JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The University of North Florida was named one of the 'Best of the Best' colleges and universities by Campus Pride.
Only 40 campuses nationwide were recognized for creating a safe and welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty.
“It’s extremely important for us to make sure and we tell everybody, staff students faculty that are part of the LGTBQ+ community that UNF is a very inclusive place and that we are here to support each and every one of them," LGBTQ+ Center Director Manny Velasquez-Paredes said.
The center opened in 2006. Velasquez-Paredes took over two years ago as director.
“We were three point five stars on campus pride and I made it a mission to bring us up to five stars.”
UNF is the only university in Florida to make the 'Best of the Best' list. Velasquez-Paredes says it's thanks to the relationships formed with different departments, athletics, and local organizations.
“We have tons of different resources. We provide scholarships. We have a food pantry, and a computer lab we’ve come a long way.”
Overall, these resources creating a safe place for students like Camaguey Horne.
“College is much more than a place to get a degree. It is a place to make connections both professionally and at a casual level," Horne said. "To have a place like this where again you can find like-minded people I think once you make those connections going into college you will be a much more well-rounded and fulfilled person because of it.”
Velasquez-Paredes the inclusive atmosphere at UNF is a big factor for prospective students.
“We have so many students who choose UNF because of the LGBTQ center and because of our inclusive policies here on campus. This is a place of choice for them for that very reason," Velasquez-Paredes said.
“It probably is the best place I could be going to college I wouldn’t have it any other way," Horne said.
The LGBTQ Center is ranked the #1 LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges & Universities in Florida and #8 in the overall South in 2021 and 2020 by Campus Pride and holds the Rainbow Award for Best Equality Organization in Jacksonville in 2021.
Manny Velasquez-Paredes, LGBTQ Center director, was recently named the “Most Influential Person Award” in 2022 from the Rainbow Awards JAX by Jax Gay magazine for his work throughout the LGBTQ+ community, received the LGBTQ+ Leadership Award by the Florida Diversity Council in 2021, and holds the National Latino Leader Award by the Council for Latino Workplace equity in 2021.