University of Sheffield is giving LGBT students a place in which they can be themselves that will foster the well-rounded experience that straight people take for granted.
In all likelihood, most queer children face discrimination and bullying at school. It is also proven fact that some insensitive and overzealous teachers may also be responsible for LGBT students feeling targeted and stigmatised.
In most such cases LGBT students long to get out of the confines of their schools or even towns and pine to enter the more liberating anonymity of college life. Some others still choose to remain shrouded in the closet for fear of encountering similar treatment and harassment by bullies in college as well.
Keeping their comfort, liberty and independence in mind, from the next academic session, University of Sheffield will be introducing separate housing of around 12 rooms specially for students who identify as LGBT+.
For teenagers, leaving home in general is quite an ordeal faced with tremendous responsibilities towards taking care of routine chores and higher studies. To top it, if the person identifies as LGBT+, it puts an additional, emotional burden psychologically. Keeping this in mind, creating a safe haven for such teens is extremely essential.
But like all things new, this too has been received with bouquets and brickbats. The rooms themselves were oversubscribed (40 applicants for 12 rooms), providing enough proof of concept; yet many detractors feel that this would promote a culture of ghettoisation of the gay community. Others went on to make insensitive remarks like,
“A room for a gay within the same-sex hostel would be like a dream come true, so why separate the two?”
People are yet to understand that just because a person identifies as gay, s/he is not ready to jump into bed with every other person of the same-sex. On the other hand heterosexuals, in that hostel may not desist from hazing and inflicting physical & emotional harassment. A hostel serves as a home away from home for most students and who wouldn’t like to come home to a comfortable space they can call their own?
Even so, fears of segregation seem largely unfounded. The University clarified that by no means was it compulsory for students who identify with one of the colours of the LGBT rainbow need to live in these rooms. The flats are near more traditional housing so students can mingle.
What most people forget is, LGBT traditionally have enjoyed living in what has now come to be known as ‘gaybourhoods’ as they provide islands of safety, security and freedom of self-expression. LGBT in such communities feel like they can be themselves without the fear of judgment or ridicule. The more marginalised and different we make them feel, the more they desire retracting into these safe burrows surrounded with people like themselves who they can identify with.
However, Simon Thompson, the Director of Accommodation for Students, the UK’s largest university housing service, made it clear he did not approve of Sheffield’s plan nor of a similar one at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
“University is about opening your horizons and meeting people from different cultures, different backgrounds, different sexualities, everything,” he said. “It’s a disadvantage if people close themselves off and don’t socialise with straight people. It seems like madness to me.”
On the contrary, who and how much you mingle with others and befriend in your college days, (straight or otherwise) is definitely not proportional to which hostel building/ room you were assigned. The idea that college students, perhaps the most social humans on the planet, will only befriend those in their immediate vicinity; NOW THAT IS MADNESS!
Anyone who has a degree knows that, over four years, friends are made from among a wide swath of people, both inside and outside of one’s subject area and accommodation block. Thompson is right that college life should prepare kids for wider society beyond university. But the fledgling queers of this world sure need a place where they feel like they belong, in order to gain the confidence needed to operate in the world at large. This living arrangement doesn’t hinder their ability to integrate, if anything, it optimises it.
For many, the social aspect of university life is just as important as what one learns in classes. What straight critics of LGBT dorm life fail to realise is that this is something that gay young people, especially those from more rural or conservative areas, have dreamed about. They finally get the chances that all the other youngsters had in high school: to be around people just like them, with the same interests, to be able to flirt with and ask out those they fancy without the fear that their romantic yearnings will lead to exposure, bullying, or worse. This is especially true for trans students living as their confirmed gender for the first time.
Yes, college should be about opening doors and expanding horizons, but many LGBT students can’t do that until they feel safe. College should not only be about finding what one wants to do as a career, but also about exploring all of life’s possibilities. That can only happen if students have a space where they feel comfortable. Giving LGBT students a place in which they can be themselves will foster precisely the well-rounded experience that straight, cisgendered people take for granted when they go to university.
Lets make our campuses safe and fun for everyone.
Lets build a better generation of world citizens.
Written by:- Delshad Master