Although we have many resources available for LGBTQ students, we also recognize that choosing a college is a very personal decision, so we've included an impartial article on choosing an LGBTQ-friendly college. Adapted from GLBTA Resource Center at American University, written by David Grossman.
Marc Wais, Vice President of Student Affairs, is pleased to announce two important changes to the housing assignment policies, effective in the fall of 2013. Both changes speak to NYU's commitment to students living in an increasingly global and inclusive campus community.
"A key experience of a college education is the opportunity to live and study with people from diverse backgrounds. This is uniquely true at NYU, where students are prepared to enter an increasingly global society by studying at campuses throughout the world," exclaimed Wais. Beginning with the class of 2017 (first-year students entering in 2013), geographic diversity will be a variable in the room assignment process for first year students. This model will reflect the University's value that students should network across geographic differences. It is important to note that this will directly impact a student's ability to request another incoming student as a roommate for their first year in residence. This policy will not affect the room assignment process for upperclass students who participate in the housing lottery.
The second change of policy responds to a proposal that was forwarded by the Inter-Residence Hall Council (IRHC) in collaboration with a student group working on gender neutral housing. Beginning Fall 2013, upperclass students will be able to form roommate groups and select spaces with any other person as potential roommates without regard to gender. Students who choose this option must meet certain requirements intended to maximize the housing options available to all students (i.e. all space in the room/suite must be assigned to students who indicate this preference or the room will default to a legal sex designation).
Both proposals were reviewed and are fully supported by the Residential Life and Housing Advisory Board, comprised of faculty, students, and staff. Tom Ellett, Sr. Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, who chaired the Advisory Board noted, "treating students as adults to make life choices in their living environment in a place like NYC is fitting. We will take the next academic year to refine our processes and staff training to prepare for these exciting new changes for Fall 2013."
There are many books and other resources available on which colleges fit particular students. But there is very little, if any, information available on which colleges are a good match for a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) student, and which colleges only serve to make the LGBTQ student more isolated. The more comfortable you feel in college, the better you will do, and the more enjoyable your college years will be. The choice to be open about your sexuality shouldn't be made by a college environment that is unfriendly towards LGBTQ students.
There are no particular types of colleges that are LGBT friendly (or not). Some small rural colleges are LGBT friendly, and some large urban universities aren't friendly. Some LGBT friendly schools are expensive, and some are not as expensive. Determining whether a school is LGBT friendly is something that takes time, and there is no widely accepted rating system such as the US-News and World Report College Rankings that takes the 'gay friendly' factor into account. What we have compiled here are some of the factors you can possibly use to determine whether a school is really LGBT friendly.
Here is a sample non-discrimination policy from New York University:
New York University is committed to a policy of equal treatment and opportunity in every aspect of its relations with its faculty, students, and staff members, without regard to age, citizenship status, color, disability, marital or parental status, national origin, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation, or status as a veteran of the Vietnam Era.
When looking over these policies, take note of the protected classes. U.S. Law mandates race, color, religion, and national origin and the inclusion of these classes is simply showing that the college or university is abiding by the law. You should look for sexual orientation to be included in these policies. If this is not included, this could be an indicator that the school isn't as 'gay friendly' as other schools. The fact that sexual orientation is not included would mean that should you be a victim of anti-gay discrimination, you would have no recourse with the college. If it is included, this is a sign that you at least have some minimal recourse should you be the victim of harassment or discrimination. If the policy is clearly stated on all printed materials, this can be in indicator that the school views its non-discrimination policy as more than just a required paragraph. If the policy is in place, but it takes you a week to find it, then this could conversely be a sign that the school doesn't highly value its non-discrimination policy. If you fail to find the policy on printed materials, or through the Internet, then ask the student coordinator of the LGBTQ group on campus, or the director of the LGBTQ resource office where the policy is printed. If the school has a non-discrimination policy, but does not appear to have any LGBTQ student groups, resource centers, or the like, then you'll have to look at other aspects of the school to determine the LGBTQ climate of the school before you visit (or attend). This is something that you should determine for yourself, and this policy should not be used as a litmus test of sorts when applying to colleges; it's just another thing to look at.
