College is seen as the time when individuals can start to define their own identity. No longer are they under their parents’ constant supervision or influence. In college, youth can start to express their own identities, and discover new aspects about themselves that they may or may not have realized prior. Yet, is college the perfect phase in our lives that allow us to fully express who we are and to discover ourselves freely?
Project Speak Out Loud (PSOL), located in the lower east side of New York City at Grand Street Settlement, works to provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4 p.m.-7 p.m., and trains their peer educators to facilitate workshops on LGBT Culture and Competency as well as Sex Ed. to organizations around the city. Schools, work spaces, and other programs can look to PSOL to provide workshops that spread awareness and education on LGBT culture and how to incorporate more inclusive practices.
I spoke to my fellow peers at PSOL, all peers who are in their last stages of high school or currently in college, and we discussed whether colleges are as inclusive and safe as we tend to think it is. Many seemed to bring up the issue of presence. Many colleges across America contain LGBT+ centers for their students, yet many LGBT+ youth debate whether they live up to it’s potential. Colleges still faces issues of discrimination and prejudice against LGBT+ students, even with the presence of an LGBT center. With that in mind, how can students even feel safe to join and attend the few LGBT+ events and spaces available?
An issue brought up among the peers of PSOL was the issue of uncomfortability. If spaces like sports teams and classrooms are filled with discomfort for and around LGBTQ+ students, shouldn’t colleges work to become more competent and act to make these spaces available for all persons, regardless of orientation? It seems that the problem still exists, and nothing being done to really help the situation.
I asked the PSOL peers what they thought colleges and universities should be doing to be more inclusive. One peer, Zoey Dragon, mentioned the issue of competent mentors. She discussed her experiences with finding a mentor who was relatable, and offered her suggestion that colleges should have diverse people. Another peer, Samantha, stated, “I believe colleges should hire more queer folk to make the community more comfortable”. It’s 2016, we know that everyone is different and that no one has the exact same experiences. It’s time for colleges to hire more diverse staff members, who can be relatable advisors. These advisors should come from different backgrounds, and be culturally competent in LGBTQ+ culture, as well as various ethnic cultures. The National Center for Education Statistics found that in Fall of 2013, 78% of the total staff members at a “degree-granting postsecondary institution” who were full-time staff members, were white. White males dominated the 78%, making up more than half of that. How are we to expect colleges to be more inclusive and culturally competent, when there is a huge lack in the amount of diversity in authoritative positions?
Many peers at PSOL believed that colleges were “actively ignoring” LGBTQ+ culture. Kevone stated, “[Colleges and students] need to reach out and be more involved”. Lavender, another peer at PSOL, admitted they were “tired of invading other organizations”. They went on to explain that, as a student, it felt much like there needed to be a demand for recognition. That the only way to meet similar people was to “invade” other events and organizations, rather than have one place to call their own. It wasn’t enough for many of the peers that colleges contain LGBTQ+ centers, there needed to be more recognition of their presence, more events and acknowledgment focused on letting the student body know that LGBTQ+ persons existed and they could feel safe being a part of the community.
Another peer, Kimiyah Ebony, discussed the possibility of opening up inclusive Greek life.
It’s no surprise that youth look for active Greek life on campuses when deciding where to enroll. Kimiyah believed that having a Greek life that was specifically created to provide a safe space and an opportunity to become more active members on campus for LGBTQ+ students would be a step towards progress. It’s widely known Greek life is stereotypes as being centers of a strong heteronormative presence as well as a negative space for individuals. Maybe creating a section of Greek life devoted to being a comfortable and safe space that promotes inclusion for LGBTQ+ students would be a good idea.
One aspect the peers could agree on, LGBTQ+ groups are still marginalized. There’s still a fear of how safe is a “Safe Space” and how to benefit from the college experience, just as much as more privileged students?
Zoey Dragons message: “Certain measures take action. You want something bad enough, stop complaining about what can be done and just do it”. Continue to demand, and maybe one of these days, colleges will start listening.
For more info about Swag, please visit our website: SWAG To College
If you or anyone you know are interested in being a mentor, click here: Become a Mentor
If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a mentee, click here: Become a Mentee