Let Them Know You’re Here: Queering the College Tour

Yesterday was Veterans’ Day in the US, which meant no school for the high school crowd, which meant that when I set foot on my college campus in the morning, I was almost immediately run over by a parade of prospective students and their backwards-walking tour guide. Affectionately known as Prospies here at Vassar College, they are led like scared sheep donned in high school attire mixed with varying interpretations of “college clothes,” accompanied by parents or teachers. They wind through our student center, classroom buildings and a dorm or two, led by a student who has been thoroughly vetted to present this fine institution in the shiniest of ways.

My school is a pretty queer place, but not all schools are, and even my school has its days when it doesn’t love to flaunt its queerness because that might be off-putting to some people. Even if you go to a school where they are all about the queers all the time no matter what, it is entirely possible that it’s hard to tell from the tour.

No matter what kind of school I attend, I want the queer kids on the tour to know about the queer kids at the school. How do you go about this if you are not a tour guide?

Friends, you can Queer the Tour.

I was totally that queer girl, walking near the back of the tour with my dad, scrutinizing the students for hints that queer people were among them. I remember almost nothing about touring colleges, except where I saw girls holding hands, flyers for screenings of But I’m a Cheerleader, and people wearing Day of Silence stickers. Now I’m at a super queer school. It worked.

There are various ways to queer a tour for the high school students looking for a queer community at your college. Here are some options, some of which I’ve done in real life, some of which I think would be mad cool. They’re based on my experience at a school with a lot of queer organizations and events and people, but you can do these things all over! Modify them to make them work for you.

Here we go:

Talk About Queer Stuff!

Is there a queer event coming up, like a Queer Lady Social? Talk about it loudly within earshot of the tour. Is there not a queer event coming up on campus? Make one up! Maybe you will improvise such a good idea that you’ll actually organize it!

Hold Hands

Do you see a tour coming up the path next to you? Are you with a person who, if you were holding their hand, would make the two of you seem like a queer couple? Or maybe you’re actually a queer couple! Ask the person if you can hold their hand! If they say yes, then look – you are a queer couple on the tour! All of the people on the tour can see!

Holding hands and talking about queer stuff can also happen simultaneously.

Talk to Prospies

This step is not queering a tour per se, but it is queering the prospective student experience. If you see Prospies around campus, strike up a conversation with them. Tell them about the great class you took on queer graphic novels and then tell them about the LGBTQ Center-sponsored hike you went on last week.

Strategic Tabling for Your Club/Organization

If you’re part of your school’s queer coalition or gay union or rainbow club, do things that publicize your club on days when there will probably be lots of prospective students on campus – flyer, set up a table in the student center, have a bake sale – sell GAYKE. High-traffic days are often federal holidays or school breaks, but your school might also have days that are designated open houses or recruiting periods that bring in a bunch of people.

Sit In/Kiss In

If you don’t have an org (or if you do), gather a bunch of queers together in a highly visible place and have a sit in! Chant about being queer at your school! Hold signs about being queer at your school! And for whoever’s down, make out with each other.

Be a Tour Guide

An AMAZING way to queer the tour is to become an ACTUAL tour guide. This is hard. If your school is anything like my school, becoming a tour guide is an arduous and bureaucratic process that involves both figuratively jumping through lots of hoops to prove you won’t say things to drive people away from the school, and literally learning to walk backwards. Becoming a tour guide in order to queer the tours may quite possibly involve acting your way through the interview process, and then modifying the tour to include things that could be of interest to queer students, like your school’s LGBTQ center, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, gender neutral bathrooms, or the general environment for queer people at your school. I don’t know anyone who has actually done this, but I believe in you! Fight the system!

Keep an eye out for the queers on the tour, and let them know you’re here. Go forth, and queer the tours!

Have you queered a tour lately? Did you search for signs of queer life on your college tours? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


Maddie is a student activist, Women’s Studies Major and friend of the Geography department at Vassar College. She runs, reads, hikes and is known for photoshopping her friends’ faces onto weird images.

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Maddie lives and writes in Philadelphia. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Women’s Studies and a strong friendship with the Geography department. Read her thoughts on border politics and trains, among other things, on her blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Maddie has written 48 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. Thumb up 13

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    for any prospective students reading this who would be dependent on environmental cues like these: as a former admissions employee/tour guide for four years, just wanna say that if you’re not out to your family but you still want to know about queer stuff on campus, it’s OKAY! don’t panic and think you won’t be able to say anything because your parents are hovering around you the whole time. tour guides are trained to handle this stuff. there are plenty of opportunities to get all the information you’ll need without putting yourself in an uncomfortable position.

    sometimes prospective students would come up to me by themselves after the tour, and if there wasn’t a private place for us to talk, i’d make sure to give them my email so they could send me whatever questions they needed answered. i had a card, and i think a lot of tour guides these days do, so hang on to the contact info you’re given! it’ll come in handy if your questions are hard to ask with mom and dad around. tour guides LOVE answering questions outside of their job (we are picked for that position BECAUSE we are overly enthusiastic about our school and your journey to us, so never ever think you are asking too much or bothering us in any way) and they should be more than happy to talk to you about these concerns in whatever way is most comfortable and easy for you.

    again, we are trained to handle these situations delicately. it can be super-duper stressful to figure out how to find the right campus and community for you when you have to go through the process with your family over your shoulder, but i promise that it’ll be a-okay.

