Today, more out lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are looking for the best match in a college. These students and their families are not only a new recruitment demographic, but they also have high expectations that a campus is inclusive when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Over the last eight years, the organization I oversee, Campus Pride, has gathered feedback from LGBTQ high school youth and families attending our LGBTQ-friendly national college fair program. The following top 10 factors were found to be important to LGBTQ youth:
1. Active LGBTQ Student Organization
LGBTQ students want to find a sense of community with their peers. LGBTQ student organizations provide social, educational, and leadership opportunities, which many students ask for in a college campus. Such groups are critical to the well being of LGBTQ students as a social network, support system, and outlet for activism. Some students inquire about groups specific to gender identity and expression, students of color, religion, and special interests and activities.
2. Out LGBTQ Students
“Where are people like me?” That is how one LGBTQ high school student put it. Prospective LGBTQ college students look for other LGBTQ students to be visible and active in all aspects of the academic setting and campus life. LGBTQ students come from all aspects of diversity, so it is important to showcase LGBTQ students of color, sports, religion, and so on.
3. Out LGBTQ Faculty and Staff
Visible faculty and staff are excellent indicators of an inclusive LGBTQ campus environment. Out LGBTQ faculty and staff can serve as advisers and be a common thread of support throughout the college years. If faculty and staff are not comfortable being out, then there is no way to expect LGBTQ students to choose your school.
4. LGBTQ-Inclusive Policies
Campus policies demonstrate a commitment and a standard for inclusion. Each of these LGBTQ policies expresses an acceptance level of the campus and its commitment to LGBTQ issues. Campuses can find out where they rate on LGBTQ benchmarks for policy inclusion on the Campus Pride website at CampusPrideIndex.org.
5. Visible Signs of Pride
Rainbow flags and pink triangles are two examples. Visible symbols of pride in the student union, campus offices, and social venues create a sense of openness, safety, and inclusion in the campus community. Their prominent presence also sends a clear signal that it is “OK to be gay, bi, trans, queer.” Other exhibited signs would include an Ally or Safe Space/Safe Zone program.
6. Allies from the Top Down
Allies are essential to LGBTQ students, especially those found in LGBTQ-friendly college administrations. LGBTQ students listen for top-level administrators such as the president, vice president, or a dean to include LGBTQ issues in the campus dialogue. Visible allies are also important in the classroom and in student life on campus. LGBTQ students listen and look for examples of how allies stand up for LGBTQ students on campus.
7. Inclusive Housing and Gender-Inclusive Bathrooms
LGBTQ-theme housing and gender-inclusive bathrooms are elements that foster a positive LGBTQ atmosphere conducive to living and learning.
8. Established LGBTQ Center
Many LGBTQ students check right away to see what committed campus resources and support services are available. One of the most easily recognizable and visible support services is an established LGBTQ center on campus. Paid LGBTQ staffing within the Women’s Center or Multicultural Office is another way to show an LGBTQ commitment to support services and resources. Both demonstrate an institutional commitment to LGBTQ students similar to that of other diverse populations.
9. LGBTQ and Queer Studies
Some LGBTQ high school students are looking for a campus with outlets to study LGBTQ issues. Their passion in life is to not only get a degree but also take classes where they can learn about LGBTQ and queer identity, politics, and history. And for some youth, that even means graduating with an academic major or minor in LGBTQ and queer studies.
10. Progressive Culture and Vibrant LGBTQ Social Scene
These are actually two separate issues, but they are interrelated. LGBTQ students want to be accepted fully and for all their intersectional identities (race, faith, gender, sexual identity, gender identity, and so on). In addition, a vibrant LGBTQ social scene is a high priority but can also mean different things to each student. Some LGBTQ students want to live on a campus that offers queer entertainment choices, whereas others prefer relying on activities in the city where the campus resides.●
Shane Windmeyer is the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups. He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. To learn more about fostering safety for trans students with housing and bathrooms, and additional information, visit CampusPride.org/TPC. Campus Pride is a partner of INSIGHT Into Diversity.