‘Colleges haven’t given enough attention to LGBT+ people’: Interview with the Care+ campaign
‘We want to generate real change’
In light of LGBT+ history month, the SU’s LGBT+ Campaign have launched the Care+ campaign to better support LGBT+ students. The Tab Cambridge spoke to Campaign Officers of the LGBT+ campaign, Jamie and Rowan, about Care+, its aims and how students and staff can get involved:
‘Colleges haven’t given enough attention to LGBT+ and marginalised people’
The Care+ campaign is the culmination of a lengthy planning process, with Jamie telling the Tab that plans began “back in May” following the university’s response to the pandemic. A number of surveys focussing on the experiences of LGBT+ students had been conducted over the past year, which provided evidence that “colleges haven’t given enough attention to LGBT+ and marginalised people in decision processes.”
Many of the difficulties facing LGBT+ Cambridge students have been both highlighted and exacerbated during the pandemic, with Rowan telling us that the pandemic had “revealed underlying issues” within college systems. They pointed to the fact that during the first lockdown many LGBT+ students were “forced to return to houses where they were subject to homophobia and transphobia.”
They added that this is a result of assumptions within college policies about “who a Cambridge student is.” They said that college and university policies are based around the idea of a Cambridge student who “keeps term for eight weeks and then returns to their comfortable family home – when this isn’t the reality.” They add this results in a situation where students who are marginalised for any reason are left “at a huge disadvantage.”
Jamie said that these “results happening from March are recurring”, with many LGBT+ students being placed into a difficult situation as many “do not want to approach their tutors for help because they are not aware of the issues [faced by LGBT+ students] or don’t want be forced to provide lots of detail about their private lives.” Even for students who were able to return to Cambridge, Rowan pointed out that the lack of flexibility within household situations can create feelings of isolation for LGBT+ students.
Yet, Jamie stressed that these problems are “not just present but historical”, being a result of college systems. Based on both campaign research and their experiences, they see these as being structurally biased against the specific needs of LGBT+ and other marginalised students. They told the Tab “Our surveys have repeatedly shown that both the central and collegiate universities have fallen short of the standards of care students expect of them.”
Rowan agrees, saying that the disregard for LGBT+ students “can result in situations where colleges aren’t always a pleasant environment for members of the LGBT+ community.” The campaign’s November Care+ survey found that 26.6% of LGBT+ students found college “somewhat or wholly unsupportive” in finding accommodation in Michaelmas and 55% would not trust their household to support them if needed. They said this “represents a failure to ensure that LGBT+ students have safe and supportive working environments.”
‘We want to generate real change’
The Care+ campaign attempts to centre on these core issues within the college systems, in a way which can “generate real change.” Jamie told the Tab that during their time at Cambridge they have “seen the news and campaign cycle go around and around” but they “haven’t seen real change”. “I want to see something happen before I leave.”
Rowan elaborated on how this change could look in practice, saying that “whilst some of the changes might just be symbolic such as making a statement and recognising what has happened to the LGBT+ communities” the campaign aims to go beyond this to create policies which “explicitly accounts for marginalised people.”
They pointed out that whilst many of the campaign’s demands these might seem like “basic demands”, that “sometimes even basic things feel hard to achieve.”Jamie agreed, saying that college administrative structures meant that decision-making and instigating policy change is “slow, even for simple things like putting up the pride flag.”
‘We want to develop stronger communities which bridge student and staff divides’
The Care+ campaign focuses on overcoming some of these barriers through creating college networks, “linking up staff and students to mutually support each other.” Jamie said that conversations with the campaign’s allies, the [email protected] research group and the staff network, had shown that “LGBT+ student and staff experiences are not connecting because links don’t occur.”
They hope that through individual college campaigns people can “make links and develop stronger and more cohesive communities which bridge student and staff divides” which they see as being key to the longer-term success of the campaign.
Rowan agreed, adding that these communities – separate from LGBT+ officers on J/MCRs – are important since “student politics operates on a very short cycle” resulting in a “very short institutional memory. By connecting LGBT+ students with fellows and other staff, who remain in college for longer periods of time, the campaign hopes to increase continuity and facilitate more extensive changes.
This collaboration between LGBT+ students and staff has been key to the campaign throughout the planning process, with Rowan and Jamie crediting the work of LGBT+ staff, such as Sarah Franklin, the current chair of [email protected] and former Head of Sociology, for helping to advance the campaign. Jamie said having their support has been “amazing”, and that it has been “exciting to have this student-staff dynamic which we haven’t had before.”
