August 15, 2016
Education is not strictly academic, and there is a vast amount of social knowledge gained in college that I never expected but am beyond grateful for.As I opened the door to my room in my first year residence hall on move in day at New York University, nothing had ever been simultaneously more exciting and terrifying. I was trading my small, suburban town in Massachusetts for the bright lights and expansive avenues of New York City, and I was doing it all by myself. Looking back now, as I enter my fourth and final year as an undergraduate at NYU, the nerves of moving to a new place are gone; I’m moving back somewhere I feel comfortable. Perhaps the biggest difference between day one and today is the impressive support network I have both found and created during my time at school, whether that be through professors, advisors, and of course my closest friends. Being a new student in a new place, in a new environment, can be a little intimidating; however I found support and the confidence to be myself and to be my own person, and that is quite possibly the greatest gift college can provide. For many, college is a time where you can be on your own, perhaps for the first time; where you can create the experience that you want to, and find or build a community for doing so. Being an LGBTQ student myself, I was lucky and privileged enough to go from a welcoming and open high school to an even more so university, where I had the opportunity to fully express myself and was accepted for that. Many of my friends and peers who are also LGBTQ students have found a similar experience once coming to college, and some coming from not so welcoming areas have found the space to embrace who they are and finally live their life authentically. My school, like more and more others, supports LGBTQ students through ally promotion events, counselor support, student safe zone trainings and by providing an open and safe space for all students, however they identify, all hosted by student groups such as LGBTQ Centers or Diversity Offices. Students put these events on and run these offices because they understand that students need this space to express themselves. These programs provide safe exposure for those who may not understand the delicate intricacies of social identities as well as others, and that is accepted too; it is all about learning to provide a more welcome community. Education is not strictly academic, and there is a vast amount of social knowledge gained in college that I never expected but am beyond grateful for. What’s most important from all of this student involvement is that it creates an environment where there are options. Students tend to perform better if they are in environments where all are treated equally, including LGBTQ students, and being in that environment now I can attest that students are more at ease and more willing to engage with their environment. Treating students on the same plane of dignity and respect fosters a stronger social environment which leads to a more positive experience both in and out of the classroom; providing that space for confidence building to happen is vital for the success of students, no matter their identity. As I said, I am privileged to attend a school that is open and welcoming to all students; not all colleges and universities are yet like that, and even if they are there may still be students who face adversity every day simply for being themselves. In these cases, that is where students truly have the power, believe it or not. You have rights as an individual to be respected, and even if your school does not recognize that, there are laws in place to make sure those rights are respected. Organizations such as GLAD, the ACLU, or Lambda Legal, can provide resources and assistance for students or others facing hardship, but you can also make a difference yourself and college provides the perfect opportunity for that. In my involvement in student government at school, I have had the chance to go to various conferences around the country to learn more about policies at other universities and colleges, and to learn about experiences of those in different environments than mine. Most schools, as I’ve learned in dialogue with these students, are observing a positive trend in making their campuses LGBTQ friendly in housing, health and wellness resources, as well as student exposure to different sexual and gender identities. Similar trends are emerging with Department of Education, which issued ground breaking guidance this year to help schools across the country create safer and nondiscriminatory learning environments for all students, including transgender students It has been my pleasure to discuss and exchange ideas with fellow students from around the nation about what their school does to make their campus more inclusive, and they have expressed their thanks for whatever input I have provided about what my school does. The resources on campus can provide a springboard for you to make an actual difference on your campus if you see something that needs change; if your school is not as open, take a stand: reach out to other schools: build a network; people will support you, either at school or in the world around you. If there is one thing I have learned at school, it is that students have the capacity to make tangible change on campus and change minds to make college a positive experience for everybody.