OUR time at university bridges the gap between being a teenager and an adult. It’s a place where we have a lot more control over our lives than we think because, probably more than ever, we’re en route to becoming the person we’ve always wanted to be. Thus, chosing a higher education institution that is not only academically stimulating, but is also a place we can thrive mentally and emotionally is paramount.
While I was browsing through prospectuses a few years ago, I recall a close friend approaching me with the fact that he was seriously considering applying to a university outside of the UK because he felt that there was not enough support for LGBT students. Although I couldn’t completely empathise with how he was feeling, I was saddened by the idea that a potentially good student could feel out of place on a UK university campus for that reason alone.
Only after I began attending university myself did I begin to grasp the problem that lad culture posed to members of the LGBT community: many universities were unequipped to deal with the discrimination or abuse that LGBT students faced. Nevertheless, things are steadily improving, as a growing number of UK campuses are demonstrating more acceptance and ensuring that all their students receive the university experience they deserve.
Below, I’ve rounded up the top universities of 2016 that have proved supportive for LGBT students and staff, with the help of Stonewall’s annual ranking. Each autumn, Stonewall launches a Top 100 of organisations that have shown support for their LGBT members. Entries on the list vary from government bodies (like the MI5 and MI6) to charities (Bernardo’s and St. Mungo’s) and, naturally, learning institutions:
1. Cardiff University
Ranking as 20th on Stonewall’s list, this Welsh university is no stranger to the annual ranking, as it is the 3rd consecutive year that it’s been included – they’ve even achieved the coveted Diversity Champion title awarded by the platform.
Staple Initiative: Enfys Network is an LGBT-supportive structure for both students and staff at the University of Cardiff. Its main events revolve around National Coming Out Day, Transgender Day, as well as LGBT History Month. All of the sessions are not only available to members of the University, but also to the local community, so as to ensure a better communication between community and students.
2. Swansea University
This second Welsh university doesn’t rank far behind Cardiff at number 36 on Stonewall’s list. Swansea has also been mentioned in the ranking before and there has been a noticeable rise in position every year.
Staple Initiative: LGBT+ Allies Programme is an inclusive structure on the university’s campus that supports students, staff and alumni alike. Their core activity is a newsletter that puts all members of the LGBT community in touch and shares individual ideas to make the campus and community more LGBT-friendly.
3. Teeside University
At number 44, this student-friendly university in the north-east is a new addition to the list and, given its determination, it looks like it’s here to stay.
Staple Initiative: LGBTees is a student-led group which is aimed not just at the LGBT community, but also at the straight and curious students who are eager to know more about the relevant goings-on. The group prides itself with the fact that, regardless who you are, you will certainly be welcomed in a friendly and accepting environment.
4. University of Birmingham
This institution marks the halfway point on Stonewall’s annual list, gracing number 50. The University of Birmingham became aware of its inclusion problem on campus a few years ago and was determined to rectify it.
Staple Initiative: LGBT Mentoring Scheme is a project launched by the University earlier this October. Its main aim is to relieve the burden of inclusion at the workplace by matching LGBT students with mentors from various areas of expertise around Birmingham. Mentors can provide advice about choices the students should make so as to maintain a healthy life/career balance. The initiative was so well received that there are already companies showing their support, like the law firm Gowling WLG or Sean Russell Consulting.
5. University of Essex
Another old entry on the list that has gone up since 2015, the University of Essex places at number 53 and is looking to grow in years to come.
Staple Initiative: Essex LGBT Alliance is a network that doesn’t limit itself to the students and staff at the University, but that connects with in-house LGBT groups from other local organisations such as the Essex Community Rehabilitation Company, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, Ford Motor Company and Essex Police, to name but a few. The organisation hosts three meetings a year in which new ways of reaching out to members of the LGBT community are discussed. For students in particular, this means that they find the support they need, well after they’ve left higher education.
6. University of Manchester
Tied in at number 53 with the University of Essex, this institution stands out by providing bespoke support for students and staff alike, to ensure that both groups benefit from the best quality of academic/ work experience.
Staple Initiative: ALLOUT is a staff-oriented organisation which runs a confidential mailing list and organises events at important dates in the LGBT calendar throughout the year. The initiative was particularly well-received because of the trickle-down effect it’s had on the student body. The fact that the LGBT community is recognised at a staff-level ensures that the campus will always be LGBT-friendly.
The other higher-learning institutions on Stonewall Top 100 are:
Overall, it’s good to see a significant number of Universities in the Stonewall ranking and hopefully, more of them will make the cut in years to come.
A campus university in the heart of Birmingham city centre.
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