“You’re a fucking gay cunt.” It’s 2am and Alex* has been woken up by one of his flatmates banging violently on his door. “You’re a bastard. You’re a poof.” Alex is not alone. In a survey conducted by Impact, 491 students told us their stories of homophobic abuse in the University’s halls of residence. The following article reveals the disturbing results.
Two thirds of Nottingham students have witnessed homophobic abuse in halls over the past year and anti-gay bullying has noticeably risen since 2010. By comparing our results with a survey conducted by the Students’ Union two years ago, we discovered that 27% of LGBT students had personally experienced discrimination – a 4% increase from the previous study.
65% of students have witnessed an act of homophobia in Nottingham in 2012
Eight out of ten students claimed to have encountered homophobic slurs while in University halls of residence. One student told Impact that “negative LGBT language creates a culture in which being gay is implicitly bad. It can be very alienating”.
Another student said that he was “sick and tired” of hearing gay slurs in halls. He explained, “[In halls] the very idea that a person could be gay is considered wrong. Imagine how you would feel if who you were was used as an insult?”
The bigotry on display in Nottingham’s halls has forced many LGBT students into silence. A third of gay students apparently felt “uncomfortable” being open about their sexuality while in catered accommodation, a 12% increase from 2010.
A quarter of LGBT students have personally experienced discrimination
A source says, “I am reluctant to be open about my sexuality in halls – I fear what should happen should I ‘come out’ to certain residents.”
The results, described as “shameful” by LGBT Officer Charlotte ‘Bez’ Bezant, show that anti-gay discrimination remains a problem in university halls of residence. In response to Impact’s findings, Bezant insisted that the LGBT Network is working to “campaign against homophobic language and behaviour on campus” and improve diversity training for hall staff.
In addition to this data, our team was overwhelmed by the number of students who came forward to offer their own personal experiences – which provided a bleak insight into the discriminatory culture within Nottingham’s halls of residence.
One source alleged that, during Week One activities in halls, homophobic jeering was actively encouraged by the reps. During a Blind Date social, “men were made to dress up as women and then publicly humiliated. How would a young transgender student expect to respond to that?”
80% of students have encountered homophobic language in halls (75% in 2010)
Another reported that a group of male students were “incredibly averse” to attending a Freshers’ event held at a gay bar – despite the fact it was not a gay night. “They made derogatory comments,” says the informant, “and thanked each other for the ‘heads up’ so they knew to stay away from that event”.
Furthermore, half of the students who answered our survey believed that homophobic hall chants would be considered “highly offensive” to LGBT students. One student told Impact that his Week One reps tried to cover up the use of the chant after a series of unofficial complaints, although “it still did continue among some students even after Week One”.
The Christian Union also came under fire by students, who accused them of spreading a homophobic message in halls. “I overheard a CU rep saying that homosexuality is a sin that could be cured,” says the anonymous Fresher. “I am highly concerned about [their] presence in halls – especially considering there aren’t any representatives for other religions offering an alternative viewpoint”.
Impact presented this testimony to the CU President Roger Doxat-Pratt, who issued a statement saying that the organisation “is against discrimination on any grounds. CU reps volunteer to remain in halls for a second year to help students settle into university life and are not affiliated with the hall management”.
Half of students are offended by homophobic hall chants
“We would certainly welcome other faith societies to have a greater voice within the hall system”.
Contrary to our damning findings, students are still convinced that university halls are less hostile to LGBT students than two years ago. 72% responded that their hall was “tolerant or understanding” of LGBT persons, compared to just 60% in the Students’ Union survey from 2010.
LGBT Publicity and Outreach Officer Sam Sherratt blasted these figures in a statement, saying: “It may be convenient to blame vicious language and violent behaviour on a few unnamed individuals – but part of the problem seems to be the discrepancy between the discrimination witnessed by many non-LGBT students and their belief that campus still remains a tolerant environment.”
Furthermore, some of our sources have suggested that Nottingham’s predominantly middle-class student body is responsible for this. “I guess it’s not a massive surprise to find bigotry here – the student body is about as representative as the fucking Queen!”
20% of heterosexual students have been victims of homophobic violence or insults
Even the LGBT Network, which aims to offer a support base for all students, has been accused of failing its members. “My only mildly homophobic experience during uni was from the LGBT Network themselves!” says one insider. “Cliquey, unsupportive to those of us who don’t define as LGBT or don’t like going out to NG1, and frankly heterophobic toward the straight friends I brought with me – halls was a far more welcoming place”.
LGBT Officer Bezant responded to this charge, saying: “While we had problems with being perceived as cliquey in the past we want to confirm that everyone on and off committee works hard to be welcoming to all members and our socials are varied to suit the diverse interests of our students.
“We’ve had lots of positive comments this year about how people at home feel, and don’t want anyone to be discouraged from getting involved.”
In an exclusive interview with Impact, hall tutor John Coffield explained that an increasingly narrow-minded culture has contributed to the recent spike in homophobia rates. “When you have hundreds of 18-year-olds that have just finished school and you put them in a very closed environment, many tend to group together into familiar cliques.
“Rather than expanding their tolerance of others, they get locked into another year of the same laddish, closed-off and intolerant behaviour they could get away with at school and completely ignore the racial, gender and sexual diversity around them.”
A third of students felt “uncomfortable” being open about their sexuality in halls (A quarter in 2010)
He continues, “I say ‘lad’ because it is almost invariably this group which are guilty of homophobia above other groups.”
Coffield went on to state that if an incident of homophobia was reported to hall staff, he firmly believes that it would be dealt with in a serious fashion. However, our research revealed that over half of Nottingham students believe
homophobia is not considered a serious disciplinary offence. Furthermore, 41% say that university staff lack sufficient knowledge of LGBT issues.
Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer Mike Dore also expressed concerns over the “disheartening” statistics and promised to push “equality and diversity issues in our JCR training.”
He added: “The Students’ Union does not tolerate harassment or bullying of any form and should any student experience this – I would advise them to speak to a member of the Student’s Union Exec team as we have a full complaints procedure.”
Dore, who pledged more LGBT campaigns in his 2012 SU election manifesto, praised Impact for bringing this vital issue to the SU’s attention and said that the thought of any student experiencing discrimination at Nottingham was “upsetting”.
Impact reached out to leading gay rights charity Stonewall with our findings, however they refused to comment.
*Pseudonyms have been used in this article to protect the sources’ identities.
Rosie Feenstra, Sarah Murphy, Rebecca Scott & Izzy Scrimshire