Another policy to look for in a college or university is whether they provide domestic partner benefits for faculty, staff, and other full-time employees of the college or university. These are benefits that are similar to the medical, financial, and insurance benefits a legally married heterosexual spouse of an employee would be entitled to. If a school does not have sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy, then chances are the school doesn't have domestic partner benefits for its faculty, staff, and other employees. Since a school can be very LGBT friendly, and still not have domestic benefits, this is a less accurate indicator of whether a college is friendly to LGBTQ students or not. At some schools, these benefits have implications regarding married student housing, and also in terms of medical coverage for a student's partner, should the student opt to use the school's medical program. If a school has these benefits, it will be reflected in the diversity of faculty the school has. LGBTQ faculties are more likely to have a positive work environment with these policies in place, and having a content faculty and staff translates into a better experience for students. To find out whether a school has domestic partner benefits, you can ask almost any faculty member (since they are the ones who would benefit from such a policy), or you can ask the head of the LGBTQ student group or LGBTQ resource center at the school.
One last LGBTQ positive policy a school may have could be found in the school's anti-harassment material. Most of the time, colleges and universities have a policy that prohibits harassment because of race, ethnicity, national origin, and the like. If this policy includes sexual orientation, this could be another indicator that the school cares about its LGBTQ students.
There are still a very few schools that have certain policies that either prohibit 'homosexual conduct', or some schools that have taken action to prevent a LGBTQ group from forming. These schools are a dying breed of social institutions, as more and more people realize that it's in everyone's best interests to be open and welcoming towards LGBTQ students. In the rare event that you encounter a school with a discriminatory policy, this should be cause for alarm. If the school you are looking at has a policy of discrimination against gays (they may very well phrase it differently), unless there is something else that only that school can offer, look elsewhere for your college education.
Here, we have the NYU LGBTQ Student Center, which is located in the Kimmel Center for University Life, 60 Washington Square South, Room 602. Often separate from this are student created and/or student run organizations composed of LGBTQ students and straight students that support them. These student organizations may plan and execute events on campus, hold support group meetings for LGBTQ students, have socials and parties, and/or may serve as groups that foster political activism. You can find these groups by looking through the directory of student organizations. The student run organization that serves the student population of New York University is called Queer Union. If you find the contact information for the school funded staff member, or the resource center, they can help you find out information about the student-run association(s), and visa versa. Click here to see a listing of NYU's LGBTQ clubs.
As one might imagine, the larger the school, the larger the student organization will be, and the more funding will be available for LGBT student resources (hopefully). Small LGBT friendly schools often have a simple student run organization and maybe a single staff member who dedicates some of his or her time to issues surrounding LGBT youth. Larger LGBT friendly universities, sometimes with tens of thousands of students, often have several student-run organizations that are centered on LGBT life, and the larger schools may have more elaborate LGBT resource centers, with paid staff and student volunteers, and sometimes even a small community center dedicated to LGBT students. You should also inquire whether the school financially supports the student organization. A school should support its student run organization the same way it supports any other organization on-campus. When considering how LGBT friendly a school is, you should consider how much it offers to its LGBT students relative to the overall size of the school. You should expect a larger school to have a healthy LGBT student group that receives the support of the school administratively and financially. You shouldn't expect a very small LGBT friendly college to have a community center designated solely for LGBT students, but you should expect a school to have a student-run LGBT organization on-campus. If a school doesn't have any organization at all, this might be an indicator that the school isn't friendly to LGBT students.
Another possible indicator of whether a school is LGBT friendly or not is whether the school has a designated committee or group of faculty/staff that serve on a board or school commission about sexual orientation. There are several ways to find out if a school has such a commission. First, you could ask one of the staff in the school's admission office, as they generally know who is who on campus. You could also inquire about such a commission by asking the head of the LGBT student group or LGBT resource center on campus. You could ask a student at the school who is LGBT or gay friendly, or lastly, you could ask for a list of all faculty and staff groups and look over it and see if you find anything with sexual orientation, gay, etc. in the title of that group or commission. Many LGBT friendly schools no longer have these commissions, as these commissions have sometimes evolved into a LGBT resource center, or a student-led group, so the absence of a faculty/staff LGBT commission by itself doesn't mean much. If a school doesn't have a student-led group, a resource center, or any sort of commission, you can look to other factors to find out if the school is cool with LGBT students.
