Editor’s note: if you’re just beginning your college search and are wondering how LGBTQ+ friendly a college campus might be, start by reading this blog post. There, we cover what tools to use in your initial college search. If you’re ready for a deeper dive into how inclusive a college campus might be – whether you’ve decided to attend or are weighing your options – this post is for you. Below, we’ll review each corner of student life on campus, and how you can assess if it’s the right community for you. Whether you’re an LGBTQ+ student or an ally, these tips will make you a better research sleuth in your quest for inclusive college campuses.
Are you looking at college campuses? Or maybe you’ve done your homework researching colleges and picked your spot! Once you get to campus, what can you expect and how can you prepare? Where are the safe spots? How can you find supportive people? How can you figure out this new place to make sure it’s friendly and inclusive? Here are few resources and policies to think about:
Mission Statement: Tyler Cegler, Assistant Director + LGBTQIA Student Recruiter at Northern Arizona University says this: “Great, if somewhat hidden, places to look for an inclusive university include their mission, vision, values, 10-year plans, and non-discrimination policies. A picture of a student waving a rainbow flag means little if there are not policies to back it.” Every college out there has a well-crafted mission they have spent hours writing and editing. Look carefully at the language to see if it says anything explicitly about inclusion. You can find some great examples of inclusive mission statements in this post. You might also do a web search to see if there are any special reports about priorities around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Housing: If you are attending a primarily residential campus and living on campus, you should look at housing policies and connect with the residential life staff. How is housing determined? Is there gender-neutral housing available? If so, how and when should you request that? Do you pick your roommate and house, or are these determined by college staff? Are there policies around who can live with whom? Can students of different genders live together? How are the staff trained? Most people talk about Resident Advisers (RA’s), but most campuses have a huge variety of staff, including Hall Directors, Faculty Advisers, Residential Educators, or Deans. They spend weeks training to learn all the resources on and off campus for students, how to build inclusive communities, and how to deal with conflict. Your RA might be the frontline person, but you will also see many other staff supporting the work of building a community in your living area. You should feel free to talk to anyone who seems like a possible ally.
Student Activities and Clubs: If you attended a campus tour virtually or in person, you have likely been told how many student clubs exist on campus and how you can make your own group if need be. Most programs on campuses exist for students and are often created by other students with support from student activities staff. You might see what clubs are of interest to you. How do they receive funding? Who is leading and supporting the group? Where can you play a role in the organization? You should look at social media accounts or the student newspaper to see what the clubs are offering, what they are doing, and how active they are.
LGBTQ+ Center/Staff: Some colleges have made it a priority to have staff and/or a center, which shows the school’s commitment to LGBTQI+ students. More information can be found here. You may want to meet with staff to hear more about the projects and policies they are working on. These centers are good starting points for new students just entering a college campus who want a community, need support, or want to learn more. And here’s another pro-tip from Cegler: “Ask the admissions office if you can speak with a current student (or staff member) who identifies as LGBTQIA+.”
Health Staff: “If the school has a campus health policy,” says Cegler, “check to see if they train their medical professionals in LGBTQ+ health topics.” Students might also inquire about what the policies say about domestic partnerships, supporting students who are transitioning, and emotionally supporting students before, during, or after coming out to family and friends. Loyola University in Chicago has a particularly extensive listing of resources around health issues for LBGTQ+ students on their website.
Classes: College is a time when most students think about their own identity, and many colleges foster this exploration in the classroom by offering classes, departments, and majors around identity issues. There are many titles for these classes, departments, and majors, including but not limited to Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Queer or LGBTQ+ Studies. Classes are sometimes housed in other departments like Women’s Studies, History, or Philosophy, so look carefully and ask faculty members for more information.
Academic Advisers: Many colleges have academic advisers to help students choose classes and majors, and to make sure all requirements are met for graduation. Most advisers are also well-trained on the many resources available on campus. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Advisers are used to handling lots of sensitive and confidential information, so they should be a safe space for you to discuss what’s on your mind or ask for support. They will also certainly know about courses offered for students who want to study anything around LGBTQ+ issues.
Dean’s Office: This is the place where most student-centered policies are made and where students can often find the best support, especially in times of academic and personal crisis and/or conflict. Students should feel free to reach out to their Dean of Students as needed. A Dean’s office might also be involved in setting up Rainbow Graduation events for seniors.
Alumni Groups: Many campuses have active alumni who want to connect with current students and stay involved with their college. A great example is from my alma mater, Williams College, where an alum named Mike Dively has generously provided programming to bring LGBTQ+ speakers to campus. The Dively Committee on campus is comprised of faculty, staff, and students who help choose and plan the events.
Area Surrounding College: A friend said it best by telling me, “For surrounding areas, many places in larger areas may have an LGBTQ+ community center, teen center, or others with similar names. Students should find out if pride is celebrated and who plans pride in the community. It’s a great way to get involved with the community at large.”
“Finding an LGBTQIA+ friendly university is important if you identify as such,” says Cegler. “Be sure you are taking into consideration all parts of yourself. There are LGBTQIA-friendly religious colleges, large universities, urban universities, colleges near the great outdoors, research focused institutions, etc. So-called ‘red’ states will have some of the most inclusive colleges; some so-called ‘blue’ states have institutions that will expel you for coming out of the closet. More progressive cities will have their own non-discrimination policies to protect its residents as well.”
So do your research, trust your instincts, and focus on fit. And “in the end,” Cegler says, “be sure you are finding all levels of fit—academic, social, and financial. The ‘social’ might weigh more for you than your non-LGBTQ+ student counterparts, but you still need all three legs of the triangle to be successful.”
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.