The concept of inclusiveness is tough to quantify, but at long last, someone has come up with a solution — at least when it pertains to college athletics.
On Tuesday, Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that works to end homophobia in sports, released the Athlete Equality Index (AEI), a first-of-its kind report that ranks and reviews the LGBTQ-inclusion policies of the 65 schools that make up the NCAA’s power 5 conferences — the ACC, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC, and Big 10.
The report provides a unique way to examine how the most influential athletic and educational institutions in this country are treating its LGBTQ student-athletes, coaches, administrators, staff, and fans. The report found that Baylor University — which managed a score of -45 on a scale of 1 to 100 — was, by far, the school with the most anti-LGBTQ record, while both Stanford University and the University of Southern California were the most inclusive schools of the pack, both nabbing perfect scores of 100. Conference wise, the Pac 12 (79.3) was the most LGBTQ-inclusive, followed by the ACC (68.8), the Big 10 (65.2), the SEC (56), and the Big 12 (56.3).
“The main goal for the AEI is policy uniformity as it relates to LGBTQ success and inclusion,” Hudson Taylor, the Executive Director of Athlete Ally, told ThinkProgress. “Right now, at the college level, and really in all sports, those policies vary from team to team, league to league, school to school.”
Taylor says he first conceived of the AEI back in 2012, and has been working towards making it a reality ever since. For the past four months, a team of researches combed through websites, handbooks, social media, news clippings, campus materials, and more, piecing together a comprehensive portrait of each school’s LGBTQ policies and practices. A little less than a month ago, Athlete Ally reached out to each school with its preliminary findings, and offered the institutions an opportunity to provide any missing or incomplete information, or to proactively make changes before the rankings came out. Taylor says 15 schools took them up on that option, to varying degrees of success.
The most concerning part of the report was how many schools lack protections for transgender student-athletes. In total, 26 schools did not explicitly protect students and staff from discrimination due to their gender identity and/or expression, and only nine out of 65 schools clearly and explicitly committed to following the NCAA’s guidance on how to ensure transgender athletes are able to compete. (Kudos to you, USC, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, Oregon, Oregon State, NC State, Florida State, Texas Christian University, and University of Texas-Austin). The Pac-12 was the best conference when it comes to transgender inclusion, with five member schools that have clearly articulated their dedication to following the NCAA’s guidelines for transgender student-athlete inclusion.
The AEI rates the schools and conferences on a weighted scale of nine categories: School-wide non-discrimination policies that explicitly protect categories of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (35 points); access to LGBTQ-specific resources for student-athletes (20 points); a fan code of conduct that explicitly prohibits homophobic, transphobic, biphobic, or sexist language and behavior (10 points); a written commitment to following the NCAA’s recommended guidelines for the inclusion of transgender athletes (10 points); student-led groups or recurring initiatives that discuss LGBTQ inclusion, diversity, and equality (10 points); openly LGBTQ staff, or vocal allies (5 points); a culture in which the athletic department collaborates with other campus identity centers (5 points); and pro-LGBTQ inclusion campaigns or statements on behalf of the program (5 points).
Additionally, if a school has a specifically anti-LGBTQ policy (Baylor) or Title IX exemption, that is -50 points. Bonus points available if the conference has LGBTQ inclusive training or has been active in LGBTQ activism.
Beyond Baylor (-45), the lowest-rated school was the University of Notre Dame (5), which is the only other power 5 school that lacks a nondiscrimination policy altogether.
The University of Oregon (90) and University of Texas-Austin (90) were the only schools besides USC and Stanford that earned 90 points or above. Conversely, 26 schools scored a 60 or below; in addition to Baylor and Notre Dame, there was University of South Carolina (31.5); Boston College (34); Clemson (34); Oklahoma State University (36.5); University of Mississippi (45); Auburn (45); Virginia Tech (47.5); University of Pittsburgh (48); Arkansas (48); Georgia (48); Mississippi State (48); Georgia Tech (50.5); Pennsylvania State (53); Tennessee (53); Kansas State (53); Texas A&M (55.5); Iowa University (55.5); Arizona State University (55.5); University of Arizona (55.5); Indiana (55.5); Michigan State (57.5); Iowa State (58); Kentucky (60); Louisiana State University (60).
Going forward, Athlete Ally plans to expand the AEI to an additional six Division I conferences, which will mean adding approximately 300 more schools to the index. Eventually, the organization wants to have rankings for all NCAA schools, and professional teams and leagues as well. They also want to keep raising the bar, to make sure that all schools, even those at the top of the list, continue to be proactive in making their programs LGBTQ-friendly. After all, there’s still a long way to go until sports are uniformly a safe space for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We hope that the AEI will act as the catalyst needed for institutions to continue to work towards complete LGBTQ inclusion in athletics,” Taylor said.