When you arrive on campus, you are likely to encounter students who have different views, lifestyles, and values than your own. Everyone has a right to feel safe and comfortable on campus, but not all people are as respectful of others’ beliefs as they should be. While it’s okay to disagree, remember that others are allowed to have opinions and views just as much as you are, provided hateful behaviors don’t become systematic, result in bullying, or endanger the physical safety of others. Practicing tolerance and understanding will result in a more cohesive campus community, but if you ever feel that you are in danger or being discriminated against, consider taking action.
Whether a disability or impairment is physical or mental, visible or invisible, you will likely encounter students with disabilities on campus. Typically, these students can do things for themselves, and want to be treated normally by their peers and professors. Don’t stare, ask what’s wrong with someone, or treat them as an inspiration simply for living their life. Talk to them like you would anyone else—after all, they’re a person, not a disability. Although it’s okay to ask someone if they want help, it’s important to respect their answer; they know when they need help and will tell you so.
In 2015, Channel 4 and Scope partnered to produce a series of short videos, entitled What Not To Do, that addresses the awkwardness some people feel around individuals with disabilities. If you’re worried about potential interactions and wanting to behave right, the videos might be a good starting point. As with any interaction, however, it’s as simple as treating others the way you want to be treated.
Unfortunately, racism happens every day. White people call the police on African Americans in public spaces without reason. Law enforcement officials seem inclined to treat black people with less respect and more force than they would white people. People of all colors are asked “What are you?” with respect to their skin and ethnicity. Even on a campus with a large percentage of minority students, some individuals may treat those of other races differently. This could take many forms: associating only with students of a particular race or ethnicity, not associating with any students of a particular race or ethnicity, or something different entirely. While these actions are certainly rude, it is not illegal for individuals to avoid certain people and it’s not illegal for people to dislike others based on the color of their skin. What is potentially illegal, however, is for administrators or those in positions of power on campus to discriminate against any student on the basis of race or ethnicity. Hate crimes of any sort, perpetrated by any person, are against the law and can be prosecuted.
While affirmative action, a measure intended to help minority students attend college at higher rates, does allow schools to use race as a factor in admissions decisions, your race should not be a factor in anything else concerning your education. If you feel that you are being discriminated against because of your race or ethnicity, you are within your rights to file a complaint with your school or the Office of Civil Rights.
Attitudes about Sex
Our views about sex and sexuality are often shaped by our upbringing, personal values, and community. At college, you will meet people who are more open about their sexuality than you are, and those whose views are more conservative. You do not have to participate in any practices that you are uncomfortable with, from changing in public in the gym’s locker room to engaging in casual sex, but you also cannot affect the decisions of your peers.
Always get and give consent before beginning a sexual encounter. Consent isn’t just something for women, and it isn’t just something that applies to heterosexual relationships. All participants in a sexual encounter, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation, must consent for the encounter to occur. Rather than “no means no,” most colleges subscribe to the view that “yes means yes.” Seek an enthusiastic affirmative from your partner(s); sexual encounters that occur without consent (and remember that consent cannot be given if drugs or alcohol are involved) are considered sexual assault.
Whether for religious, political, or personal reasons, some individuals disagree with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide and believe that individuals with LGBT+ identities are acting unnatural. In 2017, nearly two-thirds of Americans (62%) believed that two individuals of the same sex should be allowed to marry. However, there is little consensus about transgender rights, and what consensus there is varies by political party. It goes without saying, then, that no matter where you go to school, you’re likely to encounter people who have different views on LGBT+ rights and identities than you. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when opinions become outspoken to the point of harassment, assault, or bullying, it should be reported.
If you attend a college that is affiliated with a particular religion, don’t be surprised if you’re required to take a religion class or if many of your classmates regularly attend services. Not all religiously-affiliated colleges are religious, though. Some religious ties are historical, and though there may be a religious studies program, campus ministry, and a church or chapel on campus, that doesn’t mean that you have to have a certain set of beliefs to attend. It is illegal for public colleges and universities to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their religious beliefs. Private colleges and universities, however, are given more leeway since they are not subject to the same anti-discrimination laws.
It is your choice to share your religious beliefs with your peers. Some students may announce their religious beliefs nonverbally, by dressing in a certain way (wearing a hijab or kipa, for example) or not eating certain foods. Others may join a campus ministry affiliated with their religion or attend regular services. By being open, you may find a group of like-minded individuals. You may also find those who disagree and are outspoken about it. Be respectful of students who practice other religions or practice no religion. Their form(s) of worship or lack thereof are not a personal attack against you or your religion.
It goes without saying that the United States is politically divided. The split between liberal and conservative parties widens and shrinks over time, but one of the consequences of a two-party system is that the country is always going to be split on certain issues. Like any other opinions, political views vary from person to person and in levels of extremity. When interacting with your peers, you’ll notice a range of political views, and you’ll notice some that you inherently disagree with. It’s one thing to engage in conversation about politics with your peers, but another to get into shouting matches about women’s rights and affirmative action. Be respectful of everyone’s right to an opinion, even if you don’t agree.
Although low-income students have a harder time affording college than their wealthier peers, students from all socioeconomic levels come together on campus. Rather than judging others based on their perceived wealth or lack thereof, remember that everyone has their own challenges in life. What a classmate choose to wear or whether a classmate chooses to work has little effect on you. Students with financial aid packages are just as smart as those who didn’t receive any grants or loans; the college wouldn’t have accepted any student who didn’t deserve to attend.
Page last updated: 07/2018