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How to Find an LGBTQ+ Supportive College

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Jennifer Simons

Written by Jennifer Simonson May 31st, 2024

My interest in the college application process stems from my own experience navigating the college process mostly by myself, albeit with supportive but hands-off parents. I was fascinated by trying to understand how colleges know how many students to accept and why. My first job in admissions at Barnard College allowed me to supervise joint programs with the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Manhattan School of Music, while also running the tour guide programs and traveling throughout the American Midwest. In my subsequent role as Associate Director of Admissions at Connecticut College, I ran the Transfer and Return to College Program for non-traditional students. It was at Connecticut College where I got my first taste of international recruitment. Subsequently, I served as the Director of International Recruitment for ten years at Tufts University, where my focus was Asia. One of the highlights of that time was leading a three-week recruitment tour for 30 admissions officers across India. One of the aspects I loved about admissions, specifically international admissions, where there is a great deal of joint and team travel, is that you learn so much about other colleges and universities, and you realize that colleges are not competitors per se but rather institutions in search of the right student, just as students are searching for the right college. I moved from Tufts to take on the Director of Recruitment position at Northeastern University, an institution I admired from across the Charles River for a long while. And in the midst of all of this, I served as a college counselor at the Ramaz School in Manhattan for a few years, and that is why I am adamant about students fostering a positive relationship with their school counselor as they navigate this process.
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by Jennifer Simons, former admissions officer at Tufts University

While the search for a college that is LGBTQ+ friendly can essentially take the same path as most any college search, there are some nuances. When a prospective student visits a college campus, the first question to ask themselves is, “Can I envision myself being happy here?” However, for LGBTQ+ and any other students who would be part of a minority group on campus, they might consider adding the following inquiries: “Do I feel welcome here?” and “Can I be myself?”

To that end, one of the first things I suggest is something that you might not have thought of: while it is important to see if the college has an LGBTQ+ support center, you should also review the college’s non-discrimination statement on their website to see if it specifically mentions sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

By way of example, Florida State University’s non-discrimination statement provides: “FSU prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veterans' status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other legally protected group status.”

I chose FSU given recently enacted laws addressing gender identity, and a check of all the public universities in the Sunshine State reveals that college students, faculty, and staff are protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Do not assume that just because a state has conservative leadership that the universities therein will be conservative as well.

In stark contrast to FSU, the non-discrimination statement of Palm Beach Atlantic University, a private Christian college in Florida, makes no mention of sexual orientation. Similarly, Liberty University in Virginia goes a step further in its non-discrimination statement, expressly stating that the university “maintains its Christian mission and reserves its right to discriminate based on religion, to the extent that applicable law respects its right to act in furtherance of its religious objectives.” While I suspect most LGBTQ+ students would not start their college search with Liberty University, it is interesting to see how the non-discrimination statements reflect its values.

Critically, however, just as you should not assume that there are no LGBTQ+ friendly colleges in more conservative states, you should not assume that all religiously affiliated colleges are unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ students. Indiana’s University of Notre Dame connects its support of LGBTQ+ persons to its mission as a Christ-centered and, therefore, welcoming institution. If you want to get a little choked up (okay, maybe that was just me), read Notre Dame’s statement about the spirit of inclusion. Likewise, Baylor, the largest Baptist university in the U.S., mentions sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in its non-discrimination statement, and its statement on diversity and inclusion indicates that the university ”supports the dignity and worth of every person and seeks to create a campus climate where each person is treated with love and respect within our caring community.”

It seems to me that the values of those colleges which expressly support LGBTQ+ students would make a welcoming environment for all. To that end, I strongly encourage all prospective students to begin their search by reviewing the school’s non-discrimination or mission statement, in order to help inform at the outset whether they will be comfortable as part of that school’s community.

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