Higher education prepares you to be your best self. It’s more than memorizing facts. College is where you learn how to learn, to solve problems, and to work with others. Through that process, you learn who you are and who you want to become. And you learn best when you are in an inclusive and diverse environment where people of all sexual orientations and genders can thrive.
Here are nine things for LGBTQ+ students and allies to look for in an inclusive college.
“Every single day matters when it comes to building a world where every person can live their life to the fullest.”— Sarah McBride, Tomorrow Will Be Different
Good colleges provide great support and you want a college where that support is attuned to LGBTQ+ issues. Whether you’re confiding in a residence hall director about a new crush or meeting with a nurse about a medical issue, you want to be sure you are talking with support staff that respect you. When reviewing a school, reach out to the admissions office and current students about how the college supports LGBTQ+ students. Does career development consider the inclusiveness of an internship opportunity? Do LGBTQ+ students feel safe around campus security? Are mental health counselors and medical staff trained for working with LGBTQ+ students? Colleges provide support to help students get the most out of their educational experience. Look for a school where these departments excel at serving LGBTQ+ students.
“We can't say that we are an inclusive campus if our academics aren’t acknowledging the scholarship and experiences of queer people, especially queer people of color.”— Moamer Alsaedi, Simon’s Rock ’16
Inclusive colleges will include LGBTQ+ studies in their curricula. Queer studies, sexuality studies, and gender studies contribute to our understanding of the world. Also having scholars and classes in these fields will contribute to a thoughtful campus culture. However, LGBTQ+ shouldn’t be confined to the Queer Studies Department. LGBTQ+ topics and scholars should be infused throughout the curriculum.
You should be in control of your name and your gender and you should have the power to determine them. College identification cards, class rosters, and listings should use the name and gender you identify with, which may differ from your legal documents. Intake forms should have inclusive options. Faculty, staff, and students should address you with your self-identified name and pronouns.
“It is not enough to have a policy — or even a statute — prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in a world in which so many lesbians cannot find any work at all, and so many more cannot find work that is meaningful or rewarding, and so many must work so hard and so long for so little. It is not enough to have justice for only those lesbians who can afford to purchase it.”— Ruthann Robson, Queerly Classed
LGBTQ+ people have diverse backgrounds and identities. That means that in order to support LGBTQ+ people, there must be support for students across race, class, religion, nationality, physical ability, gender, and sexuality. The institution should encourage student expression and activism. Colleges that support the intersectionality of identity will have the most vibrant LGBTQ+ communities.
“…For a disinherited gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) child from an unsupportive family, it can be difficult to ask Mom or Dad for help — especially if they’re told to ‘get out.'”— Joseph Gentile, TNGG
Since LGBTQ+ students are less likely to get support from their parents, inclusive colleges create a financial aid process for students who don’t have their parents’ support. Students should have the option to apply for aid without a parent signature and ultimately receive an appropriate aid package. Additionally, schools should extend this support to current students. After coming out in college, students sometimes lose parental support. The college should fill that gap.
Even if you are not in this situation with your family, it is worth learning about resources that the college offers. These inclusive policies make the community stronger and healthier.
Review the college’s official policies. Does the student handbook offer explicit protections from discrimination and explicit bias? Look for policies that show how inclusivity is ensured and implemented.
When you are in college, you won’t always be on campus. You’ll go to town to hang out; maybe you’ll have an off-campus job or internship. Many people live and socialize off-campus. You want to be in a town and a region where you not only feel safe, but can thrive. Ask for information on reports of discrimination and community relations with law enforcement, as well regional LGBTQ+ events and organizations.
An inclusive college is more than just taking classes. You’re joining a diverse community, with endless opportunities for self-expression while learning from one another's different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view.