Plan the Path’s 9 Tips for LGBTQIA+ Students at College
Moving through life as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is often…complicated. For young adults the transition from high school to college can feel terrifying and liberating. On the one hand, many queer kids find their newfound, high-school-baggage-free colleges to be ideal spaces for transformation, personal growth, and exciting new experiences; at the same time, many LGBTQIA+ students can find the prospect of navigating college to float between intimidating and terrifying on the spectrum of fear.
Here are 9 tips I’d give to my younger self, when I was starting college as a bright-eyed, lanky queer kid in upstate New York:
- Seek out LGBTQIA+ groups on campus. While this one may seem obvious, it wasn’t until the end of my second year of school that I attended my first meeting of a queer-led club on campus. Some combination of naivety and hubris had me convinced that I only wanted to make friends based on common interests, not common community. When I did finally begin participating in queer campus life, I discovered friendships with a radical and diverse group of peers, and I deeply related to them. To find a group that fits for you, look through your school’s directory of student organizations; you’re likely to find general spaces for queer folks (such as an LGBTQIA+ club or alliance), but you also may find organizations and spaces for queer folks centered around specific interests. Some schools and universities, especially large ones with robust campus activities, also have clubs and groups geared towards LGBTQ gamers, hikers, artists, or athletes.
- Consider LGBTQIA+ housing. While queer-specific housing isn’t for everyone, many schools, both large and small, now offer community housing options specifically for queer/trans+ students. A majority of these residential arrangements operate as collective, community-oriented housing where students participate in activities, workshops, and volunteer projects. This is also a great option for gender non-conforming students who don’t want to live in traditional, gender-separated housing. Many colleges will have a diversity or inclusion director you can contact for more information about queer on-campus housing options.
- Join progressive student groups on campus. One of the greatest lessons college students can learn is that of intersectionality. Its message teaches us that all our struggles and experiences are inherently intertwined. Getting involved in progressive, activist, and social justice groups on campus can bring exciting opportunities and the chance to give back.
- Utilize on-campus mental and sexual health services. Ah yes, the elephant in the room. Speaking frankly, college is often a period of experimentation; at the same time, the stress of academics, coupled with the fast-pace of early-20s life, has led to an epidemic of mental health struggles among college students. Thankfully, most colleges have competent and queer-informed health services; in addition to providing check-ups and routine medical assistance, these centers also offer comprehensive mental and sexual health services, including queer-informed counseling, free condoms, sex education, and crisis management. Don’t be afraid to utilize these awesome services! Wellness is the bedrock of our safe exploration and growth as individuals.
- Explore local arts and music scenes. For better or for worse, a noticeable amount of LGBTQIA+ life centers around nightlife. For new college students under 21, or students that choose not to drink, this can sometimes feel like a barrier to exploring the queer community. However, most college towns and cities also have dynamic arts and live music scenes, which usually attract queer and queer-positive students. Once you’re settled at school, start exploring the local arts scene through open mics, gallery shows, etc.
- Seek out courses and professors that center and uplift queerness. Some of the most formative experiences I had at college occurred when I took social science and gender studies courses taught by accomplished queer professors. These teachers help us gain insight into the history and struggles of LGBTQIA+ people, and they allow us to connect with thinkers, writers, and texts that can play a central role in our own empowerment and a deepening understanding of our own identity. Research your school’s queer and gender studies, anthropology, and sociology departments to find courses and professors that center and teach about gender, sexuality, and queerness. Speak to other students or on-campus organizations about professors and courses that other students have found influential.
- Register to vote in your new location. With the hustle and bustle of beginning school, many students (especially those newly 18+) forget to register to vote. Having a political voice, and being able to vote in local elections, is of utmost importance for marginalized students. Despite popular belief, registering where one attends school is legal—students may register either at their parents’ home address, or at school, depending on where they would like to vote.
- Don’t let stereotypes sabotage new experiences. It’s no secret that high school spaces can be all too often cliquey and judgmental. When emerging from high school, queer students may feel intimidated by activities and experiences that have the potential for being judgmental or unfriendly. These can include club sports and athletics, Greek life, and outdoor recreation opportunities. College is liberating precisely because students are able to leave behind the sophomoric mentality of high school and unite with other students over common interests and values. Let college be your introduction to unapologetically participating in the activities that bring you joy.
- Allow yourself to learn about yourself. College is not about having it figured all out; it’s about new experiences, new knowledge, and embracing personal growth. We often focus on the social aspects of being in college: friendships, roommates, study partners, and parties. Don’t let these distract you completely from another awesome opportunity college provides: spending time with—and learning about—yourself! By consciously stepping outside your comfort zone, maintaining healthy habits, and checking in with yourself, college can become a time of profound personal development, especially for queer students.
— Ethan Kramer, SUNY New Paltz ‘19, BSc in Anthropology