Transgender/Transitioning/LGBT at Furman Update

A little over a year ago, I posted a thread about my concerns about Furman’s limited information on transgender support and the various worries I had about attending the college as a result. Since I’ve now been at Furman for a year, I feel like I have enough experience as a student to give incoming/interested students an informed look at how Furman treats their LGBT students, as well as some words of advice.

Since this is a very long post, here’s a TL;DR: Furman as an institution is very hands-off in regards to LGBT issues, providing little direct support and instead leaving it up to students to navigate things. The students are mostly indifferent, with vocal minorities on both ends of the spectrum. So long as you know the right people and have outside support, you should be okay. Having thicker skin helps a ton, though.

Now, for the essay:

Furman as an institution doesn’t publicize their resources for LGBT students, instead touting their “accepting environment” and not doing much else. This makes sense, as Furman is embarrassingly lacking in terms of available resources to LGBT students. I had to blindly jump through multiple hurdles to get into a safe housing situation, which resulted in the housing staff outing me to my family without my consent. I’d recommend talking to Student Life and SOAR before you do anything, as most other departments are clueless in how to safely handle trans students’ concerns without their hand being held. Furman, however, doesn’t give LGBT students any information regarding how resources like Student Life and SOAR can be beneficial to them, which is very infuriating. I never bothered with Furman’s Title IX department, but between an incident I’ll touch on later and the general consensus I’ve heard around campus, it’s more of the same inaction and ambivalence to students.

Staff and professors are, for the most part, understanding and respectful. I’ve had a few instances of faculty deliberately misgendering me, but given the stark age difference between Furman’s faculty and students, I expected some generational push back here and there.

For the sake of transparency, there was a poorly handled anti-LGBT-related hate crime very close to my dorm within the first two weeks of my first semester, which significantly effected my perception of the student body. That being said, Furman’s students are very homogenized (stunningly low diversity on campus) and, at the risk of sounding rude, handle students from different backgrounds with a subtle otherness. There was always a lack of LGBT representation on campus, and I felt very alien in lots of situations dominated by the straight, cis majority. In my experience, while this majority of Furman students didn’t make a fuss over how I presented myself, they didn’t do anything besides the bare minimum of using proper pronouns after I clarified things a few times, save some isolated instances of refusing to but “respecting my opinion”.

In terms of overly accepting versus outright discriminatory students, I unfortunately encountered more of the latter at Furman, but that could just be my own personal experience. I didn’t personally get along well with most of the explicitly queer and allied students on campus, but they were kind and helped me first get my footing. There were significantly more gay/lesbian/bi students than trans students, however (the majority of those trans students being seniors who have since graduated), making that feeling of otherness present even within the few LGBT spaces on campus. Similarly, while the LGBT clubs on campus have some merit, I personally was unsatisfied with the lack of variety and abundance of the ones on campus, most being either hangouts of >10 queer people or too rigid to provide me with a sense of community.

Ultimately, I most likely will not return to Furman in the fall. While this decision has more to do with other issues I had with the university, I wouldn’t be lying if I said Furman’s lukewarm attitude towards its queer students influenced my decision. However, this is just my personal experience with the university. Some trans students I met on campus really loved attending Furman, albeit more for the university’s more favorable qualities than their handling of LGBT issues. Furman is what you make of it, and while the issues I’ve described above may be deal breakers/sellers to some, I’d recommend judging it based on its academic merit and student makeup first.

With that being said, I’d advise getting in touch with the following resources who can help directly with LGBT issues/concerns at Furman better than I can:

  • Get in contact with SOAR as soon as possible. While they’re not explicitly stated to be a service for LGBT students, they can still help secure safe housing, as well as some other needs if you make a case for yourself.
  • Student Life is very helpful in navigating mental health concerns and, depending on who you get in touch with, is explicitly trans friendly. It wasn’t the best fit for me personally, but they’re compassionate, well-meaning people nonetheless.
  • Check your name everywhere it’s listed in the Furman registry. Student ID, email, everything–in my case, it was dead name central. A few trips to IT Services and Administration Services on your first day should fix most things.
  • I’ve talked to a few professors who others have recommended to me regarding trans life on campus, and while they all were lovely people, they weren’t too helpful. If you’d still like to talk to a professor about LGBT concerns, explicitly friendly professors have a rainbow flag on their office doors, thanks to a past bias training initiative.
  • Only join LGBT groups on campus if you’re really invested in activism, LGBT history, etc., or if what I described in the paragraph mentioning clubs interests you. It’s a small campus, help will find you eventually.
  • Find a therapist in the area. You will probably need one. Willow Tree Counseling is an LGBT-focused therapy center that helped me leaps and bounds; I’d suggest sending them an email before the semester starts to have a resource handy.

I hope this was able to help anyone in a similar situation as I was last year. Happy to answer any questions/concerns in the comments!