If they go on and on about their best gay friend and all his or her good times together, then you've obviously found out that there is at least one LGBTQ person at the school. If they say 'yes', but are either offended or confused, don't take this the wrong way. Almost every school has at least a select few students who haven't been exposed to any LGBTQ people growing up, or come from conservative backgrounds, or are conservative themselves, and you may have just asked the wrong person. Go to the school's website and see what information the website has on LGBTQ life at that school. Ask several different people at different places on campus. There might be areas on campus commonly frequented by LGBTQ students. These are all things you can possibly find out by putting a foot out there and asking people.
If asking random people questions isn't your idea of a cool afternoon, then look for LGBTQ people in places you already know they might be, such as the weekly meeting of the student-run LGBTQ group. You might consider calling or e-mailing the LGBTQ resource center (if the school has one) and ask to talk to some people. Chances are the people in the resource center will be happy to help you find students to share some of their experiences with you. Once you do find a LGBTQ student to talk to, don't be afraid to ask questions about LGBTQ life on campus, policies on harassment, what experiences they have. Many LGBTQ students at some schools would be thrilled that you are truly interested in coming to their college (everyone loves to brag). Remember that the only dumb question is the one you didn't ask. The more honestly you ask, the more honest your answers can be. You could end up going to this school for years, so you have a right to know what LGBTQ life at that school is like.
Lastly, another more anonymous way to find out about LGBTQ life at a particular college or university is to talk to people over the Internet. You can go into local gay chat rooms for a particular school. For example, if you wanted to find out more about LGBTQ life at George Mason University, you could go into Internet chat rooms that are for the Washington, DC area, Virginia, or even Fairfax County. There are large sets of LGBTQ chat rooms at various places on the Internet, such as the member-created rooms on America Online, Gay.com, PlanetOut.com, and more. As before, go ahead and tell people the truth - that you are interested in what LGBTQ life at their school might be like. You might get some people who are rude or busy, and who don't want to talk to you, but you can also find people who are happy to candidly talk to you. Use your judgment, and since you will ultimately be the one going to that college, spend some time talking to people. The more people you talk to, the more accurate your findings may be. The drawback to this is that you could talk to a few people who have had a certain kind of experience, and miss out on the larger picture of LGBTQ life at a particular school. If it's a very large university, then there could be many different LGBTQ communities on campus, each with it's own perspective and people, but from just talking to some people over the Internet, you might not find this out.
You can find faculty and/or staff who are out several ways. If the school has a commission on sexual orientation, or a related topic such as a 'diversity committee', contact the faculty that serve on that commission or committee. If a faculty members serves on a school commission for LGBTQ students, then they are obviously at least somewhat friendly towards LGBTQ students, so that would be a good place to start.
You can also go to the student group or resource center (if applicable) and ask if they have any lists of LGBTQ-friendly faculty. Since these lists are often confidential, they may not be comfortable revealing information from that list without talking to you first. One advantage of talking to LGBTQ and gay-friendly faculty is that they often have been within one school community for many years, and can speak to a 'gay history' of the school. They give you some insight about how the campus is now around LGBTQ issues, but they can also give you some idea what the campus was like five, ten, twenty or more years ago. Sometimes a school's history can give you some idea of what to expect four years down the road when you are nearing your college graduation.
If being LGBTQ is something that you want to make an active part of your college education, there are some schools that offer courses in the rapidly expanding field of gay and lesbian studies (sometimes called queer studies, thought, or theory). Some schools have this as an entire department (i.e., Department of Gay and Lesbian Studies), and some schools have a collection of gay studies classes under another department, such as Anthropology, Gender Studies, or Sociology. NYU has created the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. For more information, click here. Some other schools have LGBTQ courses throughout the range of other courses that they offer (i.e., a class on gay business, or a course about LGBTQ language). To find out whether a school offers these courses, simply go over the school's course guide, and look for classes that have gay in the title of the class, or address LGBTQ issues. While each school has a unique way of organizing and cataloging classes, the question becomes how much support does the school give to students who wish to pursue study in gay studies. If gay studies are of little or no interest to you, then this may be of no direct consequence to you, but the fact that the school has gay studies could be an indicator that the school is gay friendly. If you have a penchant for social sciences such as anthropology, sociology, or gender studies, and want to incorporate them with the exciting field of gay studies, then you might give preference to a school that offers courses in gay studies.
These are some of the stereotypical hallmarks of the 'college experience', and just about everyone spends at least a year or two living on campus, eating in the dining hall, and spending those late nights in the library studying. In turn, these different venues will be the spaces you spend countless hours in over what could be several years. These should be spaces where you feel comfortable eating, studying, sleeping, and socializing.
