The Most Progressive Schools

Our generation gets a lot of criticism, but there’s one thing we’re notoriously good at: open-mindedness. Whether these collegiettes are fighting homophobia on their campuses, organizing sustainable methods to end world hunger, or simply celebrating positive (and safe) expressions of sexuality, they’ve definitely earned their campuses a spot on our list of most progressive schools.

10. SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY (San Francisco, California)

Located in one of the most liberal cities in the country, San Francisco State University is a progressive haven. Back in the ‘60s, San Francisco State was home to one of the nation’s only scientific labs for psychedelic drugs. Now, activists from the San Francisco Commune are combatting police brutality after five students associated with the commune were arrested by city police for trespassing in an SFSU dorm.

Of course, San Francisco is known as a queer Mecca, but even on campus the LGBTQ community thrives. EGAY, San Francisco State’s primary on-campus LGBTQ organization, holds widely attended events such as a Pride Prom, as well as more low-key outings. Plus, San Francisco State sponsors the Family Acceptance Project, a resource to help families of LGBTQ youth give understanding and support and to decrease health risks for LGBTQ in the context of their families.

9. EMERSON COLLEGE (Boston, Massachusetts)

Most people don’t usually think of fraternities and trans inclusion like peanut butter and jelly, but that’s just the kind of place Emerson is. This year, the men of Phi Alpha Tau started an Indiegogo campaign to help raise money for a brother’s sex reassignment surgery. For other transgender students, the registrar provides information on changing your name and gender on official university documents.

Emerson probably gets some of its inclusiveness from its generally quirky student body; it’s hard to be prejudiced against anything when you’re on a Quidditch team, after all.


Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., American University draws future political activists from every corner of the country. The sheer diversity and passion of AU students sets them apart, which might be why Autostraddle includes American on their list of the top 40 lesbian-friendly colleges. “American University is one of the most accepting campuses I've ever seen,” says Marie Fenaughty, a recent AU graduate. “The LGBTQ center is one of the country's best resources for LGBTQ information. The eco-friendly initiative at AU is one of the biggest up-and-coming groups on campus.”

Being in the nation’s capitol empowers American’s collegiettes to change the world. Jenna*, a junior at American, told Her Campus, “I chose American basically because of the open atmosphere. Whether it comes in the form of environmental action, LGBTQ activism, or political protest, American's students are proactive and fully believe in their message.” ­­


Despite being in the south, UNC-Chapel Hill is known for its progressive policies, like a strong sustainability program. The University has reduced energy use per square foot by 20 percent since 2003. The LGBTQ community at UNC is a particularly active one; collegiettes who are so inclined can attend events like social justice yoga and transgender awareness week. Diversity is one of UNC-Chapel Hill’s proudest qualities, and, according to Unigo, students from Frat Stars to feminists all unite in their love of being Tar Heels.

This year, UNC has been in the news for topping Playboy’s list of universities with the best sex life. Apparently, the student body’s progressive perspective on sexuality and active desire made an impression on Playboy’s reporters. Sex positivity can be fun!


Situated in the hyper-liberal San Francisco Bay Area, UC Berkeley is the kind of school where you’ll walk by somebody living in a tree as an environmental protest on your way to class. Are you really surprised they made our list?

This year, UC Berkeley was number 10 on Unigo’s list of top 10 schools with the best LGBT scenes, and for good reason. They have a multitude of queer-oriented student groups, including a career group for LGBTQ students interested in business and even an LGBTQ-oriented sorority and fraternity.

5. UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT (Burlington, Vermont)

Some universities have a pride week. The University of Vermont has LGBTQApril, an entire month dedicated to LGBTQA community events. This year, collegiettes at UVM could attend film screenings, participate in a day of silence, and even go to a lecture by Dan Savage, the founder of the It Gets Better project. During the other 11 months of the year, the UVM administration goes out of its way to accept all possible gender identities. Colleen, a senior, says, “On forms I choose ‘she and her,’ but you can also chose ‘ze and zer,’ the neutral pronoun. I think this is something that is really important for all schools to have.”

