Don’t be afraid to search for your tribe: Chairperson of DCU LGBTA Dean O’Reilly gives advice on being LGBTQ+ at college
Your college will only support you in the ways that they have been notified support is required. Should we remain complacent and silent as queer people, policies and practices will never change.
As much as I’d like to say that being LGBTQ+ in college more or less the same for everyone, the experience can vary widely depending on a number of factors.
For myself, I have found college to be one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly spaces I’ve been a part of. Now, I would say that this is due in large part to my involvement with DCU LGBTA, but there are also other queer avenues that one can take. Aside from college societies, you can find a lot of support with your Students Union and many college-centric organisations. The majority of colleges will have LGBTQ+ representatives on important committees and within their Class Rep system. This is a fantastic opportunity to get to know other LGBTQ+ individuals, and also to educate yourself on experiences that are not yours. Volunteer organisations such as Shout Out are always looking for new volunteers to aid in their work. Although this can be daunting at first, joining and taking part is something that I’d emphasise to everyone. I’ve found that there is less pressure when meeting new people as there’s always a common interest – our LGBTQ+ community.
If I were to pick the most influential thing that college has offered to me as an LGBTQ+ individual, it would be Pink Training, organised by the Union of Students of Ireland. Pink Training is a weekend of events, from workshops on queer issues to social events and lipsyncs. LGBTQ+ delegates from colleges under the USI are invited to one location to stay for the three days and take part in all activities. I distinctively remember my first workshop at Pink Training on consent culture, it opened my eyes to the extensive breadth of areas the LGBTQ+ are having open discussions about. It is an experience that I can’t quite put into words, but I have yet to come across a more welcoming, more embracing or more exciting event since. I truly can’t wait to go back this year.
At the same time, I find it important to note that this has been my experience as an out, active and confident member of the community. Not all LGBTQ+ students wish to be a member of a society, attend Pink Training or work with their students union, and that’s perfectly okay. In general, college campuses are open minded and accepting. Does this mean that all aspects of the LGBTQ+ Community are given the right supports? Not always. We still have a long way to go, in particular for Trans and Non-Binary students, and there is still a need to advocate for ourselves. Your college will only support you in the ways that they have been notified support is required. Should we remain complacent and silent as queer people, policies and practices will never change.
What’s the one piece of advice I’d give an LGBTQ+ student starting college? Don’t be afraid to search for your tribe. Whether this is joining your college’s LGBTQ+ society (of which I’d highly recommend!) or fellow LGBTQ+ people in your course, search out for those people that can empathise with your experience.
Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be myself had it not been for the opportunity college gave me to explore myself. I’m happy to say that I have found my tribe, that I have been able to find others to share ideas and aspirations with, and most importantly, I can do this unapologetically. What is college like for me as an LGBTQ+ individual? It’s everything that I didn’t know I needed.
Dean O’Reilly (DCU LGBTA, Chairperson ’17/18).