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Peter DeWitt

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When LGBT Students Pick a College or University

Posted: 05/07/2012 5:52 pm

Most of us would agree that the world seems to be a more accepting place where LGBT issues are concerned. However, given the tone of some reality television shows and the ability to leave anonymous comments on blogs, you need not look too far to see that there is still plenty of hatred out there in the world. Some of these reality "stars" are making millions from the offensive things they do, which doesn't speak well to America's taste in entertainment.

The hatred that does still happen is more prevalent because there are so many outlets for them to speak out, and they can do it anonymously, which means they can really let loose. It happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's a lack of exposure, and other times it's in the name of religion, but instead of trying to find ways to accept one another, people point out faults and spew negativity, all in an effort to win some philosophical battle that will never be resolved.

Public schools have always been a microcosm of the world around us, and it's a place where all these groups converge. That makes schooling so interesting and exciting. However, if some of those hate groups are allowed to bully one another, which happens in every school system, then it's only hurtful and harmful for the students who attend those schools. If, by the use of curriculum and debates, students are allowed to get a better understanding of each view, perhaps they will be a little more prepared when they walk into the real world, where all these groups exist.

Off to College

Many young adults do not come out in high school. Although there has been an increase in coming out among high-school students in the past decade, there are still many who do not feel comfortable or safe coming out. This may happen because of a hostile school setting or the fear of not being accepted by parents. When students enter college and have more time on their own, they begin to delve deep into their own feelings and come to terms with the fact that they are gay.

We have come to that time of year when our high-school seniors are choosing what they want to do after they leave their high-school years far behind them. Many of these students have already been accepted to the colleges of their dreams as other students are still searching for the college that will be the best fit. LGBT students who are out, as well as those who have not yet come out, are hoping that the colleges they choose will be open and accepting.

Over the past couple of years, there has been more media coverage of bullying of LGBT students in the school system and on college campuses. Some of this bullying has lead to death by suicide. Other times the bullying that students face is not well-known, because it goes unreported. As much as the public school system has work to do in protecting LGBT students, colleges have the same issue.

Are College Students Safe?

As a school principal I look at my school day in a variety of ways. When students are in session with their teachers, they are typically engaged, and behavior issues do not always take place. However, when kids are in transition to classes or at lunch, there may be some issues that ensue, because students may get into an argument while they're talking. Sometimes those students may even push each other if the situation gets too out-of-hand.

The place where I have the most concern is at recess, because they are engaged in their own play and may not be able to work out issues correctly. I often refer to recess as sending kids out into the great wide open. When I think of the great wide open, I often think of college. As kids enter college and have their downtime or go to parties, is it always a safe atmosphere? Do LGBT students choose to attend colleges that will be the best fit for them? Is it a college that offers proper resources? Is it a college that is safe?

Although I think that safety depends on the situations you find yourself in, some colleges are just safer than others because they have supports that are already in place for students. The University of Southern California is one school that offers a great resource center for LGBT students. According to the center's director, Vincent Vigil, Ed.D.:

As a national leader in LGBT student services, the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Southern California (USC) sponsors a wide range of innovative social, academic and advocacy programs and services for the campus community that includes undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff members, USC Alumni and local Los Angeles community members. The center and the LGBT affiliated student organizations have created thought-provoking events and discussions that initiate dialogue and conversation about unique student experiences as well as highlight recent campus accomplishments and national LGBT equality achievements.

In the End

Colleges really need to be prepared to offer resources and support to LGBT students. It's easily done with the use of knowledgeable staff members, a designated office for students to go to, and events that will help get the message of acceptance out. In the end it's about building a safe and nurturing environment at college and also building a great college community where everyone is accepted.

For a list of some of the nation's most accepting colleges for LGBT students, please visit campusclimateindex.org.

Peter DeWitt will be presenting Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students at the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Whole Child Virtual Conference on Tuesday, May 8 from 1 to 2:15 p.m. The conference is free to participants. Register by clicking here.

 
 
 

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