Emily Frood: 'We need our universities to be safe spaces for all students'

Emily Frood: 'We need our universities to be safe spaces for all students'

Queen Margaret University equality and diversity officer discusses how our educational establishments can become more inclusive

Heading to university for the first time is tricky for everyone, what with navigating new friendships, figuring out the best shortcuts across campus and learning how to cook pasta for every meal. But for LGBTQ+ students, the move can be even more challenging as they get to grips with a new community, finding safe spaces to socialise and date and still try to make it to lectures on time.

Universities and colleges are aware that their LGBTQ+ students may need specific support. Nearly every university in Scotland has an LGBTQ+ society as well as welfare officers and student reps who are trained to support LGBTQ+ students. Emily Frood, a student at Queen Margaret University (QMU) is the equality and diversity officer for the university's student union and understands from her own experience the need for universities to offer support to LGBTQ+ students.

'Everyone starts university at the same point,' Emily tells us. 'As a trans student, I knew that I wanted to get coming out out of the way before arriving at university so I could figure out how I could fit into student life and where could support me. I was heavily invested in making sure the university I was going to and the kind of services that were there were going to be okay and supportive.'

Doing some research, Emily discovered that QMU offered support for LGBTQ+ students through the university's welfare services as well as socialising. 'QMU has an LGBTQ+ society who meet weekly from the beginning of term for anyone who wants to chill and get to know people in a more social setting rather than going out into LGBTQ+ club spaces.

'Personally, when I started university, I wasn't much of a going out person. There are plenty of non-alcohol spaces where you can make friends and, through the university and the union, I was able to flourish and find those spaces. The university puts out a freshers guide every year and we update that with an LGBTQ+ map highlighting some of the more social spaces in the centre of Edinburgh and useful information and contact info for society reps as well.'

As well as signposting social spots, QMU has drop-in counselling services and facilitates getting students the right kind of support. 'In the students' union, we try and help students feel included in student environments and advertise the LGBTQ+ society as a preventative service, supporting students before they have to go to the university's "higher up" services.'

As diversity officer, Emily has been spearheading a campaign for QMU's campus to be more accessible to LGBTQ+ students. 'Gender neutral bathrooms has been an ongoing discussion with the university. It's something that my predecessor had kick-started so it's been a year or two that we've been pushing for [it].

'Ultimately, QMU is fairly committed to making the campus as safe a space as possible for all students,' Emily continues. 'Every February we've had a flag raised for LGBTQ+ History Month which is nice and an event where heads of departments and staff come down and speak and it's been a really nice atmosphere. We've made a real effort to try and connect with people, especially if they aren't members of the society because there's always going to be students we miss so we really want to try and keep up the inclusion all year round. I'm also hoping to get a trans flag put up in November for Trans Day of Remembrance.'

Emily is optimistic that Scottish universities are becoming more inclusive and hopes that support continues to increase for LGBTQ+ students. 'It's understanding the issues facing LGBTQ+ students and ensuring we feel welcome and can come to staff with often difficult and sensitive questions or issues that need rectifying. If universities don't provide this, students are going to hide away and keep that to themselves. We need our universities to be safe spaces for all students.'

For more information about LGBTQ+ resources and groups in Scotland, check out lgbtyouth.org.uk and equality-network.org