LGBT Students Deserve Quality – and Equality – On and Off Campus

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According to the Human Rights Campaign, 92 percent of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBT, specifically at school, online, and amongst their peers. And, LGBT youth are more than twice as likely as non-LGBT youth to say they have been verbally harassed and called names at school.

While the campaigns and councils do their best to capture the significant challenges faced by LGBT youth, a look into LGBT youth culture unveils an even more raw and desperate cry for equality and acceptance. As Denice Frohman proclaims in her slam poem, Dear Straight People, “Do you have to make it so obvious that I make you uncomfortable? Why do I make you uncomfortable? Do you know that makes me uncomfortable, now we’re both uncomfortable!”

These anecdotes and statistics make a bold statement that colleges and universities must do more – and do better – in their efforts to support LGBT youth and create a safe and empowering environment for these students during their college years. While some colleges and universities have done much to offer secure and supportive academic communities for LGBT students, others have a long way to go.

In order to take a proactive role in improving quality – and equality – of life for LGBT students, higher education institutions must take significant and continuous action. The administration, faculty, staff, and students must work to support an inclusive and equitable life for members of the LGBT community, both on and off campus. The following efforts may offer a roadmap – or simply inspiration – for higher education institutions on how to better support their LGBT students.

Academics, Services & Facilities

Colleges and universities can improve the lives and experiences of all students through initiatives that support equality and diversity. One way to do this is to provide students with a resource center that promotes a supportive, equitable, and safe campus environment for LGBT students and offers ongoing learning and leadership opportunities for all students. At Plymouth State University, this center is called the Sexuality, Anti-Violence, Gender, and Equality (S.A.G.E.) Center. Delilah Smith, director of the S.A.G.E Center, oversees all of the Center’s services, programs, events, and activities with passionate support of the LGBT community. She says it best; “First and foremost, it’s a resource center and a safe space for all our students. I like to call it a social justice center.”

Allies & Advocacy

Allies and advocacy are critical elements in creating a positive, safe environment for LGBT students. Colleges and universities can establish a Gay-Straight Alliance student organization, which may host weekly meetings, speakers, and pride events for everyone on campus. A Queer Council can also be formed by faculty, staff, and students that meets regularly for the purpose of continuous enhancement in the ways in which the college or university welcomes, values, and supports LGBT students and their allies within the campus community.

Additionally, higher education institutions can participate in national advocacy movements. For example, colleges and universities can contribute to the It Gets Better initiative, a worldwide movement that has inspired more than 50,000 user-created videos to provide support and hope for LGBT youth facing harassment since 2011. LGBT Panels can also be established that work to educate others about the LGBT community by sharing their personal experiences to dismantle existing stereotypes; create awareness of issues LGBT students face; educate against homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia; and enhance visibility both on and off campus. Finally, colleges can offer trainings to prepare faculty, staff, and students to take active steps towards reducing harassment, discrimination, and violence based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, while adding to a campus culture that values and supports diversity, equity, and inclusiveness.

Events & Observances

There are numerous events and observances that can be acknowledged and celebrated by colleges and universities in support of the LGBT community. These include Queer History Month (October), Gender Awareness Week (November), Pride Week (April), Lavender Graduation (May), and more.

Every college and university is accountable for the safety and security of its students. To ensure that all students are protected, colleges and universities must take action to create environments both on and off campus that celebrate diversity and do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, and hate.

The administration, faculty, staff, and students must come together to support equality of all students, and continue to work towards a better, more united community with every academic year. All higher education institutions are encouraged to share their unique ways of creating equality of life for LGBT students with the #equalityoflife hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. With a united goal and common purpose, colleges and universities can create positive outcomes and hope for all students, now and for generations to come.

Jim Hundrieser, Ph.D., is Plymouth State University’s Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. He can be reached at jmhundrieser@plymouth.edu.