My name is Michael and I am a third year psychology student at London South Bank University. While writing this blog, I’m also in the process of finishing up my final pieces of coursework for my degree! The lovely people at Good Thinking have invited me to write about my experience of beginning university in London three years ago as an 18-year-old Black Queer student.
Starting university was really nerve-wracking at first, particularly because I am also autistic. It’s an unfamiliar environment and I wasn’t doing the same courses as my friends from sixth form. I chose to stay in university accommodation so I let the accommodation know that I was trans and kept in very good communication with their wellbeing facilities. This was to ensure I’d be one of the lucky ones who got an en suite room as I find shared facilities quite daunting and am more comfortable with my own spaces. I wanted to be stealth for a bit so I could focus on my studies rather than being preoccupied with any outcomes or reactions that I found worrisome!
One of the first things I did when I moved in was leave a note introducing myself on the door. When I met my flatmates, I was quickly identified as “the one with the note on the door” – everyone found me really approachable after that. I struggle with small talk and can sometimes feel anxious when meeting new people so this took the edge off introducing myself.
I found transitioning from school to university classes particularly difficult because we were still learning remotely and social distancing due to COVID and it remained this way until my second year. This also made it difficult to meet new people and see old friends. Although my childhood friend, Alfred, went to LSBU as well, I could still feel isolated. He stayed in a different accommodation and was on a different course so we couldn’t really relate to each other’s specific experiences.
Starting university can cause a lot of your existing friendship circles to shift, especially if your friends have also gone to university. Hanging out when you’ve got to manage a new workload will look a lot different from what you are used to. I didn’t get to see my old circle of academically-ambitious friends as often after they scattered themselves across the UK. All of a sudden, the community I had been so well supported by felt harder to reach and I worried that I would struggle to find people I could so closely identify with on campus. This ended up not being that much of an issue – after COVID, we were all quite accustomed to video calls and digital hangouts. When meet ups became few and far between, I was always reassured by the fact that my loved ones were but a phone call away.
It’s important to feel like you belong in your immediate environment – on your course, in your accommodation and in societies and clubs that you may join. This can be difficult when you’re both Black and Queer. I found that some Black spaces were not always the most queer-inclusive and that Queer spaces were considerably less diverse than I would have hoped.
This shouldn’t make you want to close yourself off though! Even if few and far between, I did find a few diamonds in the rough who helped me through my degree.
Before moving in, I researched all the clubs, activities and societies available for Black and/or Queer students, both on and off campus. Echoing other blog posts you may have read on the Good Thinking website, connecting with other Black LGBT+ students was really validating for me, especially because I wasn’t very vocal about my trans identity outside of these friendships until I started my third year (most of my university friends will likely only find out once they see this blog post!).
I participated in plenty of projects focusing on enhancing the university experiences of Black and Queer students, providing insight on how to best maximise inclusivity so that the next generation of undergraduates will receive a warm welcome and plenty of adequate support. In fact, my participation in the Black Students Mental Health Project provided me with quite a few opportunities relevant to my degree and helped me feel like my input would have an impact on how certain decisions would be made.
Like many university gyms, mine was part of a scheme that provides the opportunity to attend the gyms at other participating universities across the country. This allowed me to go to the gym with my pre-university mates and we all know how instrumental both exercise and community are for your wellbeing!
As my university also had a campus in Croydon, I was lucky to become acquainted with Croydon Drop In, which is a counselling service that offers advice, advocacy and signposting to further support.
I also attended London Pride events, which are a marvellously massive display of pride in our identities, demonstrating the very large and intersectional community we have built in this city. Some universities march in the parade so it is always worth looking into.
I communicated with the wellbeing and disability staff and services at my university the second I confirmed my choices. This meant that they were well-prepared to provide me with my exact support arrangements for ADHD and ASD when I began my classes. I had pretty poor experiences regarding my identity in school so I wanted to make sure I would be well-supported if I had any negative experiences that could impact my studies.
Universities can often provide counselling, Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) assessments and signposting to other useful forms of support you might not be aware of, so it’s really good to be open and honest about anything you may be going through. Keeping in good communication will also help with any coursework extensions, disability accommodations or extenuating circumstances you may need throughout your degree.
For any trans readers, I just want you to know that the London trans community is very tight-knit and communicative. We are all well aware of the negativity directed towards us in the media but you will be well looked after by all of us here! There will always be a friend, somewhere, and we are infamously known for how much we all know each other.
Groups such as Mermaids, Mosaic and Gendered Intelligence are good people to turn to and we have healthcare services, such as 56 Dean Street and TransPlus, who make experiences such as sexual health screenings and gender identity support very positive and stress-free.
Be sure to attend Trans Pride as well!
Here is a list of organisations for Black Queer students recommended by students at LSBU:
This blog was written as part of the Office for Students' Black Students Mental Health Project at London South Bank University. Check out the full range of wellbeing resources available on the Good Thinking website.