Universities have a responsibility to promote an environment of inclusivity, and to protect the rights of all students.
LGBTQI is an initialism that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex.
Throughout history, the LGBTQI community has faced discrimination in a variety of ways.
Despite an incredible amount of progress having been made to dismantle prejudice towards LGBTQI people, it unfortunately still exists today.
University often comes at a crucial time in a young person’s life, when new experiences can help form their identity.
However, some LGBTQI students feel unable to freely explore their identity due to the discrimination they face at university.
While a university’s main goal is to provide quality higher education, they cannot successfully do so in an environment that does not allow its students to be themselves.
A report conducted by Student Minds found that, “young LGBTQ+ people have higher rates of poor mental health, self-harm, and suicide than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.”
This is reflected in research conducted by Beijing Normal University which shows 85% of LGBTQI students in China are struggling with depression with a further 40% considering suicide.
The higher rate of mental health issues in LGBTQI is linked to the discrimination these students face, such as exclusion and violent or verbal abuse, which still occurs at universities today.
A report into UK universities by Stonewall revealed that three in five transsexual students (60 per cent) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from other students.
Universities have a responsibility to protect their LGBTQI students from abuse in all forms, and to provide them with an environment that is completely free from discrimination.
What messaging are you sending?
It is important that your university’s LGBTQI-friendly status is clearly visible to both prospective and current students.
If there is no indication or messaging that your institution is LGBTQI-friendly, then you create an uncertain environment for those who identify in this way.
The same report by Stonewall revealed that, “two in five LGBT students (42 per cent) have hidden their identity at university for fear of discrimination.”
If it is clear to these students that their identity is not only accepted but celebrated by the institution, this would help project a message of inclusivity and acceptance.
One way to do so is by publicizing your support for LGBTQI events such as Pride.
Equally, any LGBTQI clubs or societies that are formed by students at your university must be given the same treatment as other societies; promoted and supported with just as much enthusiasm.
If a student has taken it upon themselves to speak out on behalf of the LGBTQI community in the form of non-violent activism, then the university should recognize and celebrate these efforts.
In January of this year, the University of Cincinnati publicly celebrated the work of its student Haidn Foster, a second-year medical student who created an online publication to provide up-to-date information on the state of LGBTQI healthcare.
Actions speak louder than words
Although these actions can contribute to a feeling of inclusiveness at university, it is not enough to simply celebrate and publicize the work of others.
Historically, certain brands have received criticism for their utilization of Pride imagery for marketing purposes, when a closer look into company activity revealed very little action to help progress the movement.
Your university is a platform that when utilized effectively can positively affect the LGBTQI cause.
Funding or conducting research into LGBTQI–related issues is one way of utilizing the tool of higher education to help contribute to the cause.
Integrating LGBTQI history and current issues into the curriculum is another way of maintaining and encouraging a dialogue on the movement.
Universities can also host events and welcome speakers to increase the visibility of LGBTQI issues.
For example, as part of LGBTQI history month, the University of Southampton’s Modern Language and Linguistics department held a viewing of the French film ‘Tomboy’.
The screening was open to all staff and students and was followed by an open discussion on the film’s subject matter.
Keeping your students safe
While every effort should be made to encourage an LGBTQI-friendly environment, it’s also necessary to put in place systems to handle any issues that might still occur.
According to research by the National Union ofStudents, almost one in four students have feared for their safety because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It is vital that your university has a system in place to handle these instances.
Victims of abuse must know where to turn to report any instances and must receive immediate care to help them with any concerns they may have.
Those responsible for the abuse must be disciplined accordingly, sending out a message of zero tolerance to other students.
With LGBTQI students particularly vulnerable when it comes to mental health issues, a strong mental health initiative should exist at your university.
For advice on how to provide mental health support to students, please see our blog: ‘Mental Health in Higher Education: What Role Should Universities Play?’
It’s important that the needs of all students from all backgrounds are considered when maintaining and publicizing the LGBTQI support networks your university provides.
The State of Inclusivity in International Higher Education addresses potential discrimination faced by international students and the importance of inclusivity for these students.
It highlights how: “one of the concerns for international students, who are starting a life in a new country with a new culture and political environment, can be the fear of social exclusion and discrimination whilst studying.”
In order to build an LGBTQI-friendly environment, a university should take a comprehensive approach, both contributing positively to the LGBTQI dialogue and implementing initiatives that will support all LGBTQI students.
To find out more about encouraging inclusivity at your university, download your free copy of our white paper today: The State of Inclusivity in International Higher Education.