On Alex Cubbage’s first weekend as a Lehigh student, he felt so uncomfortable that he hardly left his dorm room.
Within half an hour of leaving his residence hall for the first time, Cubbage, ‘24, was called a “faggot” by a group of male students.
In October 2020, Lehigh was named one of the “Best of The Best Colleges and Universities for LGBTQ students” by Campus Pride. However, Cubbage, who identifies as gay, said he doesn’t feel comfortable on campus at all.
Over the next few months, this series of columns will examine what it’s really like to be an LGBTQ+ member within the Lehigh community.
“I tone myself down a lot,” Cubbage said. “I watch how I dress. I watch how I speak. I watch how I act. I am so very aware of all my mannerisms and how I present myself to others because I don’t want to be judged.”
Transitioning to college is difficult—enrolling in tough classes, interacting with new people and, for many students, learning how to live alone for the first time. A dorm room should be an escape from all the difficulty, where students can relax and be themselves. However, this was not the case for Cubbage.
Cubbage said he felt like his presence in his freshman dorm created tension that left him feeling unwanted.
“You can tell when people would rather not have you there,” he said.
This situation caused Cubbage to move off campus after his first semester, which made finding his place on campus even more difficult.
Cubbage didn’t go to the dining hall more than five or six times during the fall semester of his freshman year because he didn’t feel comfortable or safe.
Coming from a conservative area in Florida, Cubbage said he thought a college campus would be a more accepting environment, but that hasn’t been his experience.
When he was applying to colleges, Cubbage was looking for a school that would let him double major in Computer Science and Business. Lehigh’s Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) program felt like a perfect fit.
Cubbage considered transferring to another institution because of the cultural experience at Lehigh.
“I don’t hate Lehigh necessarily,” he said. “I just feel so profoundly unwanted on campus.”
Cubbage said that the Pride Center, Spectrum and oSTEM are places where he can be himself.
Spectrum is a student organization dedicated to providing a safe environment for Lehigh LGBTQ+ students and their allies. oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is an organization that provides services and support for LGBTQ+ students in STEM.
However, Cubbage, who entered college mid-pandemic, said it’s been hard to use these resources due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Cubbage wants Lehigh to admit that it has a problem with the treatment of LGBTQ+ students on campus.
“I don’t know a single LGBTQ person on campus who hasn’t had a bad experience,” he said. “Every single person I’ve talked to has a story.”
Cubbage said he doesn’t think all people at Lehigh are intentionally homophobic or transphobic, but believes there is not enough education around LGBTQ+ issues.
“I feel like with the proper education and realizing how miserable an experience it is being LGBTQ on campus, I do think that would have some impact,” he said. “I do think, fundamentally, people have empathy.”
By prioritizing education around LGBTQ+ issues on campus, Cubbage thinks Lehigh could signal that LGBTQ+ students are cared about.
At this point in his Lehigh experience, Cubbage said he feels like he just has to make it through to graduation, move on and consider his college years a sunk cost.
It is unrealistic to expect college to be the best four years of every student’s life, but shouldn’t Lehigh do everything in its power to support the members of its community?
Lehigh’s Principles of an Equitable Community reads “We confront and reject discrimination in all its forms, including that based on age, color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economics, veteran status, or any differences that have been excuses for misunderstanding, dissension, or hatred.”
Until the university addresses the homophobic treatment within its community, Lehigh students will continue to feel unsafe.