The importance of LGBTQ+ representation in Higher Education

Sarah Daren our Guest Writer suggests ways to improve diversity and inclusion in the Higher Education world. A US perspective.

Though today’s higher education environments can be more affirming and inclusive than other arenas, LGBTQ+ individuals are still sometimes drastically under-represented and under-recognized on campuses. This can be particularly true of authority roles. A wide range exists amongst institutional cultures that can extend from those that elevate and celebrate LGBTQ+ individuals, to toxic or unsafe environments that silence or intimidate LGBTQ+ individuals. 

Propelling LGBTQ+ representation is an active and ongoing effort that needs to be supported and prioritized by higher education institutions. When the LGBTQ+ population has a more robust and visible presence in our places of higher education, it is not just the queer community but the institution as a whole that benefits.

Advantages that Better Representation Can Create for Educational Environments

The advantages of increasing the diversity of any group or culture have been statistically proven. Whether in educational, communal, or corporate environments, higher levels of diversity amongst the members of a collective can foster better problem-solving and ingenuity, stronger decision-making, increased emotional awareness and intelligence, and more. Diverse environments increase collaborative skills. They promote cultural competencies and understanding. 

These advantages and more are particularly useful and relevant in higher education environments. Creating environments that involve and include a greater variety of people, particularly those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds or who belong to minority demographics, can enhance the educational experience for everyone involved. 

Elevating the representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals on higher education campuses can contribute meaningfully to fostering greater diversity. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ community has experienced a turbulent and difficult history within higher education environments. 

From longstanding discriminatory policies to unchecked societal prejudice and intimidation, the campus has often been no friendlier to the queer individual than more stereotypically hostile or conservative communities. Only over the past ten to fifteen years has the visibility, acceptance, and inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals on college campuses become more widespread.

Increasing LGBTQ+ Representation Amongst Students, Staff, and Faculty

Academic institutions face a variety of challenges in elevating and propelling greater LGBTQ+ inclusion amongst their ranks. Initiatives that are designed to increase LGBTQ+ student representation may not meaningfully increase rates amongst faculty. Higher education institutions that are interested in increasing LGBTQ+ presence have a variety of strategies they can implement to further that overall objective and it’s important to employ strategies that will work in tandem to achieve meaningful improvements.

The process of crafting a community that more equally represents various minority groups requires time, effort, and ingenuity. Increasing LGBTQ+ representation within a higher education community is no exception. These approaches and more are being implemented by higher education institutions to increase LGBTQ+ presence on their campuses:

Proactively Changing and Adding Institutional Policies to Support LGBTQ+ Inclusion 

Campus policies, and how well (or poorly) they recognize and protect LGBTQ+ individuals, provide a huge indicator for prospective students and staff that will likely base their decision to apply for studentship or employment on LGBTQ+ provisions. Policies are institutional signposts that demonstrate what kind of community, culture, and degree of support and respect they might expect on campus if they were to attend or be hired.

Installing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) staff or committees on campus 

Policy is one place to start, but policy alone won’t transform a campus into an LGBTQ+-inclusive environment. Other efforts to inform, elevate, and educate the LGBTQ+ community should be implemented alongside policy changes to support and augment a holistic shift in the ethos of the institution. 

Instituting a DEI office, club, or support worker(s) on campus makes a statement to the student body, the staff, and the wider community that diversity and inclusion is a priority.

Use Recruiters to Source LGBTQ+ Candidates for Open Staff and Faculty Positions 

Investing resources in widening the pool of eligible LGBTQ+ candidates for employment openings can help meaningfully increase LGBTQ+ representation over time. Increasing efforts to notify qualified LGBTQ+ individuals about new job openings on campus by posting about them in relevant online groups or job boards can also increase your institution’s visibility to LGBTQ+ populations and draw more applications from the queer community.

Tools to Foster Diversity and Inclusion on Campus

While LGBTQ+ recruitment and visibility on campus are meaningful ways to bring more queer individuals into higher education and increase their representation, sustaining those populations and creating an environment that effectively serves LGBTQ+ individuals alongside other demographic groups for the long haul is an additional challenge that also requires intentionality and effort. 

This might look like instituting healthier and more holistic teaching methods in classroom settings. It could involve redesigning living spaces and dorm offerings over time. It will often require shifts in how conventional parts of campus life operate, including things like athletic programs, student supports, and application processes.

Creating the holistic changes necessary in higher education environments to sustain better LGBTQ+ representation can require enhancements at operational, cultural, and ideological levels. These won’t happen overnight. They are investments in the future of the institution that will create fundamental shifts in the ways that not only LGBTQ+ individuals but the entire population can benefit from their involvement at the institution, whether as a student, staff person, faculty member, alumnus, or other stakeholder.

In the 2018 report by Stonewall:

  • Two in five LGBT students (42 per cent) have hidden their identity at university for fear of discrimination.
  • Seven per cent of trans students have been physically attacked by another student or member of university staff in the last year.
  • Two-thirds of LGBT students (69 per cent) say university has equalities policies that protect LGB people on campus.


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