How to Find and Foster a Welcoming Campus and Community
Resources for LGBTQ College Students
College is an exciting but stressful time, and the transition can be especially challenging for LGBTQ+ students. For these students, the right college not only offers quality education, but also an open-minded and safe environment; one that allows them to earn a degree as well as learn more about themselves. But what makes a college LGBTQ-friendly? Find out more about what campuses across the nation are doing to foster a sense of community for LGBTQ+ students and allies. In addition, learn how to assess inclusiveness, whether you're studying in the U.S. or abroad.
Creating a Safe Space: Things to Consider When Evaluating Colleges
Earning a college degree is a commitment. You'll likely be at the same college for at least two years, depending on the type of degree you're pursuing, which means it's important to choose a college that allows you to not only learn in the classroom but also to thrive as a young adult. Choosing the right college can be a challenge for any student, but for LGBTQ+ students, there are some unique criteria to consider. Fortunately, more and more colleges are offering resources and services to meet those specific needs. Inspired by Campus Pride's criteria, the following is a list of important things LGBTQ+ students should think about when vetting colleges and assessing LGBTQ inclusiveness.
LGBTQ+ student and faculty recruitment
Schools that welcome the LGBTQ+ community understand that creating an inclusive campus begins during the recruitment process. These schools are visibly dedicated to attracting - and retaining - LGBTQ+ students through on and off campus pride events, as well as by hiring staff members who have worked with queer youth and young adults.
LGBTQ+ friendly colleges give all students the opportunity to learn about issues the LGBTQ+ community faces, such as gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual identity and diversity. These topics, including historical and current events, can be covered in dedicated degree programs (majors and/or minors), certificate programs, individual courses, or through lesson plans that are unbiased and incorporate LGBTQ+ history and culture.
LGBTQ students have unique health care needs so it's important that a school has an appropriate health center and health care staff that can address these concerns, particularly those that may be more sensitive. Important services to look for can include counseling and therapy, services for transgender patients, sexual health assistance, addiction therapies, and gender-neutral bathrooms.
Students should look for colleges that have clear policies designed to protect the rights and promote the safety of the LGBTQ+ student body. Examples of such policies include prohibiting bias incidents, harassment and hate crimes, and unambiguous procedures that make it easy and safe for victims of such behaviors to file a report. Inclusive schools may also have policies that extend to LGBTQ+ staff, faculty members, and domestic partners.
It's important for LGBTQ+ students to feel comfortable inside and outside of the classroom, so colleges that embrace diversity often have safe dormitories — or parts of dorms such as designated floors — specifically for the LGTBQ and ally community.
LGBTQ+ student organizations and student leaders
Like other groups on campus, LGBTQ+ student organizations offer a sense of community by allowing people of like minds to connect in a safe space. In addition to fun, social activities, these groups also provide academic and emotional support, opportunities for activism, and mentorship and leadership opportunities. Some campuses may also have niche groups for LGBTQ students of color, special interests, religion, or gender identity/expression, to name a few.
Dedicated student center
LGBTQ+ student centers provide dedicated programs, services, and resources that support LGBTQ students throughout their entire academic career. Services offered may include mentoring, gender identity workshops, lecture series, lounges, LGBTQ+ libraries, job search resources, and advocacy and outreach events to promote and protect the needs of students and allies. If there is no dedicated center, LGBTQ students should find out whether services and resources are available through the college's Women's and/or Multicultural Centers.
Signs of pride
Campuses that are inclusive tend to have visual cues that point to their openness. Symbols like Safe Zone stickers/buttons, pink triangles, and rainbow flags indicate a campus is proud of its diversity.
An out student body
Students won't feel comfortable and at home at a college without knowing that others are out and open about their sexuality. When trying to determine if a college is inclusive, students should find out whether other LGBTQ+ students feel safe and comfortable being out not only when on campus, but also within the surrounding areas off campus. If you don't know any students on campus, one way to directly contact someone is to find the university's Facebook page or Twitter account and look for groups that reflect an openness to LGBTQ students.
Out staff and faculty members
Much like out students, another sign that a campus is inclusive is if there are out LGBTQ+ staff and faculty members at the college. These adults can serve as advisors or mentors throughout a student's college career and also demonstrate that a campus is open-minded and safe.
LGBTQ allies are just as important as LGBTQ peers. If administrators, professors and staff - as well as non-LGBTQ students - are openly supportive of LGBTQ rights and concerns, the overall school is likely to be an inclusive campus.