The University of Vermont is also committed to environmentalism – the new Davis Student Center is even LEED certified. UVM has also been influential in the fight for sustainable food, hosting a conference to bring together top scientists on this issue. Students with culinary skills help out at Feel Good, a student-run, nonprofit deli whose proceeds are “invested in the sustainable end to world hunger.” The specialty? A college staple: grilled cheese.

4. GRINNELL COLLEGE (Grinnell, Iowa)

If collegiettes at Grinnell have a problem, they usually don’t go to the administration. Instead, thanks to the self-governance policy that sets Grinnell apart from other liberal arts schools, their first course of action is usually to try to deal with it themselves. Whenever possible, student mediators resolve conflicts without outside intervention, and students even are included in the dialogue about administrative decisions. Grinnell administrators believe this prepares students for a world that is rarely, if ever, black-and-white.

Grinnell is also notoriously open-minded. Unigo describes Grinnell’s diverse student body as a point of pride, whether it’s openness towards different sexual and gender identities or ethnic and racial diversity. In fact, Grinnell’s president is black and gay, so discrimination based on race or sexuality clearly won’t fly here.

3. WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY (Middletown, Connecticut)

Wesleyan has had a vegetarian club since the 1830s, and that says a lot about the demographic it attracts. Students are known for their motivation, quirkiness, and rebellious nature. Claire*, a senior at Wes, revealed that number one most progressive thing about her school is “the student body's willingness to engage with/protest the administration on topics like divesting from fossil fuels, … better working conditions for custodial workers, etc.” Idealistic Wesleyan students even organized a protest at a Board of Trustees meeting to protest the move away from need-blind admissions.

But Wesleyan isn’t all protests all the time, Claire confessed. “Also, we love being naked.” Yes, Wes hosts naked parties.

2. HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE (Amherst, Massachusetts)

At a small, isolated liberal arts school in western Massachusetts, Hampshire students can sometimes feel like their campus exists outside the “real world.” Students don’t have traditional majors, but instead craft an academic focus based on individual interests, spending their entire senior year completing a capstone project such as “A Creative Analysis of the Maoist Insurgency” or “Post-Racial Profiling: The War on Terror, Mass Media, and the Persistence of Islamophobia.” Micah Savitsky, a senior who is studying what he describes as “modern technology and what it can do,” told Her Campus, “Hampshire College is filled with tiny little bubbles of people who form tiny bubbles of odd cultures around whatever they're interested in.”

Hampshire students are also attuned to gender issues from the moment they step on campus, which is why Campus Pride has given Hampshire 4.5 out of 5 stars for LGBTQ inclusiveness. Workshops on gender pronouns and diverse sexualities are built into orientation, and every year the students celebrate challenging expectations with a Genderf*ck dance.

1. BROWN UNIVERSITY (Providence, Rhode Island)

Brown has a bit of a reputation for being unconventional to a fault, but students embrace it. Collegiettes at Brown usually come for the lack of course requirements (which means you end up taking classes like “From Magic Mushrooms to Big Pharma: Anthropology of Drugs” and “Perverse Cinema”) and stay for the culture of activism and inclusion.

In particular, Brown students are devoted to the freedom of sexuality, to the extent that every individual feels comfortable. Non-credit sexuality workshops Femsex and M-Sex, which give students of all genders and sexual orientations a safe space to talk about sexuality and gender, are very popular on campus. Brown’s Consent Day festivities are a huge event on campus, and this school ranked second in last year’s Trojan Sexual Health Report Card. Every year, the Queer Alliance throws a party called SexPowerGod, which senior Caroline Bologna describes as “an event that encourages students to feel comfortable in their own skin and wear as much or as little clothing as they'd like. Most generally err on the side of little.” But, she added, “the most progressive part about Brown is that there's no social pressure to engage or not engage in certain behaviors.” Really, anything goes.


*Names have been changed

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