FOR the second year running Australia’s universities have been ranked based on their inclusiveness and LGBTI policies for students and staff.
The Australian LGBTI University Guide, produced in collaboration by the Star Observer, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, and Out for Australia with the support of Organisation Intersex International Australia, Transgender Victoria and the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, measures LGBTI inclusion at all Australian campuses.
Most of the criteria are then subdivided by how each university measures up for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.
Australian LGBTI University Guide research coordinator Benedict Brook said the guide is of essential importance to ensure universities are held to account when it comes the LGBTI inclusion.
“What we’ve found yet again is that while some campuses and doing great things many could do much better and students that deserve better,” he said.
NSW GLRL co-convenor Lauren Foy said the guide was critical for helping LGBTI students when choosing a university.
“Picking a university can be tough. You need to think about what you want to study, how you want to do it and where, while also considering the best path towards your chosen career,” she said.
“There are big differences between courses and culture at each university, so how do you know you’re making the right choice?
“We take a look at universities across Australia in our annual review of the Australian LGBTI
University Guide, to determine how these universities respond to diversity and create safe, accommodating and supportive learning environment for our LGBTI communities.”
The research for the LGBTI University Guide is done by multiple researchers, many of them students themselves, who put themselves in the shoes of prospective students who would be searching the university’s website, student union or relevant social media channels for some reassurance LGBTI students would be welcomed and supported.
The results found about 80 per cent of universities have an LGBTI society or a similar social group, but no public university in Australia had any data to monitor or know the number of LGBTI students at its campuses.
Unsurprisingly, universities in major Australian cities ranked the highest based on the criteria.
Melbourne’s RMIT University was one of the few universities to host an event specifically for bisexual students.
“The expansion of RMIT University’s activity in supporting our LGBTI staff and students is very deliberate,” said Matthew Lee, RMIT Chief Marketing Officer and executive champion on LGBTI+ issues.
“RMIT University is committed to creating an environment where people are able to bring their whole selves to work and study.
“After years of dedicated individuals working in this space, we are excited by the opportunity provided by the high level commitment from our Strategic Plan and Senior Executive to drive this work even further.”
Many universities are continuing to fail to reflect federal anti-discrimination legislation in their policies such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which calls out any discrimination on the grounds of “sex, marital or relationship status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy, breastfeeding, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status”.
Except for a small handful, most universities were lagging on policies specific to trans and intersex students.
Only 48 per cent of Australian public universities have specific support for students who identify as non-binary, such as gender neutral toilets or neutral gender markers such as ‘x’ or ‘Mx’.
Queensland’s James Cook University (JCU) had more to do overall but did allow students to record their gender as ‘other’ and record their title as ‘Mx’.
A spokesperson for JCU said the university had appointed a new project officer who is focusing on LGBTI information and programs for students.
“So we expect to see further improvements in 2017,” they said.
“All members of our university community have a right to feel welcome, respected and safe.”
Only one university has a policy in place to enable access to sports facilities by people who are transitioning or have transitioned and/or to people born with atypical sex characteristics.
Staff led ‘Ally networks’ are even more widespread this year, but the Ally networks do have limitations.
For example, allies are not trained counsellors and many universities direct students to the allies rather than trained on-campus counsellors.
“Inclusion is promoted throughout the university. Specific training is offered to all staff and student leaders around sexual orientation and gender identity,” said CQUniversity’s Ally Program coordinator, Gemma Mann.
“Having the Ally Program allows an avenue for student and staff alike to ask questions and discuss issues with dedicated equity staff. It also provides opportunities for action if required.
“Inclusion is more about promotion and action, rather than policies that can be a means to single people out. Through (CQUniversity’s) endeavours, it is clear that CQUniversity actively embraces diversity, and is working particularly hard in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The University of Western Australia (UWA) excelled in most areas including have a specific transgender policy for students including allowing students who transitioned after they had graduated could apply to have their degree changed to their post-transition name and gender.
UWA Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Community and Engagement) Professor Kent Anderson said a number of hard-working staff at the university had helped break the silence around sexuality and gender diversity, heightening awareness and transforming the culture of the University.
“People should be able to go to work without hiding who they are,” Prof Anderson said.
“We are doing our best to spread the word, with UWA supporting more than 20 institutions across the Asia-Pacific region around LGBTI-inclusion.
“Our highest score ever reflects the passion of our Senior Diversity Officer Malcolm Fialho’s tireless work and dedication and the support of the LGBTI network and Allies.”
UWA also is one of the few universities which provides information for bisexual students and a specific student bisexual group. The UWA law society also has a queer portfolio, and holds events on the law and LGBTI issues.
University of Wollongong was also a top ranking university in the guide and its Chief Administrative Officer Melva Crouchs said it was a deliberate effort to always enhance our inclusive culture.
“Our approach spans the entire organisation, including both staff and students. Our strategy is focused on engaging people and building awareness,” the said.
“Our Wellbeing Centre, Queer Collective and Ally Network strive together to really make sure that Gender and Sexuality aren’t factors that differentiate us.”
A PHD candidate recently contacted the University of Queensland (UQ) who said they chose UQ for its positive website presence: “I searched through the UQ website and found something important to me – UQ had an active queer collective who, when I contacted them, told me about their efforts to improve the life of queer (LGBTI+) students on campus, and how accepting the university is.”
They also explained that there was a safe space on campus that queer students could use to relax and be themselves without being challenged for being too ‘flagrant’ or subverting gender norms. With this information, I applied to UQ”.
At the other end of the spectrum sits Notre Dame University which has campuses in Sydney, Fremantle and Broome and did not appear to have any LGBTI specific policies.
The Notre Dame Queer Collective (NDQC) is not recognised by the university and as such, does not have the benefit of affiliation with the Student Association.
“There are no facilities for us to book private rooms for meetings and we are expressly forbidden to advertise our meetings, events or online spaces to Notre Dame students,” said NDQC board member, Daniel Austin.
“As you might expect, this makes it impossible to offer a safe or private meeting space on campus, so all of our activities are currently conducted off-campus.
“At present the Vice Chancellor is seeking submissions on policies and practices which impact LGBTIQ students, but that process has stalled since March and its draft report is seven months late.”
Foy said the results of this year’s annual review of the Australian LGBTI University Guide have shown growth in commitment to supporting students from all walks of life, especially LGBTI people – but there is still some work to do.
“With this guide, we hope to support universities to become aware of how they can best support students as they transition from school to university in a way that supports personal development, and as young people begin to shape their identities as adult learners,” she said.