In an unprecedented survey, Get Real. reveals disparities in the experiences of LGBT+ students between the different colleges of the University of Cambridge. Lack of welfare provisions, queerphobic speech, bullying and discrimination have coloured the experiences of many queer students here at Cambridge.
Overall, 39% of 348 self-identifying LGBT+ respondents said that they had experienced direct or indirect queerphobic speech during their time here as students. The numbers however varied greatly between colleges. Seven out of nine respondents from Magdalene reported experiencing queerphobic speech making the college statistically the highest at 78%. Jesus was not far behind as six out of eight respondents reported queerphobic speech (75%). Out of the seven Magdalene respondents, four reported that a member of staff had made the remark on at least one of the incidents. There were 16 other counts of queerphobia from staff at other colleges*. When asked to report the number of incidents of bullying and violence against LGBT individuals in the last academic year both colleges failed to provide any information within the 20 day window for a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
The colleges with the least reported queerphobic speech were Robinson and Trinity Hall which had figures of 20% and 25% respectively. Queerphobic speech has been linked to depression and anxiety; a study published by the University of Cambridge in 2014 showed that queer people were more than twice as likely to develop these conditions.
The survey also revealed that 56% of queer students suffered from mental health issues while studying here at Cambridge. When asked whether they considered their mental health issues to be linked to their queer identity, 23% of students felt that this was definitely the case while another 18% felt unsure. A recent National Union Student surveyed 1,200 found that 20% believed they suffered from a mental health issue; the figure for queer students at Cambridge is more than twice as high.
Magdalene continued its poor performance throughout with 56% of its student respondents stating they felt their college to be “queer unfriendly.” This was vastly greater than the overall average of 10%. Caius and St. Catherine’s were two other colleges with a remarkably poor performance – 38% of respondents from St. Catherine’s and 23% from Caius labeled their college as queer unfriendly.
A total of 39 queer students (11%) reported experiencing bullying and/or discrimination during their time here at Cambridge. This figure, however, went up for trans, non-binary and agender students. Students who identified as agender were more than three times as likely (38%) to have experienced bullying and/or discrimination; while 29% of trans and 24% of non-binary students reported the same. Robin Cumming, CUSU LGBT+ trans officer, told Get Real. “I am saddened but not surprised that trans students are experiencing such discrimination and bullying, even in Cambridge. This clearly demonstrates the need for increased awareness of trans and gender issues among students and staff alike and a zero- tolerance approach to bullying motivated by gender from us all.”
However, colleges were often unaware of this prejudice, bullying and discrimination. The FOI request sent by Get Real. to all colleges came back overwhelmingly negative. Corpus Christi was the only college to have record of incidents of bullying and/or violence against LGBT+ students for the academic year 2013/14 – a total of three. There was no incident reported at any other college despite the survey’s findings.
A majority of queer students (52%) said they would not feel comfortable talking to a tutor, nurse or other support staff regarding any of their queer issues. The figures were higher for Christ’s (71%), Homerton (67%) and Caius (62%). Magdalene was once again highest with 78% of respondents saying they would not feel comfortable talking to any college support staff about queer issues. This may partially explain why bullying and prejudice go unreported in the majority of colleges, various students have suggested to Get Real.
Indeed the majority of colleges do not provide tutors with specific training regarding LGBT+ issues. In response to the FOI request, most colleges felt that, “general guidance,” was sufficient. In most cases, the college nurse had better training than the tutors who were sometimes even exempt. According to one comment from the survey “Tutors needed to be more aware of what problems LGBT+ people run into so students feel they can go to them.” Another comment suggested that more support was needed on coming out and that college staff should not make assumptions about a student’s gender.
The FOI request also revealed Corpus to be the only college without gendered toilets making it a particularly welcoming environment for trans and non-binary students. Moreover, only 7% of students at Corpus didn’t feel their college and JCR offered adequate welfare support to queer students. This figure was much lower than the University average of 27%. Queer students at Caius were left unsatisfied as a majority (54%) felt their college and JCR did not offer adequate welfare support to queer students.
The survey revealed strong feelings about consent and sexual health workshops offered by some colleges in freshers’ week. 67% of respondents wanted these workshops to be made more relevant to queer students, while only 7% were satisfied with the current state of affairs. Amelia Horgan, CUSU Women’s Officer, provided Get Real. with following comment; “The sexual consent workshops and sexual health talks are both designed with input from CUSU LGBT+, and in the training sessions the need for inclusivity was stressed. However, more needs to be done to make sexual health and consent information LGBT+ friendly, and CUSU welfare and women’s will be looking to work with the LGBT+ campaign to improve things for next freshers’ week.”
Brendan Mahon, CUSU LGBT+ President told Get Real., “The results of this survey show us that LGBT+ students still need support and that there is still a lot of progress to be made in Cambridge. CUSU LGBT+ will use the results of this survey to inform, direct and support our work in making Cambridge a more inclusive place for LGBT+ students.”
CUSU Welfare Officer Jack Wright also shared his thoughts “These results describe a lack of awareness on the part of pastoral staff – while CUSU has fought in the past for tutor training and this was brought in for new tutors at the start of this year, there is still a lot of work to be done. The ideal, however far off it might be, would be having the opportunity to educate everyone who comes in contact with students about LGBT+ people and their needs.”
The Chief Editor would like to declare a conflict of interest as they are the current LGBT+ Welfare Officer at Trinity College. As LGBT+ Welfare Officer, he was made to answer part of his own FOI request.
The survey was made available on various platforms including Facebook, various mailing lists and the Get Real. page and website. The survey remained open for 23 days and received replies from students at all colleges. The total number of replies stood at 348 at the end of the 23 day period, all members of the editorial team also took part in the survey except for Ms. Mariella Salazar who does not identify as queer. Details of all responses will be published on 03/02/15.
Get Real. Team