University is a daunting experience for many people; leaving
behind your support network of family, friends and familiar
surroundings is a big deal. Of course, in most cases, the pressure
subsides once you've hit the Student Union and discovered the best
clubbing spots. However, there are a few among us who will find it
harder than others.
When all of my gay friends went off to university, they had a
fantastic time. It may be because they were lucky enough to go to
universities that had well-established 'gay scenes' that were
easily accessible, and LGBT committees that were recognised within
the university. This made their transition from home life to uni
life a whole lot easier, as they found like-minded people who they
could identify with. This is not always the case though. Some
smaller universities struggle to have a LGBT group that is
committed to engaging all students and staff in LGBT matters and
social events, and supported by the university in its aim.
I have always enjoyed university life, but I have the advantage
(or disadvantage sometimes) of commuting to university and studying
part-time, meaning I still have a thriving social life in my
hometown. The only problem with that though is that I have not
fully immersed myself in uni life and, not living in the area,
haven't always been able to make social events.
I'm just about to start my second year of study and I thought
now would be a good time to see what societies and clubs there are
on offer to me. Today I attended an LGBT Network Lunch meeting at
my university. I'm not entirely sure what I thought this would
entail but it was the free lunch that swayed me. We had a guest
speaker from a larger university come and talk about the Staff
Network they had set up and how this had pushed forward LGBT groups
and the general visibility of 'gay issues'.
The talk was really interesting and highlighted some ideas that
our university could put into practice. However, the problems
started when a "round the table" discussion began. There were less
than ten students at the meeting, as well as nine staff, the guest
speaker and two post-grad students who currently led the student
Pride and LGBT committee. This was the first problem; the group was
too small. Information of this event had been sent to everyone in
the university and only ten students had turned up. Secondly, it
soon became apparent that the students and the teachers were not
working in partnership with each other. A majority of the teachers
there didn't even know that the university had an annual Pride
event and the teachers did not have a network between themselves.
Thirdly, there was no funding for the LGBT committee and everything
was being run out of the student's own bank accounts. Although one
committee member said they had once been offered £20 for crisps for
an event, so thank heavens for small mercies. It was also revealed
that current Head and Vice of the LGBT committee would not be
keeping their posts past Christmas and there was, currently, no one
to take over.
So, we were small, under-recognised, under-funded and maybe
without a committee past December. This in itself was bad enough,
but the icing on the cake came when the topic of LGBT History Month
came up. There needed to be some volunteers to lead the event, come
up with talks/discussions and generally be on hand for ideas… But
none of us volunteered. There was a complete silence over the
group. It seemed none of us were interested in our LGBT past. We
were definitely in a dilemma.
This is just an example of what can happen though - don't assume
your university will be the same. The set-up at mine makes it hard
for any advertising around the campus to take place and this
inevitably leads to a lack of recognition. If you are about to
start a new degree or you are a returning student, I would urge you
to go to any LGBT Networking meeting your campus may have. A lot of
universities have good networks and work in partnership with other
education forums, as well as local communities groups to provide a
rich programme of LGBT activities, social events and, more
importantly, a support network.
My advice is this; don't let your society die. Mine is in crisis
and, without the work of some very committed and energised people,
it will continue to go under. University is a place where you
should be able to express yourself and get involved with as many
different and diverse activities, people and places as possible.
But, if LGBT groups are not visible, where does that leave those
among us who need a little extra support?
For information about NUS LGBT campaigns click