Leaving home for the first time is a scary experience for many high school graduates, but for LGBTQ students, that fear has the potential to take on a different quality. According to a study conducted by Campus Pride, faculty members and students in the LGBTQ community are significantly more likely to experience harassment than their heterosexual peers. They are also more likely to feel uncomfortable in their environment on campus.
Though times are certainly changing, there will always be bigotry and discrimination. As an LGBTQ student, you should be aware of your rights and take steps to protect them as well as yourself. Read on to see some expert advice and to receive essential resources for LGBTQ students preparing to enter the college community.
The Top Colleges for LGBTQ Students
Picking a college is a major decision that can impact the rest of your life. Between choosing a major and finding the right school to suit your personality, the choice is tough but it gets tougher when you belong to a sexual minority. Unfortunately, colleges and universities around the country are at odds when it comes to protecting and ensuring equal rights and safety for LGBTQ students.
Though many academic institutions are taking great strides forward, it is still important to do your research, not only about the college and its policies but the culture of the surrounding area. Some colleges are even offering scholarships to LGBTQ students.
Here are 10 of the nation’s top schools for LGBTQ students according to Campus Pride:
- University of Washington-Seattle (Seattle, WA) – In addition to participating in LGBTQ-friendly college admissions fairs and maintaining a solid commitment to students of all identities, UW offers the Q Center, a student-run resource for LGBTQ+ students and allies.
- Tufts University (Medford, MA) – Tufts offers support groups and peer counseling services for all students and offers a major and minor in women’s gender, and sexuality studies. They have also taken steps toward hate crime prevention, training campus security in gender identity/expression issues.
- Columbia University (New York, NY) – In the heart of New York City, Columbia offers a variety of LGBTQ+ initiatives that reflect the diversity of its own students as well as the multiculturalism of the city as a whole. The oldest LGBTQ+ student organization on campus is The Columbia Queer Alliance, established in 1967.
- University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA) – UPenn has been a supporter of the LGBTQ community for decades, having opened the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center in 1982. The center offers supportive services and serves as a safe space and social hub.
- Princeton University (Princeton, NJ) – Not only is Princeton one of the nation’s most prestigious Ivy League colleges, but it is also a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students. The LGBT Center at Princeton offers counseling advocacy and programming as a resource for students of all identities.
- Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) – At its founding in 1865, Lehigh adopted a mission and value statement that rejects discrimination in all of its forms and affirms its commitment to inclusivity for students and employees of all identities.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) – Known for its engineering and science programs, MIT also offers a variety of LGBTQ support services including the Rainbow Lounge and an emphasis on inclusivity during the week-long orientation all first-year students are required to complete.
- The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) – This university is home to an impressive array of LGBTQ services and resources including OSU’s Multicultural Center that organizes hundreds of LGBTQ initiatives, programs, and resources. The Center also sponsors several Q*mmmunity groups including student cohort organizations that focus on gender identity.
- University of California-Davis (Davis, CA) – Known as an Ivy League school, UC Davis welcomes LGBTQ student, staff, and faculty of all kinds. This school offers a full-service space open to all members of the campus community called the LGBTQIA Resource Center and publishes the We Thrive web-based resource to connect LGBTQ students with medical and counseling services.
- The University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson, TX) – This school offers the LGBT+ Education, Advocacy, and Programming (LEAP) initiative which sponsors progressive measures to address gender equity through nondiscrimination policies, gender-neutral housing, inclusive counseling services, safe zone training, and programming and events.
Few colleges or universities will openly speak out against LGBTQ rights, but there is a difference between silence and support. As a prospective college student, it is your task to choose the school that is the best fit for you. If you are a member or ally of the LGBTQ community, there are certain things you should look for in an LGBTQ-friendly school.
Tips for Recognizing an LGBTQ-Friendly College
Though the country as a whole has made great strides towards open acceptance of all people, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, change is never easy. Some of the country’s top academic institutions have been around for decades and long-standing traditions don’t always mesh well with modern politics. As a graduating high school senior, you need to know what to look for when searching for an LGBTQ-friendly college.
Here are some things to look for:
- An official policy on diversity and inclusion. The school’s policy should clearly include LGBTQ students in their diversity statement as an indicator of an effort to treat students with different identities equally.
- A clear prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Some schools (like Clemson University) go so far as to identify LGBTQ students as a protected class in the language of their discrimination policies.
- Special training for campus security. All students have the right to feel safe on campus but LGBTQ students face harassment and hate crimes of a different nature. A school that requires special training in gender identity issues and hate crimes for campus security is a friend of the LGBTQ community.
- Focused counseling, assistance, and student services. Almost every school offers support services for students such as advising services and counselling but not every school offers focused support for LGBTQ students or counselors who are trained in these specific issues.
- Inclusivity in campus community and activities. The school should offer extracurricular activities and clubs focused on LGBTQ issues and should support programs and events that raise awareness for the needs and concerns of LGBTQ students as well.
- Housing accommodations and inclusivity. Most schools offer on-campus housing for entering freshman, but the rules vary according to how the sexes are divided. Some schools have begun offering more inclusive housing options where students can opt to live on campus with anyone of their choice regardless of biological sex, gender, or gender identity.
Unless you are a member of the LGBTQ community, you may not realize just how much of an impact sexuality and gender identity has on everything from student housing to extracurricular activities to athletics. If you can’t get a sense of a school’s stance on LGBTQ inclusivity from the website or promotional materials, schedule a tour or see if you can schedule a visit with a current student.
