Credit: Dorota Dziki

How does UofG improve the safety of its LGBTQ+ students?

By Jeevan Farthing and Rothery Sullivan

The University needs to reach out to its LGBTQ+ community to ensure they feel safe on campus.

In May 2021 The Glasgow Guardian urged the University to do more to eliminate gender-based violence through improving student safety on campus. Since then, a mandatory gender based violence course has been established on Moodle, but there is more work to be done. In the context of LGBTQ+ hate crimes soaring post Covid-19, we surveyed and conducted interviews with students identifying as LGBTQ+ to assess specific issues pertaining to their safety, and a number of structural and cultural issues were raised. 42% of students surveyed said they have felt unsafe on campus, and those who felt most unsafe tended to identify as bisexual, pansexual, transgender and/or non-binary. While immediate threats to a student’s physical safety differ from the more general notion of feeling comfortable around others, the former can be prevented in part by addressing the latter, so measures which promote inclusivity are still important.

More work must be done to ensure campus and surrounding areas are adequately lit. Since our report last year an assault took place on Kelvin Way, while during COP26, visitors to Glasgow felt unsafe after having to walk through Kelvingrove Park without any lighting at all. We therefore repeat previous calls to introduce regular security patrols on walking routes between campus and residences, such as Kelvin Way, during the night. Additionally, since the opening of the James McCune Smith Learning Hub (JMS), the intersection between University Avenue and Ashton Lane is used more frequently by students, but lighting in this area remains poor.

While UofG Sport endeavours to offer “the best fitness experience in Glasgow”, those who spoke to us suggested that this cannot currently be enjoyed by students of all genders. One student we interviewed, Charlie*, told us: “I adore football and I used to love playing football when I was younger, but it’s extremely isolating trying to join team sports as a non-binary person.” They said that team sport is ultimately inaccessible to them, and that they thought “it would be great if the University, especially for the non-competition leagues, introduced an all-genders team.”

Multiple respondents raised the inconsistency in the provision of gender neutral toilets on campus. While all toilets in the JMS are gender neutral, the same cannot be said for older buildings. One respondent emphasised that using the disabled toilets as a gender-neutral space in the library made them feel that they were “using a space needed for someone else”, while the lack of gender neutral facilities in the Stevenson Building changing rooms was cited as a further barrier for some LGBTQ+ students interested in sport.

Some students also described experiencing discrimination within student accommodation. This can be especially traumatic for LGBTQ+ students coming from family homes which are unsafe, or for those who only come out at university. One respondent described how their “previous flatmates were subtly homophobic and that made me uncomfortable. It also played a factor into why I chose to move out of accommodation”. Another said that they were “misgendered and laughed at a lot” and that they “felt extremely unsafe continuing to live there”. We therefore recommend that welcome packs for students arriving into accommodation affirm a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind. There should also be a dedicated Living Support Assistant, preferably someone from the LGBTQ+ community themselves, who students can turn to if they feel unsafe. We also suggest that applications for student accommodation allow for LGBTQ+ students to request being able to have at least one other LGBTQ+ flatmate if that would help them feel safer.

We were encouraged to find that 90% of respondents had not faced any LGBTQ+ related discrimination from staff members, but prejudice among the student population is still too common, and cultural changes on campus are essential to combat this. Discrimination within the student LGBTQ+ community itself was frequently raised by respondents, including incidents of biphobia (prejudice against bisexual people) and transphobia (prejudice against transgender and/or non-binary people). An interviewee, Alex*, identifies as bisexual and non-binary. They said that their “identity is often dismissed in queer spaces due to the fact that they are in a relationship with a man”. Alex continued: “I’ve been told I’m in a heterosexual relationship, which not only discounts my gender identity but also my bisexuality”. Another respondent described having “multiple emails from members of staff using my dead name” (the name a transgender person no longer uses as part of their transition). This occurred to the student “despite only being enrolled in their classes with (their) preferred name”. Transphobia is still too prevalent in sports culture, with one respondent saying that they “heard people make comments about a trans woman we played against at hockey”.

Education can be an effective tool to combat prejudice and introduce cultural changes on campus. We suggest that an anti-discrimination module is established for students to complete during their orientation, discussing issues such as what different pronouns mean and why some people choose to disclose them, establishing firmly what constitutes discrimination, and what different identities mean. However, some LGBTQ+ issues are inevitably complex and misunderstood, and it is essential that the community is not homogenised. For example, while one respondent felt that student activities on zoom were far more accessible to them, as “people could know your pronouns without having to ask”, others were frustrated by a lack of on-campus events preventing them from meeting others within the community. Therefore, any anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination module must be developed in conjunction with LGBTQ+ students themselves and other LGBTQ+ organisations (such as the LGBT Youth Scotland, or Stonewall Scotland).

The SRC could also utilise their position of authority to conduct surveys themselves by emailing all students, receiving a more representative sample than The Glasgow Guardian ever could, because it is essential that this is not the only time LGBTQ+ students can raise issues of their safety. Nonetheless, we hope that the issues and proposals we have outlined can help create a more inclusive university experience for LGBTQ+ students, with the aim of preventing issues of safety arising in the first place.

*names have been changed.

If you would like to speak to Jeevan or Rothery about the issues we have raised, including any improvements to student safety you would like to see yourselves, please email [email protected]


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