TW: Mentions and description of queerphobic bullying
Universities across the country have begun to reopen for in-person classes, which means that students have started returning to their campuses. Social media is abuzz with pictures of everybody’s first day back in class and stories of newfound independence. However, college doesn’t look the same for everyone.
“I am scared of going back,” said a 4th year student at a law school when asked what they think about their university reopening. Akanksh* is a 21-year-old gay man pursuing their degree from a college in a small town. While describing their first and second year in the college she says “It was full of harassment and bullying. I was still presenting as a gay guy back then. I was constantly cornered and groped. People used to call me names like ‘chakka’. This one time I was forced to dress in makeup and dance in front of the whole boys’ hostel.” recalls Akanksh. “When I went to college for the first time I expected it to be an opportunity where I could come out as who I was and do regular college things, you know? Go out with people and find my little college romance. Instead my college experience forced me to go further back into my shell. I stopped going out of my room or talking to people. I kept to myself. Honestly, the lockdown was a blessing for me. I felt safe at home despite not being out. I found online communities to engage with and I had those tiny things that I had wanted, at least for a brief period of time. College reopening is a nightmare for me. I cannot imagine having to go through the humiliation and pain again. All of my classmates are happy and celebrating and I just want to disappear into thin air.”
Akanksh is not the only student with this problem. Many queer students in small towns face similar issues with respect to returning to campuses. Their college experience is riddled with abuse, bullying, and humiliation. They cannot approach the administration for complaints because they know that they’d either be met with apathy or hostility. Most colleges still don’t see queerphobia as a serious issue that solicits a response.
Many trans students are also apprehensive about going back to campuses. The reasons range from something as basic as them not being assigned the correct hostels based on their gender to extreme abuse and harassment at the hands of their peers and, sometimes, also teachers.
This is not just an issue with campuses in smaller towns; a student in HCU revealed stories of administrative neglect. “A transgender sub committee was formed by the administration to suggest changes to better accommodate us on campus. The subcommittee suggested what we had been urging for – creation of gender-neutral hostels and washrooms. The administration rejected the suggestion and passed a circular saying it had done so to ‘not cause a disturbance in discipline’ of the hostel spaces.” When asked how they feel about returning to the campus and the hostel they said: “Returning would have to mean that I have to stay in a boys hostel. That would not only trigger my dysphoria but could also be potentially violent for me. It makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable.”
Another non-binary student in a separate Hyderabad campus feels the same way about returning. “The college apparently has this rule that people have to be in their own building after curfew. But lots of people go to their friend’s building (same gender) and spend the night there. I did that once and they told me not to do it again. I feel like they started implementing the rule more strictly after I did it.” When asked if xe think it’s because of xem being queer, xe responded saying that it was possible.
Something to be noted here is that across these 3 campuses, only HCU had a transgender sub committee and even there, the subcommittee had no power over administrative decisions. This reveals administration’s fundamental mistrust of queer people. Queer people are not seen as individuals trying to lead a life in accordance with what makes them feel comfortable but as trespassers in the university space who must be treated with suspicion and scrutinised constantly to ensure ‘safety’ and ‘order’ on campus.
This forces us to question if forcing everyone to go back to campuses is even safe when the campuses are clearly not prepared to host students. Currently, a miniscule number of campuses have gender-neutral hostels and washrooms. This is 8 years after the NALSA judgment, which called for creation of gender neutral spaces across universities. Most of these campuses are also casteist and inaccessible to a large demographic of the country, by design. Several campuses do not even have a student’s collective to provide a platform to voice the concerns of queer students, let alone an administrative body formed to address complaints systemically. With colleges returning to offline mode, going back to campus is a re-traumatizing event for several queer students whose abusers roam free in the university space. This gets even more daunting when you consider that most of these students also face abuse at home.
Queer students in the country still remain in a limbo where they have to pick one sort of abuse over the other in order to go on with their lives.