(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
No LGBTQ student deserves to have their college experience soured or their education disrupted because of an unwelcoming campus.
Despite how easy it is to think of college campuses as environments of forward-thinking, norm-challenging culture, some universities do better than others when it comes to catering to the needs of their LGBTQ students.
Inspired by this guide to choosing an LGBTQ-friendly college by OnlineColleges.net, we decided to conduct our own research on the LGBTQ resources offered by local Philadelphia universities.
We spoke to student club leaders, university life officials and Gender Studies faculty at an assortment of Philadelphia colleges to discuss the steps universities must take in order to be inclusive to LGBTQ students:
- Chris Bechen, co-head of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) at Haverford College
- Keri Bergin, medical student and president of Jeff LGBTQ at Thomas Jefferson University
- Dr. Kimberly Chestnut, director of the Wellness Resource Center at Temple University
- David Greene, director of Student Life at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP)
- Dr. Krista Bailey Murphy, dean of Student Life at Chestnut Hill College
- Officials from Saint Joseph’s University (Dr. Ann Green, Dr. Jo Alyson Parker and Elizabeth Linehan, R.S.M., Alliance chair)
Representatives from University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Philadelphia University, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, University of the Arts, University of the Sciences and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine did not return our requests for input.
From our Partners
Based on our conversations with these leaders, we broke their responses down into some key takeaway points. At the bottom of this article you’ll also find a list of links to the LGBTQ programming, clubs and resources available at each Philadelphia university.
Here’s what we learned.
Input from LGBTQ students comes first
Want to serve your LGBTQ students? Listen to them instead of assuming the school knows what they need.
Dr. Chestnut, Temple: To place LGBTQ programming and resources at the center of [a university’s] work, one crucial step is to figure out directly what the needs of the LGBTQ student body include. This process involves directly hearing from and talking to students and staff of the community. From there, universities can reconcile those needs with what the university is actually capable of providing. But above all else, being in touch with LGBTQ students, listening to them, and making them active partners in creating the programming that serves them and their community and creates a safer campus culture for everyone.
Bechen, Haverford: It’s hard for administrations to know what exactly they need to do if they’re not in contact with those LGBT+ students they intend to serve. I believe it’s very important for high-level administration to gather input from the student body about the state of LGBT+ life on campus, what exists, what doesn’t, and what they think should be done. [This] can be done via a campus-wide survey, forum, or listening session.
Safe spaces are good, but you know what’s better? Safe campuses
Safe spaces where LGBTQ students can spend time without fear of discrimination, threat, or judgment can take the form of a physical building, such as an LGBTQ student center or meeting space, or a group that brings that space with them wherever they congregate. Schools should not rest, though, until LGBTQ students are fully accommodated in their dorms, classrooms, common areas, sporting events and beyond.
Bergin, Jefferson: A first, very important step in building a system of LGBTQ resources is creating a safe space for LGBTQ students to feel supported and celebrated. In creating that space, students feel encouraged to create a network with their peers and represent themselves at their university.
Saint Joseph’s: Many faculty, staff, and students have been trained in “Safe Zones,” a program that introduces attendees to issues of gender and sexuality. After completing the training, participants receive stickers and placards for their office doors to alert students that they are LGBTQ friendly and trained to have conversations on gender and sexuality.
Dr. Chestnut, Temple: Even many of the [student] groups that aren’t specifically LGBTQ-aligned have stepped forward to identify themselves as safe spaces for members of the community. The Queer Guide to Temple has a whole listing of clubs that have made safe-space statements for prospective members.
Dr. Murphy, Chestnut Hill: [Student group HERO (Helping Educate Regarding Orientation)] hosts awareness and education events on campus, helps to facilitate Safe Zone training with the Dean of Student Life and provide forums for LGBTQ students and allies to gather in conversation and solidarity.
Bechen, Haverford: Most dorms at Haverford have bathrooms that are gender neutral and shared between all sexes. However, this isn’t true for freshman dorms, where the freshman on the hall decide whether to sex-segregate or integrate the bathrooms on their hall. This process has been in place for a long time and is extremely non-inclusive towards trans* and gender non comforting students, who may have to out themselves to get the facilities they need and deserve. This process (one in which I myself was subjected to and hurt by) is extremely uncomfortable and can lead to a lot of problems with people’s living situations. This year [there] was a pilot program for a “gender-sensitive” freshman hall, where the bathrooms were automatically gender-neutral without discussion.
