Eldon C. BrownNovember 1996
During my senior year of high school, I started looking around for a university that would meet my needs. I wanted to go somewhere close to home, somewhere affordable, and somewhere I could feel accepted and supported. At that time I wasn't really aware of my sexuality. I thought going away to school would be my opportunity to discover who I truly was.
Even though I had some idea that I was gay, it never played a role in my selection of a university. I was so excited to be the first member of my family to go away to school that I didn't consider that to be a major factor in my decision.
Over the years, I learned that choosing the right university can make all the difference. While I wouldn't trade the experiences and education I have received here, I probably wouldn't choose the same school if I had it to do all over again.
This month, I would like to offer some suggestions to GLB youth who are in the process of selecting a college or university. These guidelines should help you to choose a school that is right for you. It is by no means a complete list of issues or suggestions.
Don't underestimate the affect a supportive environment for GLB students can have on your ability to learn.
The support you receive as a GLB student can decide the fate of your college career. In a perfect world, sexual orientation wouldn't be the issue that it is on today's campuses. The reality, however, is that some campus environments can be unwelcoming and even dangerous for GLB students. Don't just assume that a college or university is supportive and inclusive of its GLB students.
Don't be afraid to ask questions.
The university needs you just as much as you need it. Consider yourself a potential customer. Don't be afraid to ask the questions you want to ask! Even simple questions can give you tremendous insight into the environment on that campus.
Set guidelines for your expectations and stick to them.
Before you begin to visit campuses, set certain standards for the university you want to attend. Are you willing to attend a university that doesn't include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policy? Do you expect to attend a university that has a GLB student organization?
Once you begin to visit campuses, keep those guidelines in mind. Even if you are overwhelmed by the beauty of the campus or the strength of the academic program, those assets will seem secondary if you find yourself in a hostile or unsupportive environment. Don't compromise yourself and your standards!
Is sexual orientation included in the non-discrimination clause?
Those two words can make a tremendous difference in how you will be treated as a GLB student. It provides for official recourse if you believe you have been discriminated against based on your sexual orientation. Without this protection, there is no guarantee that the administration will support you if you are discriminated against. Don't underestimate the power of those two words. Also be careful not to overestimate the power of those two words. Alone they won't provide much protection if the administration does not fully embrace and enforce them.
Is there an office on campus that specifically deals with GLB issues?
Some schools are lucky enough to have administrative personnel whose job is specifically to work with GLB issues on campus. These schools are likely to have a strong commitment to inclusion and support of their GLB students.
Are there openly GLB faculty and staff members?
If GLB faculty and staff aren't comfortable being out on a campus, it is likely that students aren't either. GLB faculty and staff can also serve as mentors for GLB students. That support can be critical to a successful college career.
Does the university have a GLB student organization?
If a university does not have a GLB student organization, find out why. Is it due to lack of interest? Are students afraid to come out on campus? The answers to these questions can paint a clear picture to the campus environment.
Where can you find the answer to these questions? Here are a few suggestions:
By asking these questions and exploring the resources, you will gain a better picture as to what it's like to be a GLB student on that campus. Some schools will be very open and welcome your questions. You will be able to tell by others' responses that they do not consider GLB students or issues to be a priority.
Your investigation may also be met with surprise. Don't assume this is a bad sign. Many university officials are simply not accustomed to questions about GLB issues. In the past, students have been afraid to ask. Expect some surprise, but don't settle for homophobic responses.
The school that you select can affect the next several years of your life. That one decision can make the difference between living in an environment that is hostile, isolating, and unwelcome or one that is accepting, nurturing, and comfortable for GLB students. Choose wisely.