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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Blog  /  Blog Entries  /  “People perform better when they can be themselves” Stonewall

“People perform better when they can be themselves” Stonewall

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Sep 19, 2017 04:50 PM |

by Anson Mackay and Helene Burningham

The Department has set up a new Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (EDInC), which builds on our Athena Swan bronze award, but with a much broader remit. Allied to this, Helene Burningham and I have decided to set up a Geography LGBTQ group called Out in Geography, to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in the department for all LGBTQ students and staff.

Why is this group necessary? At school, 55% of young LGB people experience homophobic harassment (Stonewall 2012), while at university, 20% LGB students and 33% trans students experience at least one form of bullying on campus (NUS 2014). At university, LGBTQ students are at a significantly higher risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues (METRO Youth Chances 2014), and tend to amass higher levels of risky debt than their heterosexual counterparts (NUS 2014). These factors result in high numbers of LGB students seriously considering dropping out of university, which rises to more than 50% for trans students. Unfortunately, LGBT students are less likely to talk to their tutor about issues related to their sexuality for fear of discrimination (ECU 2009). Issues of discrimination are not of course restricted to students; in UK universities over a third of LGBT staff have experienced negative treatment on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Nationwide, attacks on LGBTQ people have increased by almost 80% in the past few years.

While UCL Geography is a great place to work and study, we think that we can proactively make it one of the most welcoming departments for LGBTQ staff and students in the country. For example, students arriving from school may not yet have gone through the stress of ‘coming out’ to their friends and families. Schools are often seen as places of relative intolerance for LGBTQ people, so the onus is on us as a department to make a conscious break with that environment and to make being LGBTQ at university a positive experience.

The NUS has a number of recommendations for universities in general, but we think that we can adopt many of these department-wide immediately. These are intended to complement existing UCL LGBTQ networks, including the Equality Advisory Group, out@UCL and UCLU’s LGBT+ Student Network.

  • Encourage staff members to become a Friend of Out@UCL to expand the growing network of LGBTQ+ friends, allies and advocates. This network is open to all UCL staff, and training sessions are provided once a term.
  • Helene and I would like to encourage out LGBTQ Geography staff and students (from undergraduate to MSc to PhD) to act as mentors for other LGBTQ people in the department – if you would like to volunteer, please contact me directly for more details.
  • Establish points of contact in the department so that students and staff can easily report acts of harassment or bullying against themselves or someone else. Helene and I are happy to take on this role in the first instance, but if anyone else would like to volunteer, that would be great.
  • Include LGBT provision and positive content in prospectuses and open day literature
  • Provide a range of social activities, e.g. attend OutThinkers events, participation in LGBT History Month, museum and cinema visits with LGBT themes that occur both in and outside of campus etc
  • Through UCL ChangeMakers, work towards including LGBT perspectives in the Geography curriculum, whether this be related to content or known LGBT researchers

We have also set up a UCL Out in Geography Facebook group where notices will be posted, relevant literature held etc. If you have any queries, please drop us a line.

References cited:

ECU (2009) The experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans staff and students in HE. London: Equality Challenge Unit.

METRO Youth Chances (2014) Survey of 16-25 year olds: first reference report. London: METRO.

NUS (2014) Education beyond the straight and narrow: LGBT students’ experience in higher education. London: NUS.

Stonewall (2012) The School Report: The Experiences of Gay Young People in Britain’s Schools in 2012. London: Stonewall.