Intention must be supplemented by action
Many leaders are quick to say they need to “do more” about LGBTQ issues, but it’s important to channel that ambition into actionable results so those words do not become empty, vague resolutions.
Bechen, Haverford: I hear a lot about making facilities “more accommodating” or staff “more accepting.” Vagueness isn’t helpful; universities should have a clear plan [like] “all single-user bathrooms will have gender inclusive signs by x date” or “we plan to hire x LGBT-identified staff / increase the percentage of LGBT staff to x by x date.” Without tangible, committed statements, it’s hard to know that steps are actually being made, and hard for us students to hold universities accountable when we feel our needs are not being met.
This action can come in the form of commitment to education requirements:
Dr. Chestnut, Temple: While Safe Zone trainings are offered to everyone on campus, they are not yet a general education requirement for students or staff. The WRC believes the entire student population would benefit from such a required course in their academic curricula.
Bergin, Jefferson: The Intro to Clinical Medicine I course for first year medical students has a module that spans 2 weeks called “Gender and Sexuality,” which includes education on LGBTQ identities and health, with speakers mostly from the Mazzoni Center and a panel of LGBTQ identifying patients, on their experiences with health care.
Or, commitment to acting upon student activism:
Bechen, Haverford: I think the most exciting of all the activism we’ve been trying to implement is that there is the possibility that next year Residential Life will permit us to have special interest housing for LGBT+ students in a house that has been converted into a dorm.
Saint Joseph’s: Within the last two years, the student senate advocated for gender neutral bathrooms, which have been implemented. Every university, including SJU, can do more for minority populations, but by weaving our programming into our academic community and adapting to changing student populations, we attempt to meet many different kinds of student needs.
Or, commitment to unlearning non-inclusive language habits:
Dr. Murphy, Chestnut Hill: The College community commits itself to being very intentional in language so that all people feel welcome; for example, not always using heteronormative examples when having conversations about healthy relationships, or trainings about sexual assault prevention. Additionally, being intentional in highlighting high rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth when doing suicide prevention training so that we can better train our staff to identify and address these issues.
There must be a balance between student-organized initiatives and administrative action
Student-organized clubs and programming are great sources of camaraderie, trust, and learning, but those students must also feel that they have the support of their university behind them. Different schools vary in their commitment to this balance.
Greene, CCP: There are numerous trainings offered throughout the year and the College did a climate survey a few years ago. We instituted a LGBTQ student success plan about two years ago.
Bechen, Haverford: We have very little resources and programming from the administration, mostly through our college’s Women*s Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). SAGA has hosted events such as faculty mixers and panels that try to explore the ideas of being LGBT+ beyond college, but those have been really difficult to organize with no support from the administration. It’s difficult, because we don’t have a LGBT Affairs office.
Dr. Murphy, Chestnut Hill: We believe that having students as the driving force behind programming is the best way to ensure that programming meets their needs, which is why we allow our clubs to take the lead.
Administrative support can stretch beyond campus as well:
Bergin, Jefferson: With the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s support, I was able to attend the GLMA [Gay and Lesbian Medical Association] conference in Portland, Oregon this year, where I was able to network with many LGBTQ health professionals, learn a great deal about the research in the community, and bring back resources and information to our class and faculty.
LGBTQ representation goes beyond the student body
Because how can a school with zero LGBTQ faculty or staff members properly represent and serve its LGBTQ students?
Bechen, Haverford: To be honest, I don’t think [LGBTQ students are] represented very well. There aren’t very many LGBT staff and faculty. It’s especially hard to not have representation in areas such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), because LGBT students face a very unique set of stressors, problems, and trauma, and there isn’t a single counselor who identities as LGBT+. It makes it extremely hard for many LGBT students to feel like they can trust their counselor. This year we had an awesome LGBT-identified staff member hired in the Women*s Center that has been a huge resource to many on campus, and has allied themselves with SAGA in advocating for LGBT+ student needs.
Saint Joseph’s: We are struggling with how sexuality and LGBTQ students’ needs fits under the office of diversity and inclusion, and there is discussion about whether or not we need a full time staff person to address LGBTQ issues.
Philadelphia LGBTQ student resources by university
Bryn Mawr College
Chestnut Hill College
- H.E.R.O. (Helping Educate Regarding Orientation)
- Chestnut Hill College Safe Zone Training
Community College of Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
- No resources found
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Saint Joseph’s University
Thomas Jefferson University
University of the Arts
University of Pennsylvania
University of the Sciences
Did we miss anything? Send Generocity Editor Julie Zeglen an email at email@example.com to have your school’s resources added to the list.