by Sarah Simon
While it’s true, in some respects, that the world is heading towards a more accepting and understanding place in terms of gender and sexuality, we still live in a world where being cisgender and straight are more accepted than LGBTQ identities. So, what happens when you have to send your child off to college– to a sort of microcosm of the world– and let it become their new home for the next four years? What if their college is lagging in the global push towards equality and acceptance? How do you know if the college you’re sending your child to will celebrate their diversity rather than make them feel unsafe or unwanted? Here are some factors to keep in mind while searching for the right school:
For anybody who is not cisgender, using public bathrooms can be a challenging, and potentially dangerous, experience. When going on college campus tours, look at bathrooms on the campus and note how they are gendered. Does the college have gender-neutral bathrooms? Is there a history of queer violence in the surrounding, off-campus area that your child might fall victim to when using a public restroom? While it might be a little difficult to research, I recommend calling the Student Life office and asking them what the bathroom situation looks like.
2. Queer Spaces
If a college has a dedicated queer space for students to learn, meet other queer students, or attend queer related events, it’s a safe bet that the school will be more open and inclusive of your child. It’s also a solid indicator that your kid can get involved easily to meet other queer folks or organize a guest speaker of a fun mixer Spaces made specifically for marginalized students are amazing and can foster a sense of community among the students while still existing as part of a larger community on the overall campus. Look for queer spaces.
Are there clubs/extra curricular activities that don’t rely on the gender binary? (i.e. Men’s Vocal Ensemble, Women’s Knitting Collective versus clubs that include members of all genders). It can be incredibly frustrating when your child– who already probably feels like a fish out of water in a new college environment– wants to join an activity that they love or want to learn more about, and then be made to feel threatened, unsafe, or erased when they either don’t see a club that makes space for their identity, or don’t know if other club members will be accepting of the diversity they bring. Check to see if colleges have all-gender clubs that cater to your child’s interests. Chances are, if the student body is open to having all-gender organizations, the school attracts an open-minded and accepting body of people.
Learning the ins and outs of the housing process can be one of the most integral and informative parts of finding the right school. Your dorm is where you go to unwind after the longest day of your life. It’s where you pull your first all-nighter and write a 30-page paper. It’s where you hang a sock on the door and hope for the best. If you feel unsafe or disrespected in any way, you’re in for a rough year, and nobody should have to deal with that. Call the Residence Life office and ask questions about how they assign roommates. Ask if your trans son will be placed in a dorm based on his gender, or his assignment at birth. Ask what the policies are regarding homophobic actions. Will your child be placed in a situation where their gender is validated and affirmed? Will they be provided with a roommate who has specified their level of comfort with queer or gender nonconforming individuals so nobody feels threatened or unsafe? How are RA’s trained to handle issues of gender and sexuality in case they have to step in and mediate a problematic roommate situation? The biggest thing you can do here ask, ask, ask. Usually, people who work at colleges are really friendly and genuinely want to inform you and give you all the information you need.
5. Faculty and Staff
Another really great way to gauge the climate of a college campus is to look into the professors. Firstly, what is the level of diversity amongst the faculty in terms of race, gender, and sexuality? If you do some heavy researchin’, you can probably find this information in the depths of the school’s website, but asking about this on the tour or even calling the school can help as well. It’s important that your child be surrounded, not only by peers who are diverse, but professors, too. Additionally, how are faculty members trained? Are they provided with the tools and vocabulary necessary to make LGBTQ students feel safe? Are they asked to go through sensitivity training? Your child should never be made to feel violated or unsafe by anyone– but especially not by a respected and trusted adult.
6. Student Resources
While it’s really important that the professors of the college are given resources to educate themselves, it’s also essential that the student body has access to the same opportunities. Check to see if there is an Office of Diversity for students to safely ask questions, learn about LGBTQ diversity, or for LGBTQ students to become involved in order to educate others. Call the office up– ask them about their programs and how the office’s work is integrated into the fabric of the campus. If a college is passionate and relentless about diversity education, your child will likely be in a safe space.
7. Diversity of Student Body
When touring the campus, look around. Are there lots of visibly queer students? Are there queer couples holding hands and grabbing coffee before class? Get a feel for the overall campus vibe and how your LGBTQ child might fit into that picture. If you are unable to tour the campus, some great resources are college discussion sites. College Confidential is a good one, where current students answer questions and write reviews about all aspects of the school. Campus Pride is another great resource to figure out which schools have the most accepting climate, along with lots of other information you might need. Also, the college’s Facebook page will probably have students who work for Admissions available to answer questions about student life. Do some Google searches and see what comes up!
8. Course Catalogue
Go online and find the most recent course catalogue. Look at classes that touch on queer studies. Even if the LGBTQ Studies department isn’t chock full of classes, what kind of other classes does the school offer that relate to queerness? What about a literature class that reads the works of queer authors? Or a sociology class that examines how queer bodies are constructed in today’s society? Queer studies can be integrated into almost any subject matter and you can get a really good feel for how open the school is based on how willing they are to educate their students about LGBTQ life in an academic setting.
9. Getting in Touch With Students
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s really, really important! Talk to students as much as possible. Ask questions on the tour. If your child spends an overnight with a student, make sure they learn as much as possible about student life. What kind of energy did they get from their potential peers? Call the school and ask to speak to a student representative. Colleges are crawling with people who are eager to share their experiences and talk about the school. Take advantage of it and don’t be shy!
10. Talk to Your Child
Honestly, I can’t stress this enough. Talk to your kid and get a feel for what they’re looking for in a school. Obviously their safety comes first and you need to make sure that acceptance of diversity is at the forefront of whichever campus you choose, but ultimately, your child needs to pick the school that feels most at home for them. Listen to what they want their new home to look like and work together to find the right fit.
At the end of the day, pretty much all college campuses have room to improve, but some are more accepting and advanced than others. Hopefully these specific points help you narrow the search and know what to look for to make sure your child is set up for success. Having an environment that builds your child up and embraces every aspect of who they are is so important and something everyone deserves. So ask questions, use your resources, and do what is ultimately best for your child. College can be scary, but with the right fit comes a slew of exciting opportunities that can change your child’s world. Good luck!
Sarah Simon has been writing for My Kid Is Gay for two years. She is an ENFJ/ Sagittarius who usually can be found with body glitter on her face and English Bulldogs on her mind. Sarah is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied Queer Theory and Psychology. She is currently a candidate for her MA in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence. In between pots of very strong coffee, Sarah makes rad mix tapes for her friends, cooks fun vegetarian food, and cackles at the thought of destroying the patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram @glitterpawzz and on Twitter @misssaraheliz
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