Work/Life's guest blogger, Katie Griswold Kaye with Kaye College Consulting, advises students in their college admissions process. Prior to relocating to the Raleigh-Durham area, Katie was a guidance counselor at Boston College High School, an all-boys Jesuit school. In that role, she provided intensive college counseling to hundreds of high school students (and their parents), shepherding them through the often daunting college process. Katie holds a Master’s of Education from Boston University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in Cary, NC with her husband and in her free time can be found visiting her four grandchildren.
I am happy to say that in the experience of the LGBTQ students with whom I have worked, college has been a better experience than high school. Not only have the students become more confident in who they are, but their peers have generally become more mature and accepting. This is not to say that LGBTQ students should not research the affirming nature of each college in which they are interested; they definitely should. It will be important to their experience on campus.
How can I find out what a campus culture is like in regards to its support for LGBTQ Students?
Choosing which college is right for you is a complex process that involves deciding on multiple factors: size, location, majors, expense, opportunities, campus culture, and other features particular to your needs. My suggestion would be to find a range of colleges of interest and then dig into research on how each one affirms and celebrates diverse students.
Here are some features that would suggest an inclusive community:
- Clear non-discrimination policies in place that include non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
- Indications in the application and registration materials that students are encouraged to express who they are: for example, the option to designate your pronouns, opportunity to request specific housing, etc.
- A vibrant LGBTQ student life that signals a campus culture of diversity and inclusivity.
- Academic options for LGBTQ classes and majors/minors, such as Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. Supportive colleges may also have LGBTQ-specific scholarships.
- Gender-inclusive housing and bathrooms, with gender-inclusive restrooms across campus.
- LGBTQ-specific health care options, including targeted counseling services.
- Active campus safety trainings and procedures for faculty/staff/students that address the college’s zero tolerance policy toward any type of discrimination or abuse.
As an example, a quick look at NC State’s website brings you to their Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) where you will find a GLBT Center with a staff of four people, opportunities for advocacy and training, and a variety of campus clubs and sponsored events.
What are some of the aspects I can focus on when visiting a college?
It is a great idea to visit the student center and look at what organizations and activities seem to be prominent. If there is a very visible office that displays LGBTQ friendly flags, signs and events, that suggests a culture of open affirmation. Look around to see as many students as possible to get a “vibe” for the campus atmosphere. Peek in classrooms, notice how students are interacting with others. Your impressions may feel anecdotal, but you can match them with publications, such as the Fiske Guide to Colleges, that identify general features of a student body.
Is it possible for me to meet with the Director of Diversity and Inclusion?
Yes! It should be easy to find a list of the staff and their contact information on the web page of the college’s office of Diversity. You can choose which staff member would be most conversant with the LGBTQ community’s issues and email them requesting a short meeting while you are visiting campus. You can ask about the campus culture, special opportunities for LGBTQ students, housing options etc. This staff member should be able to put you in touch with some of the LGBTQ campus clubs’ members so that you can ask detailed questions about how they experience life at the university.
What can I do once I’ve been accepted and when I’m living on campus?
After you have decided where to enroll, look through the housing materials to see if there is an option in which you would be comfortable, such as an inclusive living learning community that focuses on diversity. If you choose a regular freshman dorm, find out how you can request a supportive roommate. Once you have been assigned a roommate, reach out to him/her/them so you can get to know each other.
As soon as you move to campus, or even during orientation, identify people and places for support. Being a freshman tends to bring out everyone’s vulnerabilities, so making a connection with understanding faculty/staff and students is very important for your health and well-being.
Read your orientation materials and scan the website to learn who/what is out there. Consider visiting the Diversity office/LGBTQ center, calling psychological services and making a connection with one of the counselors, spending some time with your resident advisor and academic advisor to make sure he/she/they will be checking in with you. At most universities there will be counselors or peer mentors to help you manage your new freedoms around dating, eating, substances, etc., and guide you in finding services and social supports you might need. Explore, identify and strengthen the important connections that you make, and never hesitate to ask for help!
Is there a list of LGBTQ affirming colleges?
I found these sites helpful because, in identifying affirming colleges, they listed features that would be worth looking for in your colleges of interest.
And, there are a number of online resources that NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counseling) recommends:
- GLSEN Educator Resources
- Campus Pride Resources
- Point Foundation - LGBTQ Student Scholarships
- Transgender Law Center
- Lambda Legal LGBTQ Teens & Young Adults Legal Resources
- Trans Student Educational Resources
- Human Rights Campaign Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools
- Human Rights Campaign 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report
- An Ally’s Guide to Terminology
- NAFSA LGBTQ+ Student Advising Guide for Education Abroad Professionals