Support for Gay Freshmen

November/December 2002

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When freshman and transfer students opened their registration packets at Orientation this fall, each found a CD-ROM package listing welcome events for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (collectively described as LGBT). Those who popped the disks into their computers were invited to choose from folk, hip-hop and techno soundtracks, then given a virtual tour of Stanford’s LGBT Community Resources Center.

Why the CD? “The only way we could make students who need resources aware of what we have to offer was to make the entire incoming class aware,” says center director Ben Davidson. “The majority of our constituency is closeted or questioning.”

But that may be changing. “The age at which people are coming out is getting lower and lower,” he says (one estimate is that the median age is between 15 and 17). “Universities across the country are seeing more admitted freshmen who have been out in high school.” And Stanford, like other universities competing for a talented pool of students, is taking steps to reach this growing population. Last May, the University joined more than 40 institutions, including Harvard, Yale and Brown, at the nation’s first college fair for gay high schoolers. The Boston fair, which drew 2,000 students, “was absolutely something Stanford wanted to participate in,” says Marcela Muñiz, ’97, an assistant dean of undergraduate admission.

Once LGBT students arrive on campus, the center works hard to support them. This fall, a new academic and advising program included a workshop at which frosh met openly gay faculty and heard about the research graduate students are doing in LGBT studies. Winter quarter workshops will address tougher issues—dealing with depression and anxiety, and finding financial aid for those who are disowned by their parents when they come out.

“The bulk of our students are struggling to find a place for themselves, to feel accepted, to feel part of a social network,” Davidson says. “What they want, instead of [just] events or speakers, is concrete support as they negotiate challenging academic and social terrain.”

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