‘Welfare systems are not built for marginalised people at all’
Another key aspect of the Care+ campaign is focused on reforms to the welfare systems in college. The campaign calls for welfare staff to “receive specific training to enable them to support LGBT+ students” which is “compulsory and paid.” They also hope to ensure that college policies “account explicitly for the specific vulnerabilities”, faced by both the LGBT+ community and other marginalised people.
Jamie expanded on the need for such policies, telling the Tab the importance of “having someone to speak to who has heard your experience and will understand.” They said that despite these roles being “positions of care”, many students “feel like their tutor doesn’t, won’t or can’t listen [to them] and understand” their situation. They feel this is “particularly acute for marginalised students.”
They said “welfare systems are not built for marginalised people at all”, which result in situations where “marginalised students are forced to advocate for themselves in a way that is draining.” Rowan said this was brought to light during the third lockdown, with disparities in colleges’ returns policy forcing some students to “write extensive sob stories accounting all of their trauma to their tutor just to be able to live where they need to.”
This is something the campaign is trying to overcome, by thinking about “who is filling these positions and how they’re trained.” They claimed that currently “training isn’t standardised, with some colleges not giving much training at all, if ever.” Rowan agreed, saying that the problems faced by “marginalised students would improve significantly if training was paid and compulsory.”
‘Intersectionality has to be at the heart of this campaign’
Whilst focussed on the issues faced by LGBT+ students in Cambridge, the Care+ campaign also hopes to focus on the experiences and difficulties faced by other marginalised students. Rowan told the Tab “intersectionality has to be at the heart of this campaign” to make sure the “system works for everyone”, not just certain sub-sections of the LGBT+ community.
They said that whilst many of the issues highlighted by the campaign “affect people if they’re marginalised in any way”, these are “only worse, and more heavily impacted if you have multiple intersecting positions.” By focusing on these intersections, they believe it “highlights where the work needs to be done.”
Jamie agreed, telling the Tab the campaign is “more than just inclusion, and it’s more than just accommodation, it’s about removing the things that separate people.” They pointed out “the LGBT+ community in Cambridge is not singular, there are so many different experiences and without accounting for that and celebrating the diversity of LGBT+ experience you can’t move to change.
“You need to think about who is absent in your community and work towards rectifying it.”
‘Use your position as an ally’
In advocating for better support of LGBT+ students within colleges and the university, Jamie and Rowan stressed the importance of allyship in this campaign, and in LGBT+ activism more generally, stressing the importance of “us[ing] your position as an ally.”
Rowan explained that pushing for change involves “pernicious emotional labour, faced not just by LGBT+ students but other marginalised groups, such as disabled students, as they have to go massively out of the way to advocate for themselves.”
Jamie agreed, saying that allies can play a role in advocating for their LGBT+ peers, since “they might have more energy to do so” and so can help to support the campaign’s aims, as well as creating an atmosphere of solidarity within colleges which can help instigate changes by displayed a unified message from the whole college community.
Rowan added that since there are “concrete changes colleges can make” to better support LGBT+ and other marginalised students, all students can “get involved with campaigning for these changes”, whether that’s helping to push motions through JCRs or speaking to college members.
‘I hope we genuinely move things forward’
Looking beyond the immediate aims of the campaign, Jamie and Rowan spoke about their hopes for the future, with Rowan saying they “hope things are easier in the future” and that “in five years time, there isn’t someone else sitting here contending with the same issues now.
“I hope we genuinely move things forward so other people can do campaigns which are better and more exciting and aren’t bogged down with all of this”
Jamie agreed, adding that they hope that the campaign can forge stronger LGBT+ communities within colleges, for example with established LGBT+ societies. They said this would mean “even if no policy gets done this would mean the campaign can keep on growing.” They see this as something which is particularly important at the moment, as the pandemic has damaged opportunities for LGBT+ students to meet and form a sense of community.
To finish with, Jamie emphasised the need for the campaign to take a multi-stranded approach in order to reach as many students as possible. They said that when thinking about issues faced by LGBT+ Cambridge students “there is not ever one solution — it’s ongoing.”
For people looking to get involved with the Care+ Campaign, you can join a campaign within your college or get in touch with the SU LGBT+ Campaign for help in setting a campaign up at [email protected] or via their Facebook page.
When approached for comment, a spokesperson from the University said “We note from the Big LGBT+ Survey that 90% of respondents felt their College, and 86% felt the University as a whole, provided a safe space.
“This is encouraging, but we are far from complacent in our efforts to ensure the concerns of LGBT+ students are listened to, and addressed.
“Student representatives are actively involved in discussions across the Collegiate University to ensure living and working environments remain safe and inclusive for all.”