Safe Zone programs
Safe Zone programs help increase LGBTQ+ awareness on campus by training students, staff, and faculty members about the needs and challenges of the LGBTQ+ community. These programs also provide strategies on how to foster an inclusive and safe environment.
LGBTQ-friendly neighboring cities
An open and safe campus is important, but it also helps when students feel just as comfortable off campus as they do on it. A lot of time will be spent on campus going to classes, discussion groups/labs, studying, and completing other coursework, but LGBTQ+ students should also feel like they can fully enjoy what their college's city - and surrounding cities - have to offer when they aren't hitting the books.
Some schools have notably gone above and beyond in their efforts to become LGBTQ+ friendly. The following two colleges are examples of schools that have made extraordinary strides.
Indiana University Bloomington
Inside and outside of the classroom, Indiana University Bloomington has created an environment that is welcoming and proud of its LGBTQ+ community. Indiana University's efforts led it to be just one of the very first colleges to be given a perfect five-star rating by Campus Pride.
The school's gender studies program includes coursework on sexual politics, queer culture and history, sex and gender differences, and gender and the body. Students have the option to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree through the gender studies department.
The school has educational resources to increase awareness of LGBTQ+ issues. For example, LGBT Thought and Culture is an online resource hosted through the library that includes archives, and books and periodicals documenting the social, political and cultural movements of LGBTQ+ people. In addition, Indiana University Press publishes LGBT-related books.
Indiana University Bloomington has a vibrant LGBTQ+ community. The GLBT Student Support Services Office hosts activities, groups, and events specifically geared toward LGBTQ students and their allies. For example, the office publishes a newsletter and resource guide, maintains a library, and provides counseling services. Additionally, allies can receive training to learn more about the community and ways they can support their queer peers.
Students at Indiana University Bloomington have the option to live among like-minded people in LGBTQ housing. The school also offers gender-inclusive bathrooms around the campus.
Ithaca College, though much smaller than Indiana University, has also been given a five-star ranking on the Campus Pride index.
In April, students at Ithaca College can participate in a month-long celebration of the LGBTQ+ community because the school organizes a series of events for LGBT Awareness Month. During this time, the college hosts lectures, workshops, film screenings, and training programs related to issues that impact LGBTQ+ people. But that doesn't mean this isn't a time to also have some fun - during Awareness Month, Ithaca College also hosts the LGBTQA Pride Prom which is open to all students.
Although April's events showcase the inclusive nature of Ithaca College, members of the LGBTQ+ community can feel welcome on campus year-round. The school's Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services has a student resource room that includes books, videos, computer stations and periodicals; regular education programs covering a wide range of LGBTQ issues; and brochures and pamphlets that address the needs and concerns of LGBTQ+ students and their families.
Ithaca College has several LGBTQ+ student organizations, including activist group Created Equal, educational and social group PRISM, and Athlete Ally, which was created to engender positive relations between athletes and the LGBTQ community.
Students can receive counseling from trained professionals who are sensitive to the issues that the community faces, and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services offers education programs for those who are questioning their sexuality. Transgender students on campus can receive their hormone therapy prescriptions as well as help through the Voice and Communication Modification Program run by the school's speech pathology department.
Common Challenges for LGBTQ+ College Students
LGBTQ+ students often face challenges their heterosexual counterparts don't experience. As a result, it's important for students to find a campus with a strong understanding of the community so they can feel supported if dealing with any of the following common challenges:
Some students may not have come out of the closet before entering college. While it's a common part of the college experience for students to find and define who they are, navigating sexuality can add to this pressure. For some, discovering and accepting their sexual identity is a long and stressful process, and making decisions about coming out — who to come out to, how to come out, or whether or not to come out at all — only increases this stress. To alleviate it, it's important for students to keep in mind that there's no right or wrong way to explore sexuality or to come out — all they can do is make the choices that feel right for them.
Body image issues are not uncommon among students, especially women, but LGBTQ+ students, particularly transgender students, may have additional issues about their bodies and appearance because they may not represent the mainstream standard of beauty. This can cause students to develop self-esteem issues centered on their femininity/masculinity, or perceived lack thereof, which may lead to depression or stressful and emotional internal conflicts. It's important for students to surround themselves with like-minded peers who can provide support and demonstrate that members of the LGBTQ+ community come in all kinds of colors, shapes, sizes, and styles.
