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social sciences

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Colleges and Universities  
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While a number of colleges and universities provide support to their glbtq students, staff, and faculty today, institutions of higher education were initially slow to respond to the needs of glbtq people on campus. But persistent advocacy from the glbtq community and heterosexual allies led schools to change institutional policies to be inclusive, establish glbtq centers and studies programs, and recognize glbtq people in programming and services.

Students, staff, and faculty argue that colleges and universities can still do a lot more to be welcoming to members of the glbtq community, but progress continues to be made.

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Until the late 1960s, homosexuality, as a sign of immoral behavior or psychiatric disorder, was often a reason for expulsion from colleges and universities. While homosexuality can still be grounds for dismissal or denial of a diploma at some religiously-affiliated schools, most institutions of higher learning in the United States are more welcoming of glbtq students.

The first gay student organizations were established in the late 1960s, and informal and underground social networks have existed on many campuses since at least the turn of the twentieth century. But most colleges and universities did not readily seek to serve the needs of this population.

On the contrary, more than 25 public and private institutions refused to recognize their gay student organizations until forced to do so by political pressure or legal action. (The legislature of the state of Alabama even passed a law--subsequently ruled unconstitutional by a federal court--prohibiting state institutions, including the University of Alabama, from recognizing gay student organizations.)

Even today, especially in conservative areas, gay student organizations are sometimes subject to various kinds of harassment. Student governments sometimes refuse to recognize or to fund their activities; often their posters are destroyed or defaced; frequently, students are reluctant to attend meetings for fear of confrontations with members of religious groups or other .

Notwithstanding the historical and continuing resistance to gay student organizations at many institutions, however, the glbtq student movement has been a great success story. The gay groups have enabled glbtq students to develop a sense of community, to deal with issues of coming out, and to explore glbtq history, culture, and politics. The student movement has been a significant part of the larger movement for glbtq equality.

The first university to provide specific support services to its lesbian, gay, and bisexual students was the University of Michigan, which hired two part-time "human sexuality advocates" in 1971 in response to demands from students, including members of the campus Gay Liberation Front.

It was more than a decade, however, before another school created an administrative position focused on the concerns of glbtq students, and only five institutions had established a professionally staffed glbtq center or office by 1990. But in the 1990s, as lesbian and gay students became more visible on campuses throughout the country and organized to have their needs met, a significant number of schools began to provide administrative support to members of the community.

As of 2006, more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities have established glbtq centers or offices with at least a half-time paid director, and others are in the process of doing so. Administrators working in glbtq student services formed their own organization, the National Consortium of Directors of LGBT Resources in Higher Education, in 1997.

LGBT Studies Programs

The establishment of LGBT or studies programs has followed a similar pattern. While "homosexuality" has long been a subject of classroom discussion, colleges and universities did not begin to offer courses specifically focused on the lives of glbtq people until the early 1970s.

At some schools, the introduction of courses was impeded by conservative administrators and faculty members who questioned their legitimacy and academic rigor. But as scholarly research in LGBT Studies steadily increased in the 1970s and 1980s, challenges to its worthiness as an area of study waned, and more and more courses were developed based on the growing body of literature in the field.

By the 1990s, institutions with an extensive number of LGBT courses began to offer a program of study. The first Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Studies department was established at the City College of San Francisco in 1989; other early programs included the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York and the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale University.

In addition to the City College of San Francisco, other schools that offer an undergraduate degree in LGBT studies or gender/sexuality studies include Amherst College, Brown University, Carleton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Indiana University, New York University, and Rice University. An even greater number of colleges and universities offer a minor, certificate, or concentration in the field.

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