LGB at University – By Dalia Fleming, Student at Nottingham University and Stonewall Youth Volunteer
I am 20 and have just finished university. The last year has been hard, but overall, the last three years have been the best of my life. I was a student at the University of Nottingham and studied Politics. When I turned up to university I knew I wanted to get involved in extra curricular stuff but I don’t think I could predict the impact that it has had on my life and my degree.
I have been out since secondary school and when I came to university I was lucky enough to feel comfortable to be out from the first week. However, for the first few months of university I wasn’t interested in having an LGBT community at University. I didn’t see the LGBT Network stall at Freshers Fayre (a three day event where all the Students’ Union Societies and Networks showcase what they offer) and so forgot about it. I lived in halls of residence, made some incredible friends and got on living the student life. The independence was incredible. I was able to go out whenever I wanted, eat what ever I wanted, see who ever I wanted – do whatever I wanted.
In January we had another Freshers Fayre and I saw the LGBT Network stall and slightly hesitantly walked over and had a great conversation with someone and decided to go bowling with the Network. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I realised I had missed having an LGBT Community and looking back, it is the most important friendship group I created at university. The dynamic in my LGBT group is amazing, although when it comes down to it, people are people and my non-LGBT friends are incredible, it was nice to be in a group of friends who related to me on that level.
I went to the NUS LGBT Conference and my mind was blown. It was INCREDIBLE. I was in a room full of LGBT activists passionate about LGBT issues; what more could I have wanted? I learnt about subjects I never even knew where issues and began to realise that there was so much more that I could do.
I then joined the Stonewall Youth Programme in February 2009. I went on a training weekend at their office in London and had a great time talking to more LGBT and ally activists and getting the support I needed to come up with my own campaign. Having lived in halls I had no issues with homophobia. But I lived in the smallest hall in Nottingham and also had met no other LGBT people living in them. When I got involved in the LGBT Network I began to hear stories about the experiences of other people who were not as fortunate as me. This inspired me to do my campaign on the Student experience in Halls of Residence. The first thing I did was talk to a lot of people in the Students’ Union and University and ask them what they thought of my idea. From there, I wrote and then distributed a survey, and to my surprise 900 students started to fill it in. There appeared to be a real appetite for talking about homophobia. This wasn’t surprising considering some of the results. Overall one in five students experienced or witnessed homophobia and when looking at only those who defined as LGB, it went up to one in two students. Homophobia has never felt like it was a big issue at Nottingham, but my campaign showed that there was an underlying problem. The amazing thing was that both the Students’ Union and University were fully supportive in doing whatever they could to help remove homophobia from halls of residence. Since the survey and because of my campaign all warden and staff in halls of residence at the University of Nottingham are getting Equality and Diversity training and all students will have easy access to a guide to help them report harassment and get any support that they need. This campaign then won NUS LGBT Campaign of the Year 2010. I have never been so proud of something in all my life. This campaign was hard work but worth every second. In the long run, this will change the lives of students at the University of Nottingham; in a subtle way, but change never the less.
The Stonewall Youth Programme has helped me in so many ways, for personal growth, both academic and social. I have met some amazing people, each trying to make a difference in their local community. I wrote my dissertation at University on how homophobia manifests itself in British society and it eventually led to me getting a first in my degree. My passion for fighting for LGBT equality and rights has grown from going to University and meeting like minded people and then getting the support and guidance I needed from my Students’ Union, NUS LGBT and Stonewall. It is because of Stonewall and my work with them that I felt confident enough to run to be Lesbian Rep on the NUS Women’s Campaign Committee and have been able to support women nationally in their projects at University. Being a Stonewall Youth Volunteer has helped me grow in confidence and feel as though I am able to make change and get results. I have worked with remarkable people and been offered some awesome opportunities. I wrote an article in Pink Paper, helped volunteer at the Stonewall Youth Event 2010 and marched with Stonewall at London Pride.
The only thing I can say is I wish that I had got involved earlier, but that being a Stonewall Youth Volunteer is now a hugely important part of what have most definitely been the best three years of my life so far.