Let’s face it. Stepping onto a college campus as a student for the first time is exhilarating, but it can also be overwhelming.
For many of us, we’re the first in our families to do so. Others among us come from a long line of college graduates. I remember unpacking my parents’ car not too long ago and wondering what the next four years were going to be like.
While I was ecstatic to meet other contemporary literature aficionados (I majored in English literature) and Desperate Housewives fans (am I dating myself?), I was also curious to meet other LGBTQ students. As a shy, introverted freshman, however, I had no idea where to find the other queer students despite the abundance of advice I had been getting.
For those of you just beginning your college journey—or even if you’ve already started and are looking for new ways to be involved—here are five things you’ve got to do once you get to campus.
1. Seek Out Your School LGBTQ Student Organization
These student organizations go by many different names on campuses across the nation, but they all have one thing in common: supporting LGBTQ students through their college journey. Some provide social support, some serve as campus advocates, and others do a little bit of everything.
2. Find Your Allies
Many schools have established “Allies Programs” with stickers on office doors to identify people who are aware of the LGBTQ-related resources on campus. But even schools without these formalized programs have faculty and staff who want to support you. If you’re not sure where to look, consider asking your office of student life or contacting the Women’s & Gender Studies department if you have one.
3. Take Classes With An LGBTQ Focus
Meeting others LGBTQ students is great for building a social and support network. And, while you’re at an institution of higher education, take advantage of the opportunities learn about queer history, politics, and theory. You’ll probably also meet LGBTQ students and allies while you’re at it anyway.
4. Find Out What Resources Are Available In The Local Community
Some cities (and even college campuses) have LGBTQ resource centers. Don’t hesitate to visit or even just make a phone call to find out what’s available in your city or town. If there isn’t one, there might be a center in a nearby city that can give you advice on navigating your current locale.
5. Keep In Contact With Your LGBTQ Community and Allies From Home
Making new friends and building a community at your new school is vitally important to your success; yet no one will understand you quite like the people you spent most of your life with up until now. Stay in touch and use this more established network of support when you need it.
Now that you’ve made it to college, there’s a world of opportunity at your fingertips. Get to know the LGBTQ community at your school, but don’t forget to get to know and learn from people who are different from you as well. Build a community that is both comfortable and outside of your comfort zone—you won’t regret it!
Brian Reece is the Associate Director of Assessment & Communication at the University of Miami’s Toppel Career Center. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware and holds a Masters Degree from the University of Oregon.