Accessibility to higher education

Going to college in my family was always a given – many of my family members on my mom’s side have at least a Bachelor’s degree and some have Master’s. From a young age, I was socialized into the idea that I would get no where without a college degree and it wasn’t a matter of if I would go but instead, a matter of what school and what field of study. And as a white, middle class, Honor Roll student with lots of volunteer experience, getting in was yet another given. I had a lot of privilege that helped with my acceptances to several schools so even though I only applied to five schools my senior year of high school, I got into all but one (and the one I didn’t get into, I was wait listed). I had (and still do have) all the odds stacked in my favor for university admissions, despite my mother’s unnecessary anxiety.

I spent the first year and a half at my alma mater with my head down and focused on acclimating to a new school and city and meeting new people. I went to my classes, participated in a select few school clubs, and hung out with the people on my dorm floor. I wasn’t out as queer during this time and I spent so much energy trying to stay in the closet, especially since I went to a Catholic university. The more I tried to be like most of my campus, the more I hated it there.

Finally the second semester of my sophomore year rolls around and as well as publicly coming out as a queer person, I started privately meeting with other students about the issues we were all facing at our school. Through these meetings I realized that I wasn’t alone in how I felt about the school and that there were so many issues of racism, heteronormativity, ableism, classism, and other things that made being on campus incredibly difficult for many minority students.

It was through this smallish group of people that I learned the biggest lessons of my college career and was pushed the most academically. This was the point where I learned about how people with disabilities had issues navigating the system, what microaggressions were, and how my friends who were people of color faced an incredibly different experience than I did. I learned with this group that higher education is not built for diversity, for people who challenge the status quo. But even with meeting with this group of incredible game changing individuals, I still felt alone on campus. We were just a few on campus and the more I pushed back on the rest of the campus (faculty and students alike), the more was pushed back on me. And I thought this was just a problem that my school faced, making the journey even more difficult.

But then I realized it was a systemic issue that was faced by so many other colleges and students. I started getting in touch with several other students from religious universities around the country who also shared experiences of heteronormativity and rejection for being LGBTQ+. Being queer on a religious campus can be incredibly difficult – some schools (like the Catholic University of America) have repeatedly rejected students’ efforts to form LGBTQ+ student clubs. It took several years for Holy Cross affiliated schools like University of Notre Dame and University of Portland to grant official status to LGBTQ+ clubs but even then, microaggressions still exist on the campuses and help reinforce heteronormativity. George Fox University in Newberg, OR has a terrible reputation for how it handles LGBTQ+ students, like how they denied a trans student housing.

Hashtags like #BecauseIAm, #ITooAmHarvard (and other similar ones), and #CanYouHearUsNow have highlighted the issues of racism, misogyny, heteronormativity, etc that exist on many campuses.

The above video is a spoken word poem that highlights the disparities of race at UCLA and the statistics of black men on the campus.

Being on a college campus is hard when you are a minority, especially since the microaggressions from students, faculty, and administration often make it clear that they do not want you there. Not only does higher education need to be more accessible financially but the atmospheres need to be more accepting.