When I was in high school, I remember checking out the college and university brochures, trying to decide which campus looked like the best fit for me. Like many prospective students, I looked at the city or town the campus was located in, the overall vibe of the community, what kinds of activities were available in the surrounding areas, like skiing, hiking, attractions, etc., and finally, I checked out the actual academic programs that the school offered. I may have had my priorities backward, but nevertheless, I had to envision myself living and being comfortable with the entire experience. Even though I wasn’t ‘out’ in regards to my sexual orientation or gender identity, at that time, I still felt the need to choose a school/city that was open-minded.
For LGBTQ+ (especially Trans) students, there is much more to consider when selecting a college. In addition to finding appealing college courses and majors, and an open-minded town, LGBTQ+ students look for indications that the campus culture is safe and inclusive to diverse groups, like themselves. For many students, high school was less than favorable, and they were victims of bullying and anti-LGBTQ+ harassment, so for those who choose to continue their education, it’s imperative to find a campus that welcomes them, as their authentic self. Students need to feel safe and supported emotionally, physically and socially, to succeed.
Here are some tips to effectively recruit and retain LGBTQ+ students, as well as to promote inclusiveness on your campus.
Just as I looked at all the college brochures and campus photographs, so is every other prospective student, and it’s exciting when we see photos of people that look and identify, like ourselves. It makes us feel valued and visible. Having a diverse representation of ALL students on recruiting materials sends a message that this campus welcomes the unique talents of everyone and is proud to be inclusive.
After narrowing down the college search, it’s time to apply. This might seem straightforward, but for those students who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary, it’s not that simple. On the application, there are two choices of gender identity, male or female, but what if you don’t identify as one of those binary options, or your gender identity and your legal identification are not congruent? For me, this predicament always caused a lot of stress and worry, and the very few times I was given additional boxes to choose from, ones that accurately reflected my identity, I was not only relieved but knew that I was in an environment of inclusiveness and was safe to share my true self. And having the option of writing in the name that I preferred to be called, in addition to my legal name, was empowering and made me feel supported. While I understand the legality of using a person’s legal name on the admissions application and school paperwork, allowing a student to clearly state how they identify and which name they want others to use, can be a deciding factor in whether or not they pursue their education. Not to mention, having this information, can help Higher Education institutions to understand LGBTQ+ students and their needs better.
According to the article, The Path Forward: LGBT Retention and Academic Success by Shane Windmeyer (InSightDiversity.com), “LGBT youth, specifically LGB youth of color and transgender youth of all races, are much more likely than other students to struggle academically and personally in college. To positively affect their college experience, institutions must be able to identify these students.” He goes on to say, that, “The lack of questions around LGBT identity on the Common Application makes obtaining this data more difficult, which hinders colleges’ ability to address these students’ retention and success.”
Campus Culture & Safety
For those LGBTQ+ students who are admitted and begin their studies on your campus, how are they supported? Many colleges and universities across the US have LGBTQ+ groups, or maybe even an LGBTQ+ Center, that provides resources and support to students, however, that alone isn’t enough. Often, those are peer-led groups, and the responsibility or burden of supporting LGBTQ+ students on campus relies on other ‘Out’ LGBTQ+ students. What is far more efficient for creating a safe, inclusive culture is implementing programs and services for LGBTQ+ students that are fully supported by the school itself. (Campuspride.org) This sets a tone for the entire campus that LGBTQ+ individuals are to be treated and supported equally.
Also, having clear policies and procedures as related to LGBTQ+ student safety, and access to accommodations (facilities, dorms, etc.) is critical. Being pro-active rather than reactive allows for preparation and effective implementation. No one likes the feeling of being unprepared or “caught off guard,” especially the LGBTQ+ student, who may feel their presence on campus is unplanned, unwanted or a burden.
Commitment to student success
The one thing to remember when recruiting and retaining ALL students is the responsibility of creating an environment on campus, which supports each student’s ability to learn, graduate and positively affect the world around them. LGBTQ+ students already face many challenges in living an authentic life. By creating and maintaining a safe, inclusive campus environment, where they feel welcomed and free to express their true identity, will not only increase the number of students wanting to be a part of your school but will give those LGBTQ+ students the best chance at successfully completing their degrees.
To learn more about Jeremy Wallace visit: campuspeak.com/wallace