On college campuses across the country, LGBTQ students of color are thriving and finding new opportunities to express themselves.
Having this intersection of identities, however, does present certain challenges for these students, and as individuals who belong to several identity groups, they may not feel supported at times. They may feel pressured to select either their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression or their race and ethnicity when it comes to expressing who they are. Moreover, undergraduate programs sometimes only offer student groups that cater to one or the other identity, rather than ones that encompass the complexity of these identities.
LGBTQ students of color may face racism both from white members of the LGBTQ community and from the larger white mainstream community. They may also face prejudice from straight members of communities of color, in addition to heterosexism from the mainstream straight community. LGBTQ students of color are even less visible than their white counterparts and may feel invisible in the communities where they seek recognition and support. This is the experience of student life for many LGBTQ students of color, which is why it is essential that campuses recognize the specific needs of this community and create an atmosphere in which everyone can feel comfortable.
When it comes to choosing a university, LGBTQ students of color recommend following these five steps to find an inclusive campus:
1. Do your research.
Read about resources offered to LGBTQ students of color at the colleges you’re considering. Some resources you should keep an eye out for include: student organizations for LGBTQ people of color, ethnic studies programs, multicultural organizations or living-learning centers, diversity amongst faculty and administration , organizations for alumni of color, diversity training programs, ally organizations, and/or a diversity council. These different organizations or support mechanisms signal to prospective students that the university takes inclusion seriously, and students are more likely to find the types of support they seek at these schools.
Find out more things to look for in this article, 10 Signs of a LGBTQ-Friendly College, and also check out this opinion piece by Felecia Commodore, Increasing Diversity on Campus, Beyond the Buzzwords.
2. Learn about organizations for LGBTQ students of color.
Despite the fact that there is a wide range of student groups for LGBTQ people of color, they can be hard to find because their names and purposes vary. Some examples of names these groups have used include:
- Colors of Pride
- Queer Students of Color Alliance (Q-SOCA)
- Young Queers United for Empowerment (Y Que)
Another factor that contributes to the variability of names for these groups is that some communities of color have created their own terms to describe gender identity and sexual orientation. For instance, the term Same Gender Loving (SGL) has its roots in the African-American community as a way to describe a person who is attracted to someone of the same gender. Another example is the term Two Spirit, which originated in the American Indian/First Nation community as a way to describe a person who blends traditionally polar gender identities. Historically, the term was used to describe people who crossed gender boundaries and were supported by the American Indian/First Nation community. Today, the term Two Spirit is sometimes used by both transgender American Indians and members of the community who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
People in communities of color may prefer alternative terms to gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or transgender because they may feel that these words are Eurocentric and do not traditionally represent people of color.
If you are having trouble finding the name for the organization of LGBTQ students of color at a specific college, you can consult the campus guidebook or club list. And if you visit a college campus, ask the group you are interested in if you can participate in a meeting.
3. Read the college’s statement on diversity.
When you are trying to understand how a campus understands diversity, it’s a good idea to take a look at what they say in their diversity statement. This information is often on the college’s website, along with resources relating to diversity. See if the published principles and ideas resonate with what you are looking for in a campus environment.
4. Ask lots of questions.
Once you have a grasp of which resources are offered, contact an administrator to ask the following questions:
- How would you describe the needs of LGBTQ students of color on your campus, and what is the campus climate like for these students?
- How does the multicultural center collaborate with the LGBTQ groups/center and vice versa?
- What are local resources for LGBTQ people of color?
- How does the university teach straight students about antiheterosexism?
- How does the university teach white students about antiracism?
- Is there an LGBTQ student of color I can contact to discuss these topics further?
5. Talk to current LGBTQ students of color.
Reach out to current LGBTQ students of color at the campus you are interested in. Some of them may feel that having a healthy LGBTQ student of color community means cultivating relationships with prospective students and members of their organization.
Getting insight from a current student is the best way for you to learn what the campus climate is really like. Some questions you can consider asking include:
- What have your experiences been like at this school as an LGBTQ person of color?
- Would you consider your experience representative of the community?
- How do you meet other LGBTQ people of color on campus?
- If there is an LGBTQ student of color organization, what are the group’s goals and activities?
- If there is not an LGBTQ student of color organization, ask why there has not been an effort to create one.
Written by Dre Domingue and Gwendolyn Alden Dean; Campus Pride, Inc.