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Matthew’s Place

How to find LGBTQ+ affirming colleges to apply to this spring

By Isabella Zollner

College decisions are stressful for everybody involved. There is a lot to consider. Are you willing to take out student loans? If so, how much money are you willing to borrow? What do you want to major in? How close will you be to your hometown? Do you even need to go to college? These are questions every prospective college student finds themselves asking. But LGBTQ+ youth have to ask themselves a whole slew of other questions about college.

What colleges will you be safe at? This is, in my opinion, the most important question to ask yourself. Your safety as an LGBTQ+ student should be your top priority when choosing a college. If you are unsafe at your college of choice you will be putting yourself at risk every time you come out to somebody. Not only that, but your college experience will be stunted by the fact that you’re constantly looking over your shoulder. Safety can also be a hard thing to determine when doing college research. Most colleges won’t just publicly declare that they aren’t a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth. But there are still some pretty clear tells when it comes to LGBTQ+ safety at a college. First, you can check the FBI’s hate crimes statistics website. This website lists the number of hate crimes committed at universities and in cities. If your prospective college or the city surrounding it has a high number of anti-LGBTQ driven hate crimes, that is a clear sign that it is not a safe space for LGBTQ+ people. But if a college or the surrounding area has dedicated safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people, then that is a sign that they value the safety of their LGBTQ+ residents. These safe spaces include things like LGBTQ+ university housing, pro-LGBTQ+ places of worship, and LGBTQ+ community centers.

Another element to consider when deciding what college you want to go to is the comradery of the LGBTQ+ community. It always helps to be around other people who share a first hand understanding of what it means to an LGBTQ+ student at your college. If the college has active student-led organizations for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights and LGBTQ+ student housing, then that is a good sign that there is a strong LGBTQ+ community at that college. And if those organizations have their student leadership team listed online, I would encourage you to reach out to them. That might seem intimidating, but advising perspective LGBTQ+ students is part of what those organizations are created to do. As the president of a LGBTQ+ youth group myself, I love hearing from other LGBTQ+ youth and I consider offering them the advice to be one of my favorite responsibilities. Besides, current LGBTQ+ students will know better than anyone else what it is like to be a LGBTQ+ student at their university.

Whether or not a college is going to support your LGBTQ+ advocacy is also an important question to ask yourself. If a college is discouraging their students from speaking out, that is a very bad sign for LGBTQ+ students. However, colleges that do encourage advocacy are probably going to be a great place for LGBTQ+ youth. If a college has an active student government, that is a good sign. Almost every college in America does have student government, but are different. Some student governments will be more like party planning committees. But some student governments advise the administration about student affairs and diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is another place where reaching out and asking current students is a great way to get a sense of what kind of student government your prospective college has. Another way in which colleges can encourage their students to advocate is to allow them to have fully independent university newspapers. To be fully independent a university newspaper must have no faculty advisors. Additionally, it has to be financially independent of the university. If a university newspaper has both of these qualities then it can publish whatever it likes about the university. If your prospective university has one of these newspapers then any member of the editorial team can honestly review the university’s LGBTQ+ oriented policies and actions. Additionally, you can look back at these articles and get a realistic sense of what it means to be LGBTQ+ at that university.

A fourth topic to consider when choosing your college is the college’s administration, faculty, and staff. All three of these groups are people that you will spend a lot of time around as a student at the university. Additionally, they will have a lot of control over your day to day life at college. When researching your college and the people that work there some questions to ask yourself are; Is the administrative team diverse and do their actions reflect the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion goals? Do the faculty participate in diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops? Are the needs of all students considered by the administration? Have administrators just set goals for themselves, or have made noticeable positive changes within their community? Once again, a great way to get an answer to these questions is to reach out and talk to current students. But you can also use resources like Rate My Professor or your university’s newspaper to get a sense of what the administration and faculty are like.

Picking what college you are going to go to is difficult enough, and being a LGBTQ+ student just makes that decision harder. And while no college will ever be perfect, some are a lot closer than others. When you are in the process of narrowing down which college will be best for you, you can ask yourself the questions: Will I be safe? Is there a supportive LGBTQ+ community there? Will the college support my advocacy? What are the administration and faculty like? While it can be daunting, the questions are important to making sure the school is the right fit for you. But don’t be intimidated- the answers and right school for you is out there.

About the Author:

After being subjected to homophobic harassment in the classroom, Isabella decided to try and use her writing to encourage others to stand up for each other and themselves. Isabella is a high school student in Lafayette, IN.

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Matthew’s Place is by and for LGBTQ+ youth and a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation l #EraseHate

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MatthewsPlace.com is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to submit? Email patrick@matthewshepard.org