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        Yes! Definitely look up and email the school’s LGBT Resource Center or queer student group, let them know that you’re a prospective student, and ask if there’s a student you can speak with by phone or email. And be sure to ask specifically about queer lady life on campus,as it is may be different than queer dude life! But also abolish the gender binary, etc. `

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      I feel like I remember reading somewhere that you went to Bryn Mawr… My older sister is a senior there right now and I’ve visited a few times and loved it! Still, my sister is super straight and doesn’t really know a ton about what the gay community there is like (she tends to get a little uncomfortable when I ask). Is there anything you can tell me that might be helpful? I’m nervous/excited about being able to finally fully come out and date in college, so obviously it means a lot to me that I find the right place.

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    Haa. I never handled the tours myself, but I was a lunch host for my college and generally made sure that I could light up gaydar from 300 feet. It was always awesome to hang out in the admissions office and see which prospies would secretly (or not-so-subtly) light up as soon as they saw me.

    Option 2: my campus would have tour days where the entire holiday was spent catering to showing massive hordes of prospective students around campus and group centers. Several friends and I would wake up early and make sure to do our homework in the LGBT office with Tegan and Sara blasting, the door open, and a rainbow unicorn halfway out in the hallway. It was uncomfortable the first few times with groups staring in, but I liked to think they were still in shock from seeing the four-and-a-half foot anatomically correct vagina sculpture a separate womyn’s group used as a door stop.

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    I was just thinking about writing an article like this. As one of the few queer tour guides on my campus, and one of the few who ALWAYS mentions queer things, it can be a little bit rough, especially when you don’t get much of a return beyond awkward and sometimes hostile looks from parents. Maddie, this article was great, and Kate made a great point too. Tour Guides go through a lot of training to do what we do, and there are numerous ways of getting students the info they need. I was not out at all, but UVA totally made me pay attention when my tour guide mentioned their queer fraternity on campus.

    Pro Tip for Guides: Have business cards to hand out at the end so prospies (which we also use at Gettysburg College) can contact you later. That’s how most of the queer kids I give tours to end up getting the info about being a queer gettysburgian.

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    Great article! I was actually just visiting Vassar yesterday as a prospie. I loved it! My mom went there back in the 70’s and she said that there is a big queer community on campus. Seeing as I’m not an out bisexual girl, I try not to make it obvious that I pay attention to these things on college visits. But I do notice these things and Vassar definitely gets an A+! (Hopefully I’ll be there next fall! It’s between Vassar, NYU and Kenyon)

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    Yo this article is awesome, especially since I’ve literally just come off of a college tour weekend.

    However, the use of the term “baby gay” makes me way uncomfortable. Queer youth aren’t just straight up gay? Why the qualifier? This seems to me like another facet of adultism in the queer community, another way of erasing queer young people. I’m sure this was not the intent, I’m sure you respect queer young people to the fullest. That said, intent is different than impact.

    Maybe this is a term you once used to describe yourself, and that’s fine. But using it in reference to others isn’t so cool unless they’ve told you it’s okay. I’m sure this is a familiar concept to you.

    Thanks for this awesome article, it hit home in a lot of spots!

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      Thanks for pointing this out, Emma. The words ‘baby gays’ are my words, not the writer’s. And you’re right about it being a qualifier and delegitimizing queer youth but that was not my intention. I do use the term baby gay to describe myself when I was in high school and just starting to explore my identity. However it was wrong of me to use it to describe everyone. I’ve decided it was better to use “high school students” because that’s what I meant. I appreciate your comment.

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    As someone currently applying to college etc etc (requisite ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh) I really appreciate this! Vassar is a possibility but do you think maybe someone could compile a “queer college” list? Or better yet, take some well known colleges and give them queer ratings? While I’m already (kind of maybe possibly) figuring out where I want to go, this would be a great thing to exist, especially if done by autostraddle. Not to mention that the queerness level on campus is probably a decent indicator of the acceptance/openness/general chillness level as well.

  7. Thumb up 3

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    First picture is definitely my university, and I must know: is the Nike shorts/leggings/boots/giant shirt combo all over the nation, or is it a Texas thing? Because that’s what I saw before the photo credit and thought, yep, it’s TTU.

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    When I was interviewing to be a tour guide, the admissions officers were posing hypothetical questions they get from prospective students and parents. One of the questions was, “How do you feel about the 60% female/40% male split? And of the 40%, I heard most of the men are gay! I’m afraid if I send my daughter here, she won’t find a husband.”

    I answered that “luckily, there are Queer Lady Socials hosted several times each semester!”

    They didn’t hire me. Maddie, we should create queer underground Vassar tours and siphon the prospies away from admissions.

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    This is awesome! I used to work in my school’s admissions office, and while the individual admissions counselors are very sensitive to LGBTQ issues, there’s definitely no pictures on the brochures of two girls holding hands or anything like that. I was never told this officially, but I always kinda got the feeling that it wouldn’t be appreciated by my boss for me to wear a giant rainbow flag on my sleeve while talking to prospective families.

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    remember the tour of my university SO well, little baby dyke me might as well have taken a telescope out and starting shouting to queers, didn’t think i saw any the entire day and just as i was leaving a cute butch girl actually winked at me and i nearly died on the spot in front of my mother (who i was not out to at the time) and now i go to that uni, queering the tour is so important, thanks for the article and ideas.

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    When I was touring the college I am about to go to and as we were walking past one of the dorms and in the window was a rainbow flag that took up their entire window. It was a small thing, but it really helped me choose my college.

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