The importance of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students on college campuses

Photo by Trent Legaspi | The Signal

The importance of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students on college campuses 

In today’s increasingly diverse society, the need for inclusivity and understanding on college campuses has never been more important. Among these needs is the establishment of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students – a factor that plays a significant role in their well-being, inclusion and academic success.

Safe spaces serve a crucial role in our educational institutions, specifically for LGBTQ+ students. These spaces provide a secure and welcoming environment where these students can express their unique identities without fear of prejudice or discrimination. They act as a haven, a place of refuge where they can be themselves without any apprehension or fear. These spaces also offer much-needed support systems. They provide opportunities for students to connect with others who share similar experiences, thus helping them build strong friendships and support networks. More than just a physical space, these safe places also serve as platforms for open and honest dialogue. Here, students can engage in meaningful discussions about their experiences, their struggles and their triumphs. These conversations can foster understanding, acceptance and unity, which are all essential in creating a more inclusive society.

The impact of these spaces on LGBTQ+ students’ well-being cannot be overstated. Studies have consistently highlighted the harassment faced by LGBTQ+ students. Further illustrating this point, a 2019 report by GLSEN identified that 86.3% of LGBTQ students experienced harassment or assault based on their identity or sexual orientation, and 58.3% were sexually harassed., leading to higher rates of mental health issues and lower academic performance. Safe spaces can help mitigate these effects by providing a supportive environment where students can feel valued and understood.

At Georgia State University, students are a step closer to creating these safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students, thanks to the tireless efforts of a student group known as the Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity. This group comprises individuals from many backgrounds, representing a vast array of sexual, gender and ethnic identities, all united by a common purpose: to be loud and proud.

Founded in 1982, the Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity is the oldest LGBTQ+ alliance in Georgia. It was created to cater to the queer student population at Georgia State University and their allies. With over 1200 members, the Alliance at GSU is one of the largest chartered student organizations on campus.

The group takes on a range of tasks, from developing educational activities and inciting students into activism to providing premier social events. It has been acknowledged by Channel 5 News Atlanta, the Human Rights Campaign, the Southern Voice and the City of Atlanta for its presentation of “Talk About It: The Power of Being Out.” The group has also won numerous accolades, such as the GSU Royal Flame Award for Organization of the Year, and the Social Program of the Year Award for their annual drag show, “The Exhibition.”

Georgia State University also boasts PRISM — PRIDE, RESPECT, INCLUSION, SUPPORT, MOVEMENT. PRISM is the Alliance of Georgia State’s Sexual and Gender Minority Faculty and Staff. These initiatives are proactively taking steps to foster safe spaces at Georgia State University, providing hope that other institutions might follow suit.

Beyond providing support, safe spaces also foster a sense of inclusion. They help LGBTQ+ students feel recognized and respected, which is vital for their academic success. Feelings of exclusion can lead to disengagement from school activities and lower academic performance. On the other hand, an inclusive environment can encourage students to participate more actively in their school community, leading to higher academic achievement and satisfaction.

Despite the clear benefits, many universities still have room for improvement in creating and maintaining safe spaces. Universities should prioritize establishing these spaces and promoting their existence to students. They should also ensure that these spaces are truly safe by providing proper training for staff members and implementing policies that protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination.

The importance of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students on college campuses cannot be understated. They are not just a luxury; they are a necessity for the well-being, inclusion and academic success of LGBTQ+ students. It is high time universities take the necessary steps to ensure these spaces are available and adequately maintained.