New report details experiences of LGBTQ college students

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

For the first time a new report gives a picture of what it looks like to navigate college as an LGBTQ student.

Over 66,000 lesbian, gay, or bisexual students and roughly 6,600 transgender students were surveyed at 918, 4-year institutions across the country. It’s the first national report of this scale.

“We need generalizable data in order to have conversations with university presidents and institutional planners about where they need to allocate their support,” said Maren Greathouse, who co-authored the report and is the director of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University.

According to the report, 24 percent of students in this community seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months. That’s more than double the rate for heterosexual students.

“National surveys have never asked these demographic questions, so I don’t know if the rates of suicidal ideation or depression have gone up or down. But what we do know is that these students are struggling right now,” Greathouse said.

Zaneta Rago-Craft says it’s not only what happens on campus that affects those suicide rates. She says students may be dealing with parents and communities who are not accepting of their identity.

“When a student experiences family rejection, of course that takes a toll on your mental health. But that also takes a toll on your ability to maintain being a student. So if your parents stops filling out the FAFSA, you don’t get financial aid anymore,” said Rago-Craft, who serves as director of the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities at Rutgers University.

Rago-Craft says universities have a responsibility to intervene when students need help. Her program established an emergency fund to help in those particular cases.

“To see an LGBT resource center is sort of a beacon of light for a student who is scared, and isolated,” Greathouse said.

Greathouse hopes her work will encourage campuses to have strong LGBTQ resources, full-time staff to address student needs, make referrals across campus, develop peer mentoring programs and maintain a safe space.

The report also shows LGBTQ students hold a slightly higher grade-point average than heterosexual students, 3.23 compared to 3.2.

“What that says to me is that these students are exhibiting remarkable resiliency. But my question is why should students have to rely upon their resiliency when we could be doing more to mitigate some of these issues that they face,” asked Greathouse.

Rago-Craft says she feels fortunate her mother was always in her corner.

“Always telling me I could be exactly who I said I was,” Rago-Craft said. “And actually that’s very much how I see my work here is making sure that students know they can be exactly who they want to be.”

The LGBT center at Rutgers is one of the oldest in the country.