Not enough stories are told of how daunting the thought of venturing into the university space can be. I remember the gut-wrenching feeling of pondering nervously over how university was going to be.
There were episodes of depression as I contemplated whether I will find my secure footing on the cold and unfamiliar corridors of the university jungle. I was tormented by a gnawing fear of being outed – I remember the callously phrased headline in one of the local papers about a gay couple that was “caught in the act” by the hostel warden. Instead of the adrenaline rush that accompanies the sense of freedom, the excitement over late night Fridays at the bar and maybe the salivating prospect of stolen kisses during mass lectures – I was suddenly self-conscious and worried over whether my t-shirts would be too bright or my jeans too tight. I was apprehensive over whether I wouldn’t be the awkward novice with a sissy and gawky walk who everyone would giggle and gossip about in hushed tones. For many, university is a space to shine – for me, there wasn’t a rock big enough to crawl under. I remember the nauseating smell of fresh ink on the curled-up flyer which had an invitation to a queer forum that my university was going to be hosting. I could not believe such a platform was possible, weren’t we a state-run university? Was I going to be safe attending this? Over the following forums that I attended, I was not only safe, I also got to discover LGBTIQ+ friends on campus. A revived and vibrant social life rescued my plummeting self-esteem and I was able to slowly crawl from underneath that existential rock. While the queer forums were invaluable in facilitating dialogue and spotlighting queer experiences within the university space, they were also therapeutic, allowing me to rediscover my spark. One forum at a time, the feeling of being alone slowly died away. I even met my prince charming in one of the forums – we are celebrating our second year anniversary soon. I know there is still a lot to do in making me feel safe on campus, but it was heartwarming to attend a guest lecture by the Director of SRC, a local LGBTIQ+ organization, which emphasized the need to create inclusive tertiary learning spaces, the wheels are gradually turning I guess. Last year I participated in an academic research symposium which drew a fervent dialogue on broadening academic horizons so that research highlights the lived realities of LGBTIQ+ students within universities and broadly across all walks of life. It is in participating in such platforms that I feel recognized and dignified as issues that embody my individual experiences contribute to the generation of knowledge on queer lives. I am optimistic that inclusion within universities is possible. I have journeyed through an academic and personal transformation and where in the beginning there was a bleak expanse before me – the PRIDE project has created possibilities and opportunities for me to discover myself, hatch out of my cocoon, spread my wings and embark on a flight onto broader academic horizons. I believe every LGBTIQ+ student at some point in the beginning of their university journey ponders over their safety, over what the lecturers will think of them and some of them instantly feel left out by the enrolment form that leaves out their gender. It is honestly a stressful and daunting time, but the PRIDE project has cushioned my experience. There is a modest feeling of safety, of inclusion and recognition and it is my solemn wish that the more is done to make universities more safe and inclusive. Everyone, despite their background, ability, gender, sexual identity and orientation deserves to feel safe in university and to freely express themselves while exploring their academic journey. The PRIDE project has done a lot, but it has even much more to do!