This post is part of a series of college students who identify as a person of color and/or with the LGBTQIA+ community, sharing their experience attending a predominantly white institution (PWI).
Jordan is a trans student at a 4-year university in Omaha. Mack is a trans, bisexual Latino student at a 4-year college in Lincoln.
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, what has been great about your college experience?
Jordan: Being both trans and a college student is synonymous with being like any other college student. However, being myself and allowing myself to grow as a person is the greatest thing about being both trans and in college, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mack: The great parts of my college experience have been when I’ve found community. That community has come from my professors who take the time to learn and use my pronouns, it comes from people I’ve met in my work at the LGBTQIA+ Center on campus, and most importantly, it comes from the people I’ve helped through my work.
Describe the support or challenges you’ve faced from your family as a college student.
Jordan: Once I was financially independent from my family, I decided to start transitioning and become who I truly was. I knew my family wasn’t going to support me, and that my happiness was dependent on me, not them. It has been a year and half since I publicly transitioned and became myself, and it has been a year and half since most of my family has talked to me. However, their reaction was expected and foreseen.
Mack: I’m an out-of-state student. Part of my choice to go here was the distance from my unsupportive parents. They know about my bisexuality, but I have chosen to keep my gender identity from them for my safety. There is an extreme lack of support in that area, and it has been genuinely difficult to deal with that. Building a support system for myself here took time. I expected to be connected with people right away, and that expectation didn’t help me. My advice is to be patient with yourself. Seek out opportunities that sound interesting to you, and build up the support system you need slowly but surely.
Tell us about a challenge you have encountered as a college student.
Jordan: On a weekly basis, discrimination from both professors and college students is pretty commonplace in and out of the classroom. An ongoing issue for me is unwanted attention: students will point at me and talk about me, in front of me.
Mack: As a person of color in the LGBTQIA+ community, I have had to deal with a lot of queer white people who think they have a pass when it comes to being an ally to people of color. There is sometimes a lot of talk about intersectionality from white people but very little action. Often, when I am in spaces that are predominantly white and queer, my voice and the voices of other queer people of color are overshadowed and ignored. The best thing I did for myself was to disconnect from those spaces and find my own community. Sometimes, it’s best to stick it out and put up with that nonsense for the sake of the one or two good people you can meet in a given space, but sometimes it’s better to protect yourself and your emotional energy. It’s a hard judgment call to make sometimes, but you can’t build community if you’re spending all your time trying to educate people who don’t actually care.
Have you recognized any differences between your high school and college experience as it relates to diversity?
Jordan: I graduated from a super-conservative high school, and I would not be safe if I came out as trans. At my college, I am finally able to be myself, and love who I love, and be protected by both people and policies that allow and respect my existence.
Mack: The population makes a huge difference. My campus is like a micro-society of Lincoln. I went to a pretty big high school (just over 5,000 students), but there is still a big difference when it comes to diversity. It is still a predominantly white institution, but it is easier to find people with similar experiences here because of the large population. It’s also a lot easier to avoid rude people on a college campus as opposed to a high school and to curate your own experience that way.
What on-campus support systems exist for underrepresented students or students that have diverse backgrounds? What has been helpful to you personally?
Jordan: On campus, multiple faculties support transgender individuals. First, there is the Queer and Transgender Services Office (an organization that I’m on the board of, and one that’s the most helpful for me) that supports the entire LGBTQIA+ community. Then, there is both the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center and Title lX office who assist trans individuals who are experiencing crises on campus. Lastly, there are plentiful amounts of social support groups that meet-up on a weekly basis to vent or discuss issues on campus that LGBTQIA+ students may encounter.
Mack: I’m obviously biased, but the LGBTQIA+ Center has been instrumental in my development as a member of the community. One of the more vital resources at the Center is the Lavender Closet. The Lavender Closet is a totally free, donation-based clothing resource for people who need gender-affirming clothing. As someone with very little money, the Lavender Closet has been great for me as I’m transitioning my wardrobe in a different gender direction.
What advice do you have for younger students who do not identify with the majority population as they prepare to go to college?
Jordan: First and foremost, be yourself. Transitioning is a process, it isn’t instantaneous and there’s going to be road bumps. College is also a process that’s also filled with road bumps and takes time to complete. These both can be remedied by taking your time to figure out what does and doesn’t work. Find your style, find your educational niche, and find the people in your program who both accept and want to grow and succeed with you.
Mack: As someone with unsupportive parents, my biggest piece of advice would be to be as authentic as you can be. That’s super vague, but there were a few months for me where I still denied myself the joy of uncovering my gender identity. If your situation is anything like mine, take this as your opportunity.