The first week of my first year in college is something I’ll never forget. I was not only excited about being away from home for the first time, but also couldn’t wait to meet a whole new group of friends. The first week was a whirlwind of new experiences and my RA seemingly kept us busy from morning to evening during those first few days. I met not only my suitemates, but also the other 40+ people who lived on my floor. It was a diverse group of people, but everyone seemed open and excited to forge new friendships. Well, almost everyone . . .
Meeting New People
I’m not going to lie. It can be really stressful throwing yourself into a new environment. While I wasn’t quite out yet (that didn’t happen until I was 24), I did have other parts of my identity that conflicted with the “norm” on campus. My university was at the northern tip of the Bible belt and I was the only Jew on my floor — and most likely one of the few Jewish students there at the time.
During the first few weeks of school, I walked into my friend’s room on my floor. He was talking about someone he sold a book to earlier in the day. He used a derogatory term towards Jews, but I didn’t fully grasp what he said until a few moments later. I had never experienced anti-Semitism up close and was shocked. I stood up and walked out of the room. If I knew then what I know now, I would have probably tried to discuss why that was completely inappropriate.
The reason I am telling you this story is because you may face a similar situation as a queer student. I have found that these days, when people actually get to know me, they realize that stereotypes are just stereotypes. You will meet people from a variety of backgrounds and you could even be the first LGBT person that they have ever met. It’s not your job to educate people about our community, but it’s also an opportunity to let someone see that we are just like everybody else.
For example, my suitemates and I may have been from the same city, but grew up in completely different neighborhoods. We learned a lot about each other during that first year, including how we were actually very similar in a lot of ways. People will surprise you, so take a chance, and be open to meeting new friends!
Being Out on Campus
If you aren’t yet out, remember that it isn’t a requirement and it isn’t a race. It’s all about your own comfort level. When you’re ready to meet others, you’ll make that step. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t out during my undergraduate years. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it’s because it didn’t really click for me until I left the Midwest and moved to Los Angeles.
I envy some of you! These days, it seems that there are many more resources on college campuses for LGBT students than there used to be. If I were an undergraduate again, there would be a few places I’d scope out to meet others. First off, I’d find out if there were a student organization for LGBT students. Here at SIU, we have the Saluki Rainbow Network. It’s a group that consists of both LGBT students and allies. They have weekly meetings and host events to help build our community on campus. If your school doesn’t have a group, why not start one?
There are other places where you might find friendly faces as well. For example, a few years ago, several classmates created a new student organization called Cinethesia. It’s a feminist media group and while not everyone is queer, I feel very comfortable because the group is quite inclusive. We discuss a lot of different issues regarding feminism and many times the discussions will intersect with queer culture.
Another place that I’d highly recommend for meeting others is through intramural sports and sport clubs. It’s a really great way to build friendships and you might even find some sports that aren’t exactly mainstream. For example, we now have our very own SIU Saluki Quidditch team. (Yes, it really does exist!)
Remember, your education is really important, but that isn’t all that college can offer. It’s also about expanding your world, becoming comfortable with yourself and growing as an individual.
Good luck this year. If you have any questions, feel free to tweet me!
P.S. If you want more information about being out on campus or how to start your own LGBT group, check out Campus Pride! It has a lot of great information for LGBT students!
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