendly Campuses for the LGBTQ Community.
Chelsea Fullerton started her job as the director of the campus Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity right around the time the rankings were released. Where some might say having this rank as a starting point might be a disadvantage, she sees it as an opportunity to start from scratch.
Fullerton’s first goal in mending the social issues still occurring around the topic of LGBTQ relations is to form relationships with students outside her office and to become a presence on campus. She plans on going to sports games, spending time in the Women’s Center and Rainbow Room, and allowing relationships to develop on a personal level, instead of jumping right into the process of trying to educate and correct some of the sensitivity flaws within the Lehigh community.
Fullerton said she is excited the school has taken strides such as creating gender-inclusive bathrooms, a Live Lehigh housing option for the LGBTQ community and educational programs for various parts of the Lehigh community. But she also believes this process is slow, and it can’t be completed solely through administrative actions.
“That’s work that we can do from the top down level, but work also has to be done from the bottom up in terms of students who are not administrators,” Fullerton said. “This is not their job, they’re just students who care about these issues.”
The discussion of how Greek life plays into this ranking is one that Fullerton said is not “inherently homophobic or transphobic.” However, she believes Greek life runs on a cycle, and if jokes that might be offensive to others have been told for years are passed down to the younger members of the organization, the cycle can continue until an effort is made to break it.
Sittikul, on the other hand, finds that Greek life is one of the social spheres that is having the most difficult time adjusting to the LGBTQ presence, but not because they are doing so purposely.
“I do think it’s something that can be fixed with more education,” Sittikul said. “I don’t think people mean to be so aggressive or exclusive. I think it’s more that they haven’t been exposed to the community.”
Sittikul believes Greek organizations that have members putting in the work to improve Lehigh’s climate, like those who are members of Greek Allies, are going to be the ones that really affect the change.
Samantha Randall, ’18, the vice president of Lehigh’s gay-straight alliance Spectrum, agrees with Sittikul and Fullerton about the importance of students desire to make changes that will lead to a safer and more welcoming environment for LGBTQ students.
However, Randall was surprised by the rank Lehigh was given by the Princeton Review. Acknowledging that Lehigh is seen as a conservative school, in the year-and-a-half that she has been here, Randall hasn’t experienced problems with administration or other students.
“We’re doing pretty well right now,” Randall said. “It’s a matter of getting people interested. Lehigh’s problem is no one is interested in learning about other cultures and people different than themselves. This isn’t just an issue for LGBT specifically, this is an issue for everyone. This is an equality issue.”