Colleges and schools in India have been slowly moving away from the idea that bullying, or “ragging” is an inevitable rite of passage that every student goes through. Reports of harassment and discrimination on the basis of non-normative gender and sexuality are extremely common, which is all the more reason pushing for campuses to be safe spaces for LGBTQI+ students is an issue of rising importance.
A huge part of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the institution itself. So what are various practices that can be adopted to make an institution friendly/welcoming to LGBTQI+ students? Here are some of the best practices from around the world that can be implemented in Indian schools and colleges to make them more LGBTQI+ friendly spaces:
Going from high school to college is always a rough change, so it would be a great idea to create a support group that focuses on LGTBQI+ first years and helps them go through this transition. A huge plus from doing so, is building a strong and long-lasting community that renews itself each year.
Some universities are already doing this, and doing it well. UCLA hosts an annual event for first years called “Cookies and Queers”, Cornell University has its own LGBTQ+ First Year Group, and Syracuse University offers a LGBT First Year Forum Class. The University of Maryland has a proven efficiency program called “The One Project”, which has also won various awards.
A great idea for reaching out to the LGTBIQ+ community at your college is to create a virtual platform in which you can include online resources, social events reminders, educational presentations, reading lists, or even an online chat room. Online resources are not only available for plenty of students, but it gives conviviality and anonymity for people who feel more comfortable having these options.
Students subjected to harassment need something to fall back on, and an inclusive college policy can be a great safety net. Developing a comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policy that takes into account gender, gender expression/identity, sexuality, ethnicity, caste, religion and other intersections can make all students feel safer on campus.
In the last few years, an increasing number of transgender students have been enrolling in colleges. More colleges, like Delhi University are introducing third gender options in their application forms to be more inclusive. But this is also a concern, because the institution needs to be adequately prepared to handle the needs of the students.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) in India came out with a circular in 2014 in which it recommended that all universities build transgender friendly infrastructure such as washrooms, working to sensitise students to the issues faced by the community and spread awareness.
Education is key to eliminating stigma. Myths and misconceptions about non-normative gender and sexuality result in the negative perception about the LGBTQI+ community. Being informed is key, and institutions can include courses and orientation programmes that open up spaces for conversation, promoting a healthy, safe environment for all orientations. Breaking Barriers is one such campaign at Tagore International School in Delhi that understands the importance of sensitising kids from a young age, and has seen shifts in behaviour of students and parents since it began.
Creating an LGBTIQ+ publication in your college gives you the space to gather educational information, opinion articles, and entertainment – all in one place! Plus, this can grasp the attention of the queer and non-queer community. This can not only be a space for deeper discourse on gender and sexuality, but can also become a platform where people share their own personal experiences and narratives.
The University of Pennsylvania has a campus publication for the queer community called the “Colors Project”.
As part of the diagnosis of intolerance and bullying on your campus, it is very important to start a dialogue around it. Mapping out bullying zones is one way to do this. Print out a bunch of maps of your campus and hand it out to students so they mark out the zones where they have been harassed or have seen other people be harassed. Then construct a bigger map that gathers all the information, and make it visible for the entire community.
If a student-run support system doesn’t already exist in your college, it’s time to help the LGBTQI+ community come together and get organised. If one already exists, your institution should provide as much support as it possibly can. Helping start and run campaigns, providing secure spaces for discussions, marches and events, and helping the community build its own identity are some things an institution can really contribute towards. Setting up a college-recognised anti-bullying committee is also a great way to let students take charge.
Not In Our Town has created a quick – start guide to launch an anti – bullying campaign that you can access here.
A student’s experience at an educational institution is majorly shaped by teachers. They are the ones who educate, inspire and set an example. It’s important to train teachers and professors to be allies to the queer community, be approachable and sensitive, and be someone students can rely on in tough times. Teachers might even take an active interest in campaigns or queer groups – you may be surprised at how helpful they can be. You could create stickers or banners stating “This is an LGBTQI+ safe place” and hand them out for teachers to keep in their work space, this way students are able to identify safe spaces on campus.
Fighting against LGBTQI+ bullying in college can be very exhausting for students, so making sure there are spaces in which they can enjoy themselves is just as important. Allow students spaces where they can organise social events, where people can have fun and share – which ultimately will create a stronger movement. Collaborate with other universities and encourage the use of spaces outside your campus as well, and help create safer, more inclusive cities in the process.