By Luke Allan, BA (Hons) Public Relations and Media, 4th Year
In my time at university I’ve learnt many things, like how to balance my studies with my social life, write a great press release and how to cook an epic Nasi Goreng. But the biggest and most important thing I’ve learnt is to be myself, be confident and embrace my sexuality.
I grew up in the rural Yorkshire Dales, within a community which was far from diverse. For many years, I dreamed of coming to university and starting a new chapter in my life where I could discover new things, explore new places and be myself in a community that would be supportive of me. That was the most important thing for me.
When I started looking into universities, I picked a number of courses that I was interested in and wanted to find out more about. My friends had begun to look at what the night life was like, which sports facilities were available, and how successful the institution’s alumni was. But for me, I had other priorities. Unbeknown to my family, I began researching three things:
- How diverse is the student community and the city?
- How safe and welcomed will I feel?
- Is the University and wider community ‘gay friendly’?
After visiting an open day at Sheffield Hallam, I felt it was an ideal option for me and somewhere I could call home. I remember typing ‘LGBT Sheffield Hallam’ into Google and I was presented with an overwhelming amount of information on the support available for LGBT+ students; the LGBT society and online forums giving me great insight into the experiences of Hallam students who identified with the LGBTQ+ community.
On top of this, I discovered that Sheffield Hallam had a 10/10 rating in the Stonewall Gay by Degree Guide, a dedicated LGBTQ+ careers adviser, specific wellbeing and counselling support, and an LGBTQ+ staff network which made me realise the university wanted to champion equality across Hallam.
As I approached the start of university life, my nerves got the better of me and the idea of starting a new chapter as myself was derailed by the fear of judgement, rejection and prejudice. Too afraid to start the first week of term, I braved the LGBT society social in the second week and in a matter of hours I felt at ease. I had found more than a group, I had found a community, a support network and a place where I belonged.
I began to open up more about my sexuality, feeling comfortable to disclose it to the university, my colleagues, my lecturers and my amazing career adviser. Over the last 4 years, I have felt empowered to make a difference to the lives of people who identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella at Sheffield Hallam, and in the wider community. I’ve held elected positions, represented Hallam on a national level, voted on national policies, written and implemented policies within the Students’ Union, and worked on projects, frameworks and activities to ensure that current and future LGBTQ+ students would receive the best possible experience and support during their time here.
Some people say their sexuality or time at uni doesn’t define them, but that’s not the case for me. My sexuality and time at university has made me the person I am today and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities and experiences I have received.
I started at Hallam afraid of being judged, afraid of being rejected and worried about my future. Now, I can say that I’ve never felt more supported, confident and ready to face the world.