Your College Identity
The first year of college is your big chance to focus
on those personal qualities you’ve always wanted to refine, or to
give yourself a whole new identity. You’re also going to experience a
lot of personal freedom: you’ll get to wear what you want and you’ll
even get to argue with your teachers without fear of punishment.
In fact, debate is encouraged.
Challenging your thinking is what college is all about.
No matter where you’re enrolled or what you major in, college will
challenge your worldview and personal values on every level, thus
transforming your identity.
We are not necessarily saying that you’re going to become
a whole new person or that you’re going to abandon everything you’ve
ever believed in. If you have strong convictions when you enter
college, critical thinking won’t require you to change your mind.
Being critical of what you see and hear means pondering ideas in
new ways and allowing that experience to enrich the way you already
think. As your knowledge and experience of the outer world expands,
your inner world expands too.
Beyond learning about Asian art, organic chemistry, and women’s
history in college, you will learn a lot about the world through
the people you meet. You’ll have new friends, roommates, classmates,
and professors who come from different socioeconomic groups, religions,
ethnicities, and sexual orientations. In discovering your differences
and commonalities with others, you’ll sharpen your own identity.
Your ethnicity includes your heritage, culture, history,
and rituals. Many applications and forms have little boxes where you
are asked to check your ethnicity: which box do you check? Do you
leave this section blank? On a very basic level, that’s how you
If you want to learn more about your own ethnic background,
or if you just want to bond with other students from a background
that’s similar to yours, check out some of the student associations
on campus. On most campuses you’ll find Asian/Pacific Islander,
Latino/Latina, African American, and Native American student associations,
among many others.
If you have strong religious convictions, there’s no reason why
you can’t continue to practice religion in college. Nearly all colleges
have resources that direct students to their local church, synagogue,
or mosque, and many schools have these institutions right on campus.
The office of student life will be able to direct you to student
clubs and associations such as the Jewish Student Association (often
called Hillel), the Catholic Student Association, and the Islamic
Maybe you were never religious to begin with, but you’ve decided
that now is the time to explore spirituality. Religious or meditative
disciplines may give you the strength to develop your personal identity.
If you’re interested in learning about a religion, attend some on-campus
religious services: you will certainly be welcome. Many campuses
also have opportunities to get involved in Buddhist meditation,
drum circles, and martial arts. If your school doesn’t seem to offer
anything that interests you, keep an eye out for flyers that announce bible
studies, group meditation, and yoga. Remember, you can be spiritual
without being religious.
A lot of college students don’t really know who they are
or what they like when they get to college. There’s a lot of pressure
in most high schools to fit in and be uniform. This means that a
lot of gay teenagers have to “play straight” for years. Perhaps
they’re afraid to tell their family and friends, and perhaps they’re
afraid to admit their sexual orientation to themselves.
In college, these restrictions disappear. There are many openly
gay students and faculty on campus, which creates an instant community
for students who are coming out. If you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual,
or transgendered/transsexual student, seek out your school’s LGBT
association. Some large universities and liberal arts colleges also
offer courses on gay and lesbian literature and history. If you’re
questioning your sexual orientation, you’ll always be welcome at
any LGBT event on campus. You can also go there if you’re heterosexual and
“gay friendly”—straight but not narrow.
Experimenting with sexuality is common in college. Straight kids
of the same sex may get together and gay kids may hook up with the
opposite sex, to see what it’s like. People figure out who they
are regardless of their experiences. You don’t have to label yourself:
just be sure to be yourself and only do what feels comfortable for
Tips for Coming Out
- Don’t be surprised if the person you’re coming out to already
knows, or has suspected, your sexual orientation.
- It’s better to come out to people privately than to blurt
out your sexual identity to a large group.
- Prepare yourself for questions about your sexuality.
- Think about your motives for coming out to this person. Are
you hoping that this person will better understand you? Are you
afraid that they will hear about your sexual identity from another
source? Do you want to let them know up front so you won’t have
to use ambiguous phrases like my friend or my partner or them and
they instead of him or her?
- Think about the moment ahead of time. For example, if you’re
coming out to a roommate you might want to say, “I want to tell
you upfront that I’m gay. I want to know if this is going to affect
us as roommates.”
- Understand that your new friend or roommate may not accept
you right away, if ever. If you feel that your living arrangement
won’t work out, go immediately to your RAs and let them know what’s
- Don’t be drunk or high when you come out, and don’t come
out to people who are drunk or high.
- Give people time to process the information. Don’t expect the
“right” reaction right away.
- Don’t blurt out the news at odd times (e.g., while you’re driving
a car, in the middle of a silent candlelight vigil, while cliff
- Remember that you have the right to leave a situation
if you feel offended by someone’s reaction.
What to Do When Friends Come Out to You
- Don’t assume they are hitting on you (don’t flatter yourself!).
Just like straight people aren’t attracted to most people of the
opposite sex, gay people aren’t necessarily attracted to you just
because you’re the same sex, either.
- Take it as a compliment. If someone is coming out to you, it
means that they value your friendship and think you’re trustworthy
- Don’t act calmly and tell them they have your support
and then run across the hall to gossip with excitement.
- Ask them if it’s OK if you “out” them in discussions with others.
If they say no, respect their wishes.
- Don’t be judgmental. If you have strong beliefs that everyone
should be straight, wait before discussing them. Tell your friend
that you don’t know what to say, and that you need time to think
things over. Respond only after careful thought.
- If you’re unsure what to say, learn about gay issues before you
discuss the situation with your friend.
- If your friend is transgendered or transsexual, ask which pronoun
they prefer when speaking to and about them.
- If your friend is transsexual, do not ask about their physiology
or how they have sex.
- Talk to your friends more frequently than you did before,
to affirm that you really do care about them and accept them. Coming
out can be scary.
- If your friends are afraid of violence directed toward
them now that they are out, don’t dismiss your friend’s fear. Gay,
lesbian, and transgendered people do experience discrimination.
Instead, let them know that you are there for personal support.