My memories of my first days at college as a freshman and living, for the first time, on my own and in my university’s dorms are as fresh today as they were just a few short years ago. It was an exciting and exhilarating time. On the morning I was to move into my dorm, I finished loading up my car, backed out of my mother’s driveway and headed down the interstate to embark on my journey into adulthood.
I expected plenty of new experiences. Challenges, I knew, would have their place, as well. What I didn’t expect was having to face anti-gay harassment and bullying – something I’d been told would end when I left the brutal halls of high school and set foot on my progressive, LGBT-friendly college campus.To be sure, I’m not the only current or former college student who’s experienced continued harassment and abuse, whether on the college athletic field, dorm, cafeteria or class.
Such experiences, as shown by Campus Pride’s landmark 2010 research report, “The State of Higher Education for LGBT People,” are common among LGBT students and even faculty and staff. According to the report, one in four gay, lesbian and bisexual college students and nearly one in two transgender students face harassment on campus.
Tyler Clementi, the former Rutgers University student who died by suicide in September 2010, no doubt experienced similar harassment. In Clementi’s case, it was coupled with his roommate Dharun Ravi’s “peeping tom” invasion of his privacy. Recently out to his parents, Clementi was shell-shocked and angry when he learned Ravi had filmed a sexual encounter between him and another man.
The weeks-long trial of Ravi brought to light intriguing and disturbing details about the relationship between Ravi and Clementi as well as concerns over the responsibility of college and university administrators, faculty, housing staff and other professionals in providing safe and welcoming environments where LGBT students can both learn and live as they grow in their academic careers.
Even after the Rutgers tragedy, far too many colleges and universities across the country have yet to learn the lessons Rutgers was faced with in the aftermath of Clementi’s death.
Today, less than seven percent of schools offer institutional support to LGBT students, such as an LGBT student center or programs director. Eighty-seven percent of schools fail to include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies. Protection for transgender people is even lower; only six percent of schools include gender identity in their non-discrimination statements.
And, despite an entire generation of students now entering college who have lived out and proud lives as LGBT teens, only one school, Illinois’ Elmhurst University, has had the forethought to ask students demographic questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on its admissions application.
I was lucky. In my case, I attended a university with a large LGBT student population and faculty. My roommate, initially uncomfortable with my sexuality, nonetheless became a close and dear friend and, more importantly, an ally. Clementi didn’t have that privilege.
Campus Pride, the nation’s leading non-profit for LGBT students and staff working to make colleges and universities safer and more inclusive, will continue to raise awareness on issues of campus climate and inclusion.
Though the Ravi trial has ended, no verdict can ever bring Clementi back to his family and friends and no verdict alone will end the daily torment experienced by LGBT students. Such a change takes strategic and decisive action and responsibility by college administrators and staff.
Campus Pride calls on all colleges and universities to take immediate steps today to create safer, more welcoming environments for LGBT students.
Programs and policy implementation – such as anti-discrimination policies, safe and inclusive student conduct codes, gender-neutral housing, LGBT living-learning communities, hate-crime and bias-motivated incident response and LGBT-inclusive healthcare – are not optional.