Finding out how safe these spaces are to be LGBTQ may be the most difficult task in determining how LGBTQ friendly a college actually is. Since you will be the one attending the school, give the entire campus a look with a close eye. For example, look at what graffiti students have written on the walls, both interior and exterior, and in the public bathrooms. If there appears to be a significant amount of anti-gay graffiti in conspicuous places, this could possibly indicate that those who view it are indifferent to these hateful remarks. Look at the materials other college groups have posted on the many campus bulletin boards. See if materials related to LGBTQ groups and events have been defaced. As well as using your eyes, use your ears and try to listen in on some student conversations, and listen to tell if they use derogatory terms about people who are LGBTQ, and if they do, how many and in what context. See if any students are reprimanded by the faculty or staff for using anti-gay remarks. If you do talk to LGBTQ students at a particular school, ask them how often they hear these remarks, what is done about them, and whether they have ever had any derogatory remarks directed at them personally.
Another place to inquire within a school is the training that is required to be a Resident Assistant in the dorms. You can find out about this from the LGBTQ student group, the LGBTQ resource center on campus, or the Residence Life Office. Students (usually juniors and seniors) who are Resident Assistants are all trained over the course of one week to over one month, depending on the school. It is reasonable to expect that all Resident Assistants have some minimal training in issues facing LGBTQ students. Also make a quick visit to the student health center or clinic. Look at the brochures that are available for students to take free of charge. See if they have brochures on such topics as HIV/AIDS, safe gay sex, male rape, and others. If you want to get your feet wet yet again, you might want to ask someone in the health center if they offer free HIV testing, free condoms, and the like. These may be small details, but all the details put together make up how the school relates to its LGBTQ students.
You should first look for a college in the setting you want. There are both urban and rural areas that are gay-friendly, which in turn means the town or city might be more welcoming to LGBTQ students coming there for college. After you finish your exploration of the school itself, venture into the town or city where students from the school go and spend time in when they are not on campus. You can find this information out from reading the school's printed material, talking to students, or talking to a representative from the school's office of admissions. Sometimes this information may be obvious (i.e. students from New York University spend quite a lot of time in Manhattan), other times students may travel via car or public transportation to socialize in places that can be many miles away from the school's physical campus.
Look at the places students go and socialize off-campus as if you were looking to move somewhere, because you will have two homes when you go away to college: the school's campus, and the towns and cities that students from that school go and socialize in. We've discussed the first 'home' quite a bit, and the second home is one that is a very personal decision. Some people like living in the city, where some people like living in the country. While some colleges may be friendly to LGBTQ students and others deny they have LGBTQ students, information about gay life in most cities and towns has been well-documented in books, magazines, and the Yellow Pages.
When you go and look at what the school offers in terms of off-campus social opportunities, keep in mind the things you enjoy doing now. If you enjoy drinking coffee in a non-Starbucks coffeehouse, look for those. You should also do research on the Internet to see what venues (bookstores, restaurants, nightclubs, and neighborhoods) near the college are places that cater to a LGBTQ audience. Large cities tend to have more opportunities than small towns, but as the old proverb goes, it's quality not quantity. Another place to look for information on the social climate of a certain town is the political affiliations of the majority of residents that live there. If most of the people in that town are very socially conservative, then realize those affiliations will work their ways into the social fabric of that town or city. Likewise, if the town has ordinances requiring all employers to have domestic partner benefits, it would be reasonable to assume that a majority of the town supports gay citizens, which you would be one of, if you choose to attend school there. The choice of whether you prefer an urban or rural environment is one that only you can make. Click here to see links about LGBTQ life in New York City.
There are thousands of colleges and universities in this country, and even more if you choose to study outside the United States. Does everyone always make the right choice? No, but if you make a mistake and want to go somewhere else, almost every school accepts students for transfer admission, which is when students who are already in a college apply to another college. Many times students who transfer colleges start their new college as a sophomore or junior.
What we have compiled here about finding a LGBTQ friendly school should help you in your college quest, but always trust yourself over anyone else. If a certain college or university doesn't appeal to you, for whatever reason, don't go there. There are so many colleges and universities out there so be sure not to settle for a place you don't want to attend. You really can have a great college experience, whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or even straight.
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