In August I came across the story of Jamel Myles. Myles was a nine-year-old boy who was starting fourth grade at Joe Shoemaker Elementary School in Denver, Colo. Over the summer Myles came out to his mother as gay. He was embraced by his family but not by his classmates. Within four days of starting the new school year, Myles hung himself in his bedroom as a result of excessive bullying. Myles' mother believes his death could have been prevented if the school had done more. 

Jamel Myles’ story shook me to my core as I, like many other LGBT individuals, know what it feels like to be harassed or bullied for being "different." The hardest years for me personally occurred in later elementary school and early middle school — just around Myles’ age. Yet coming out even later in life is still a difficult process because of the question: could something like this happen like this at a college such as RIT? 

It is true that college is vastly different from high school; it demands more maturity and independence on the part of the student. Having the freedom to schedule your day as you see fit is incredibly liberating. However, along with this comes the responsibility of your health. Many students tend to think of health as strictly physical, and fail to realize mental health is also vital to their wellbeing. Students must be able to know when they need help, and they need to know where they can go to get the help that they need.

Youth who are sexual minorities are three times more likely to report suicidality.

Stephen Russell and Jessica Fish are two writers who have researched the different mental heath struggles LGBT students face. “[LGBT students] are more likely to face peer victimization when they come out. Such victimization has well-documented psychological consequences,” they wrote in one of their articles. 

It’s obvious to imagine that being bullied for sexuality can have negative mental health effects. Russell and Fish wrote that youth who are sexual minorities are three times more likely to report suicidality. The mental health of those within the LGBT community is likely damaged due to bullying, harassment, and victimization.

So does RIT provide the necessary resources for students who seek help?

Calvin Do is a third year Software Engineering major. Do identifies as a gay cis-gender man who is familiar with the LGBT community here at RIT. “Possibly, due to the circumstances,” he said. “Stressors in college are different. Students are asked to balance homework, classes, work, friends and plenty of other things.” In hearing Do say this, I suddenly saw a new perspective on the topic.

“There are a lot of services available … the problem is the awareness of the resources available,” Do said. He explained how the systems in place are “very effective at helping students.”

The caveat? Many students are not aware of the vast number of services available to different groups here on campus.

RIT provides safe spaces for students — whether it be with the Q Center, the Center for Women and Gender or even therapists and psychiatrists for student to speak with in the health center. There are systems in place to ensure that all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity have access to positive mental health education.

“[Students] are unaware that they are fostering an unhealthy point of view towards LGBT people,” Do said.

They are different, they are treated differently.

The way we talk about others we perceive as different can be how we bully or exclude them. RIT is a relatively diverse population with professors, faculty and students from all different walks of life. Individuals of different religions, from different countries, with different sexual orientations and gender identity walk these bricks daily.

"They are different, they are treated differently,” said Do. The way we treat each other, face-to-face and behind closed doors is what can foster messages of exclusion and make someone feel like an outsider.

Do defined "active bullying" as that which involves physical force such as pushing, hitting or throwing objects. The more common form of bullying seen on college campuses is what Do calls “passive bullying." Do explained further that it is mostly verbal and nonverbal communication that's insulting. Students who are ignorant of LGBT culture can unintentionally make degrading, rude or harmful comments to their peers.

Harassment and passive bullying on campus directed towards the LGBT community is not a myth: it is happening on campus whether it is intentional or not. One example that Do brought up was the addition of pronouns to orientation. For those who are not aware, this year for New Student Orientation, Orientation Leaders and students were asked to write their pronouns on their name tags to be more inclusive of gender nonconforming individuals. Including all genders' pronouns is great in theory, but labels can lead to separation. This can lead to individuals being excluded from the rest of their orientation group. 

“Say someone writes a non-binary gender, people may not talk to them, they may be bullied for that,” explained Do.

However, educating students on different pronouns can benefit our community if done correctly. Even well-meaning programs need to be sensitive so that they're not ostracizing their LGBT students. For someone to feel like they do not belong in a group of people can deeply hurt and eat away at their mental health. Speaking from experience, knowing that help is out there can stop someone from doing something that they may come to regret.

I can clearly see that RIT is taking steps to ensure that all students feel included and welcome on campus. I also believe that RIT does an effective job of achieving that goal. Of course, there is always more that can be done to ensure bullying, active and passive, from occurring. However, I feel that RIT is capable of helping students in a Jamel Myles situation find a safe space here on campus.