LGBT students should look for gender-inclusive schools with strong anti-discrimination policies.
LGBT advocates say that one important starting point for prospective students is to examine a college’s nondiscrimination policies.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT is important for any college student; for the LGBT community, that especially rings true.
Historically marginalized and discriminated against, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is now embraced at many colleges across the U.S. Experts say that colleges increasingly want to be viewed as welcoming, diverse and inclusive of all.
“By and large, today’s college campus wants to be seen as diverse and inclusive, and that includes LGBT young people. The challenge, for a family member or a student, is finding a college that actually has an institutional commitment to LGBT young people,” says Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride, an online resource for LGBT students.
Institutional commitment, experts agree, is key to determining how well LGBT students fare on a college campus. To gauge this commitment, students should look at factors such as housing and restroom policies, curriculum, resources and representation.
Check Out the College’s Nondiscrimination Policy
LGBT advocates say that one important starting point for prospective students is to examine a college’s nondiscrimination policies. To find a college’s nondiscrimination policy, search online using that term and the school name.
“For LGBTQ students, the first thing I recommend (they look at) is, does the college that you’re looking at have a nondiscrimination policy? And does it include sexual orientation and gender identity? Now there may be campuses, that would be perfectly fine that don’t have this included. But that is a red flag that says ‘We didn’t think of you,'” says Luca Maurer, director of LGBTQ education, outreach and services at Ithaca College in New York.
What’s in the nondiscrimination policy – or not included – can be telling, experts say.
“Is that policy fully enumerated? We know that policies that are enumerated, which means it mentions all the categories covered tend to be much more effective than general policies,” says Jean-Marie Navetta, director of learning and inclusion at PFLAG, a national organization founded in 1973 to support LGBT individuals.
Windmeyer cautions students to pay attention to religions exemptions to Title IX that are granted to some schools. Title IX is a civil rights law that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. An exemption, Windmeyer says, “allows colleges to discriminate openly.”Zahida Sherman, director of the Multicultural Resources Center at Oberlin College in Ohio, suggests looking into campus climate. She notes that colleges occasionally survey students and employees to gauge their views on matters related to campus life.
“That will tell you really interesting things about how the campus has experienced bias-related incidents, those uncomfortable incidents targeting an individual or a group identity that typically leave people feeling unsafe or unwelcome,” Sherman says.
Look Into Housing and Bathroom Policies
Housing and restroom policies can go a long way toward making a college campus feel welcoming to LGBT students, experts say.
“For students who might identify as nonbinary in terms of gender identity, are there policies that address how they will be treated and how they will be handled, and things like dorms, gym lockers and restrooms?” Navetta asks.
Maurer points to gender-inclusive housing as a good example of an LGBT-friendly policy. Open housing allows students to live with a roommate of their choice regardless of gender identity. For transgender and nonbinary students, this makes housing less complicated he says. Before Ithaca College changed its policy in 2016, those students would meet with Maurer to discuss accommodations, an option that still exists for students to ensure their needs are met.Bathrooms are another important aspect of the physical environment for transgender and nonbinary students. Many schools list bathroom policies online. If that policy is unavailable on the college website, students can check with an admissions officer or a school’s LGBT center – if it has one – for clarification.
“All-gender restrooms provide a great option for students in lots of different kinds of situations and with different experiences,” Maurer says.
Maurer adds that a chosen name process, where students specify what should appear on class rosters and student ID cards, is also important. This, Maurer says, indicates a college’s commitment to the needs of transgender and nonbinary students.