Top Concerns of LGBTQ Students and How Colleges Can Address Them
Once you’ve chosen a college, it may seem like the hard work is over when, in reality, it is really just beginning. Setting foot on campus for the first time is like taking the first step toward the next stage of your life and the decisions you make in the coming semesters will shape your future.
For many college freshman, that first semester is an exciting one full of promise. There are bound to be stressors as you assimilate into a new community and learn to shoulder the burden of college-level coursework, but the LGBTQ community faces some additional stressors.
Here are the top 5 concerns facing LGBTQ college students:
- Deciding whether to come out. College is a time of exploration and discovery for all students but, for LGBTQ students, it is also a time when many come out. In order to take this step of self-discovery, however, a student must feel safe and secure, a degree of comfort that comes from a variety of factors including the general school culture and social atmosphere, familial relationships, and support options available at school.
- Feeling welcomed and accepted. Everyone wants to feel accepted, even if only by a select group of friends and family. Unfortunately, not everyone (or every school) has a history of understanding and acceptance for LGBTQ students, so it is still a bit of a learning curve in some schools. It is important to research and visit the school to get a good sense of these things.
- Social isolation and personal safety. Going to a school without having an established social group can be isolating for any student, but according to research, as many as 60% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school due to their LGBT status. Some students fear for their safety.
- Harassment and bullying. Bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students ranges from cyber-bullying to physical assault. Unfortunately, even inclusive policies and additional campus security measures can’t protect every student at all times.
- Stress, anxiety, and depression. Mental health issues are always a concern for college students but the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that LGBTQ students are nearly three times as likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.
Colleges and universities do their best to support their students both personally and academically. Each new class of students is different from the class before and presents a unique challenge. When it comes to LGBTQ issues, there are certain steps a college or university can take to ensure equal opportunities and inclusivity for all students, regardless of sexuality or gender identity.
Here are some of the ways academic institutions can show support for LGBTQ students and work to address some of the concerns listed above:
- Encourage students and faculty to support and empower the LGBTQ community. It is the job of faculty and staff to teach and support the students, both as people and as students. By encouraging staff to support and empower the LGBTQ community, it sets the standard for how students on campus should act as well.
- Create and enforce policies against discrimination in all forms. Every school has a mission statement and most have diversity and discrimination policies. If these policies are outdated, they should be updated to include students of all gender identities and sexualities, not just students of different races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic standings.
- Partner with community resources and support programs for the LGBTQ community. Though many colleges act like an encapsulated community, they exist in the real world surrounded by a larger community. Colleges should partner with local support programs and take advantage of community resources for LGBTQ community members.
- Offer resources for LGBTQ students and faculty to make use of. You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but you can accumulate a list of resources to offer students or faculty in need of support. You might even consider creating an LGBTQ support committee where students can turn when they need support.
As much as a college or university may try to be inclusive of LGBTQ students, it is still up to the students themselves to take advantage of these opportunities and to develop themselves as people and as members of the LGBTQ community. Keep reading to see some helpful advice for LGBTQ students to keep in mind as they prepare to enter college.
Advice for LGBTQ College Students
Every person has a right to feel safe and included, regardless their gender identity or sexuality. The challenge for many LGBTQ students is that adolescence is already a tremulous time and the stress of moving away to college complicates matters. There is no way to prepare yourself for every possibility, but here is some advice for LGBTQ teens starting college:
- When applying to a school, inquire about the school’s LGBTQ clubs and programming. Simply asking questions can give you a sense of whether the school has any LGBTQ-positive policies or programs in place. You may also want to ask about openly-LGBTQ faculty- if the school has none, it may be a red flag.
- Join an LGBTQ club or organization. Even if there is only one available on campus, it is important to find people who support the LGBTQ community and make yourself a part of it. Many schools even offer LGBTQ housing, so make inquiries during the application process.
- Look for safe zones. If you look around campus, you may start to notice signs, stickers, or even name tags that mention “Safe Zone.” This is a program developed to teach people how to be effective allies for the LGBTQ community and it represents a person with whom or an area in which everyone is free to present as the sexuality or gender identity that they are.
- Consider taking a class in gender or sexuality studies. Even if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, there is always more to learn. Taking a class may teach you something you never knew about yourself or about the community as a whole.
- Don’t isolate yourself by only spending time in LGBTQ spaces. It is important to recognize your sexuality and gender identity as an important part of your life, but it isn’t the only part. Branch out into other organizations, clubs, and activities and you might find yourself making friends you never would have met otherwise.
- Know your rights. It is unfortunately the case that LGBTQ community members still face discrimination, but it is every person’s responsibility to know and stand up for their own rights. Learn the school’s discrimination policy and criteria for reporting hate crimes and any other form of harassment. Stand up for yourself and for other members of the LGBTQ community.
- Become an advocate yourself. You can’t show up to a college and expect all of your needs to be accounted for. If you see a need that is going unfulfilled, stand up to fight for it. Become an advocate for yourself and for the LGBTQ community as a whole.
- Know that you are not alone. Even if you don’t see other LGBTQ students being active and open on campus, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Find a way to reach out and connect with other students and you will eventually find your way to the perfect group for you.
It is unfortunately the reality that life as an LGBTQ community member is bound to be difficult, to some degree. When you add to that challenge the additional stress of being a young adult and going away to college, these already difficult situations become even more difficult.
The important thing for all students to remember is that they must learn for themselves their own identity and stay true to their own self-worth. Attending a college that openly supports and protects LGBTQ students is a bonus, but the challenges you face in school do not magically disappear when you don the cap and gown. The things you learn and the identity you discover in school will stay with you for the rest of your life.