Coming to Cambridge from a school where LGBT+ students had to set up practically all our own support networks for ourselves, I was blown away by the levels of support in place for queer students here. The idea of having LGBT+ welfare hours in college, being given a ‘family’ by the CUSU LGBT+ campaign, and the thriving queer writing and arts scene at uni was something completely alien to me. I imagine I’m in the same position as most queer freshers here – very few schools have the willingness or resources to provide such extensive help. In that sense, then, my trepidation about how confident I would feel in sexuality while at Cambridge was unfounded.
That said, I’ve been wondering over the past two weeks whether there’s a problem of specificity to the LGBT+ support system here. Students who are already confident in their sexualities and feel happy self-identifying as queer, like myself, certainly have access to practically everything we could want in terms of medical, emotional, and social support. Yet university is one of the key places where people who previously thought themselves straight and cisgender might begin to explore different aspects of their sexuality. Particularly from my own experience as a bisexual woman, I know that plenty of female friends of mine both at Cambridge and at other unis have realised that they’re not as straight as they thought they were – university provides a lot of people the chance to break out of the compulsory heterosexuality they performed at secondary school.
When we take that into consideration, it seems like an oversight to mainly have support systems in place for students who already identify as queer. Of course, freshers are all technically made aware of the counselling and advisory services that we can approach if we were grappling with sexuality issues – but in reality, very few people are going to remember all the information they were bombarded with in the first couple of days. In addition to people exploring their sexualities and genders while at uni, there’s also the issue of awareness of LGBT+ issues among the cis-het student population. While few people our age are still willing to espouse explicitly homophobic views, I certainly know I’ve encountered more than enough casual ignorance and jokey discrimination in my two weeks here.
In light of that, I think there needs to be more programmes of support and awareness which are targeted not only at queer students but at everyone – for example, alongside the compulsory consent workshops held in my college in freshers’ week, there could have been a discussion of sexuality involving all students. There are a thousand reasons why we should be providing help specifically aimed at queer students – but we also need to remember that achieving equality is a two-way battle. We won’t get anywhere if we don’t work to foster more respect for LGBT+ issues among the whole student body, from day one.