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EDITORIAL: How Rutgers can better support LGBTQ+ students

Rutgers needs to advertise and expand its existing resources, concerning housing, courses and medical care

Rutgers' Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities currently houses mental health services, community connections and medical care resources.  – Photo by ajay_suresh / Flickr

Rutgers has a loaded and devastating history with its LGBTQ+ students. In 2010, Rutgers first-year Tyler Clementi died by suicide after his roommate filmed him being intimate with another man without Clementi's permission and proceeded to share this video with others on campus.

Clementi learned of this via Twitter, realized his roommate was planning to commit a similar act yet again and took his own life. Following his death, the Tyler Clementi Foundation and Rutgers' Tyler Clementi Center for Diversity Education and Bias Prevention were founded, which focus on bullying prevention for LGBTQ+ youth and cultural competence, respectively.

It is clear that a sense of community can help queer students feel safer and more confident in their identity. As New Jersey has a significant transgender population of approximately 30,000, it is important to consider the concrete steps Rutgers can take to ensure that its LGBTQ+ students feel safe.

For example, Clementi allegedly requested a room change after his roommate blatantly violated his privacy. While Rutgers students can contact residence life staff for emergency room changes, there should be a separate process for room swap requests that concern discrimination and security.

A separate system would alert residence life personnel that the request specifically concerns prejudice, which would ideally result in faster response times and move endangered students to a safe living area as soon as possible.

In addition to this, Rutgers should consider expanding its LGBTQ+-affirming housing (Rainbow Perspectives). As of right now, this is provided on the Busch, Cook and Douglass campuses in the Buell apartments and New Gibbons residence hall, respectively.

But this housing is not open all year round. While it remains accessible over winter and spring breaks, it is important to consider that queer students may not be able to safely live at home over the summer.

It may be difficult to find the funding and staff required to keep LGBTQ+ housing open all year round, but it is something that Rutgers should consider offering its students for the sake of their safety.

Additionally, Gender Neutral Housing, in which people must request a specific roommate they know regardless of gender, can be found in any suite or apartment-style residence hall on all campuses but is restricted to returning students only.

This means that first-year students must make specific requests on their housing application or directly speak to a residence life staff member. While they are able to live in New Gibbons or Demarest residence hall on the College Avenue campus, these students may not have many housing options on other campuses.

Queer students should not be inconvenienced or put in a difficult situation in which they have to pick between a campus that is close to their classes or one that provides safe living space for them.

Additionally, education plays a huge role in creating a safer community. For example, Rutgers' Honors College just implemented a one-credit course requirement for its students called Cross-Cultural Competency, which helps students navigate cultural and ideological differences.

Notably, the creation of this course was advocated for by students with the idea of instilling values of equity and inclusion into the community. If students saw a need for this kind of education, Rutgers should consider making it a university-wide requirement instead of solely focusing on the cultural literacy of Honors College students.

On top of this, there is only an LGBTQ+ studies minor offered at the Rutgers-Newark campus. Rutgers needs to consider expanding this minor to its Camden and New Brunswick campuses and making it a major to encourage interdisciplinary learning that includes LGBTQ+ identity and history.

It is crucial to create this sense of inclusion on a college campus that houses a significant population of the LGBTQ+ community. It is important that New Jersey and Rutgers continue to provide and advertise the resources available to queer students both on campus and at the state level.

On campus, there are a variety of LGBTQ+ student clubs and organizations at Rutgers that queer students can join. And a new website launched by New Jersey's government enables transgender and non-binary people to locate resources offered to them. Common questions that can be answered on the website include changing one’s legal name as well as finding legal and mental health services.

And in the midst of a host of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, specifically those targeting medical care for transgender youth, spreading throughout the country, New Jersey this past week became a safe haven for all individuals seeking and receiving gender-affirming in the state.

Rutgers also houses the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, which includes health and wellness services, community resources, activist and advocacy opportunities and emergent resources. Standard insurance plans are also able to cover medical services, including but not limited to psychotherapy, hormone therapies and different surgeries.

Another medical resource that is important to emphasize is Robert Wood Johnson's Babs Siperstein PROUD Gender Center, which is committed to offering specialized services for transgender patients. Rutgers queer students should know that local medical services can provide them with hormone therapy and surgical procedures through the guidance of trained individuals.

In September of 2022, RWJ performed its first gender affirmation surgery for transgender women as 1 of the only 2 hospitals in NJ to provide "bottom surgery" to its transgender patients.

This is especially significant as LGBTQ+ medical care is under fire on a nation level. And specifically, given Rutgers' history with Clementi, it is imperative that the University and New Jersey always continue to invest in and support its queer student community.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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