Opinion

Why the death of the college and university experience is so detrimental for LGBTQ students

As a gay student from southern Alberta, I finally found an LGBTQ community on campus. Remote learning can't replace that, writes Lisa Basil.

For many young people, a campus might be the first time they can truly be out

As a gay student from southern Alberta, Lisa Basil writes she finally found a queer community living on the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia. Remote learning can't replace that, she says. (Lisa Basil)

This is an opinion column by Lisa Basil, who is attending class remotely at the University of British Columbia from her home in Lethbridge, Alta. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

If September is any indication, the global pandemic has all but eradicated any semblance of the "university experience" as we know it.

Gone are the days of frat parties, sporting events and 300-person lecture halls. The loss of the university experience means the absence of direct access to professors via office hours, campus resources, library access and clubs. 

But one of the lesser-known casualties of this shift to remote learning is also one of the most fundamental aspects of university life: the on-campus community. 

For LGBTQ students like myself, the on-campus experience is an indispensable opportunity. 

While Canada loves to boast about and project an image of tolerance, many areas still remain problematic for queer youth. These are communities where anti-LGBTQ vandalism, banning of pride flags or hate crimes still occur.

Going away to college is a chance for some to finally escape the stifling realities of communities that are less diverse, more socially conservative or just outright homophobic.

Now, capped campus residence capacities have forced LGBTQ students all across the country to return to their (often) less-than-progressive hometowns, and those entering first year to be robbed of their long-awaited escape from them. 

As I return home to finish my studies this year, I am returning to a community where Pride installations were vandalized at least twice. I am returning to a community where the provincial government is trying to undermine gay-straight alliance clubs in high schools, and I am returning to a community in which I get near-constant attention in the form of stares and glares when out with my girlfriend.

On campus, my queer existence isn't politicised. College was also an integral opportunity to find solace and companionship in LGBTQ and allied groups. 

Like many other students, Basil is completing her final year of school at a distance, living at home instead of on campus. (Lisa Basil)

In that sense, remote learning means that we are losing an irreplaceable component of the queer university experience. 

The 2015 GLSEN National School Climate survey of U.S. schools found that school-based resources were an essential factor for LGBTQ students' feelings of inclusivity. Another 2015 survey of LGBTQ students at Ontario universities found that 84 per cent of respondents wished there were more staff to run LGBTQ groups, events and spaces. 

Working with incoming LGBTQ university students and reflecting on my experience, I can attest that for many students, university is their first opportunity to truly be out. It is frequently the first time queer students are able to be part of specifically LGBTQ spaces. 

Finding myself among a community of peers where being gay was the least-interesting thing about me was one of my most central and defining college experiences. Participation in queer-specific campus clubs, events and even an LGBTQ residence hall were paramount to my journey to distancing myself from years of internalized homophobia.

Some may argue that the establishment of safe spaces creates a generation of LGBTQ students ill-equipped for the "real world." But a queer-friendly campus experience is an education in a different sense — one of self-acceptance and community.  

LGBTQ students across the country, for the time being, must mourn not only the loss of campus resources but the loss of an integral campus life that makes their university years a cornerstone of personal growth.


About the Author

Lisa Basil is a queer student journalist and a senior at the University of British Columbia.

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