Unique relationship challenges
Relationships in college can sometimes be awkward, messy, and difficult, and for LGBTQ+ students these challenges may be heightened as they explore new feelings and work to become comfortable with themselves and their sexual orientation. In some situations, abuse or violence can become an issue. It's important for LGBTQ+ students who are being abused by a romantic partner to know that domestic violence is never acceptable, regardless of sexual identity and orientation, and that they have as much of a right to get help as anyone else.
On a physical level, LGBTQ students, like their heterosexual friends, need to be concerned about sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The possibility of contracting an STI is of particular concern on college campuses. And when it comes to LGBTQ students and HIV, some young people today may mistakenly believe that because the disease can be effectively managed through medication, they don't have to worry about safe sex practices — a myth that can put them and others at significant risk. It's important for these students to take advantage of the information and resources provided by their campus health center so they not only understand the importance of safe sex but also practice it.
On a psychological level, some LGBTQ students may feel lonely and isolated, which puts them at significant risk of depression. In fact, studies show that queer students often experience suicidal ideation where they think about, or even attempt, suicide at some point during their college years. Taking advantage of mental health services on campus — or the mentoring and support groups available through LGBTQ+ student centers — can go a long way towards alleviating feelings of depression and loneliness. Suicide hotlines are also available for people who need immediate help.
It's important for these students to take advantage of the information and resources provided by their campus health center or student health insurance provider so they not only understand the importance of safe sex but also practice it.
Drug and/or alcohol addiction
Research indicates that members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than heterosexuals. Reports have suggested that as much as 45 percent of the LGBTQ community may suffer from alcohol abuse and dependency. In addition, LGBTQ students are also more likely to become addicted to drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, and GHB. To avoid or break this cycle of addiction, students should take advantage of the mental health services available on campus, including alcohol/drug addiction services and support groups, so that they learn healthy ways of handling stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.
LGBTQ+ Students and Studying Abroad
Students who have the opportunity to study abroad can reap many benefits experiencing college life through the lens of another country and culture. Over 300,000 college students study abroad each academic year, and an additional 38,000 took part in noncredit volunteer programs and internships outside the country, according to the Institute of International Education's Open Doors report. For LGBTQ+ students who want to be part of the about 10 percent of college students who study abroad, it's important to be aware of the unique challenges they may encounter in different countries. Some countries will be very open and progressive, while others may be the complete opposite.
Studying abroad also takes considerable financial planning, budgeting and savings. You will need to also review your credit cards, car insurance and auto loans expenses for savings or deferment, and you should consider insurance prior to departing.
This section will cover some key issues to consider when choosing a study abroad destination.
What to Consider When Studying Abroad
From time zone differences to culture to language, students face many new challenges when they study abroad. However, there are some considerations that specifically impact members of the queer community.
Although students may have an academic interest in studying in certain countries, some places may not necessarily be a wise choice for LGBTQ+ students. Some countries are more welcoming than others, while other locations do not accept, or are even openly hostile toward, the LGBTQ+ community, making them unsafe choices. A few of the best and safest locations for LGBTQ+ students to study abroad include Sweden, the Netherlands, and Canada.
Although same-sex marriage wasn't legal in Sweden until 2009, the country has recognized civil unions for decades and has long had a tradition of civil rights for its LGBTQ+ citizens. Likewise, the Netherlands is also friendly to the community and was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2000. As a result, the country has long-standing policies and established organizations that address the needs of LGBTQ+ people. In Canada, same-sex marriage was legalized in 2003, and the country has enacted anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ+ residents and visitors alike.
On the other hand, some countries may be dangerous for LGBTQ+ students to live in. For example, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Kenya can impose life sentences in prison on those caught engaging in same-sex activities. LGBTQ+ students may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of feeling they have to suppress their sexual identities if they choose to study in such countries, or even worse find themselves in dangerous situations.
While many schools in the United States have a menu of support services that cater to the needs of LGBTQ+ students, these resources may not be readily available in some countries abroad. Students should look into the resources at the host school they want to attend and keep in mind that in order to connect with other LGBTQ+ people, they may need to venture off campus and into the larger community.
Although many countries do not have extreme laws that make homosexuality a capital offense, students should still understand the laws of the countries they are considering visiting. For instance, some countries have public decency legislation that makes same-sex relations a crime — with penalties that may include a prison sentence or deportation. Similarly, some countries have age of consent laws for same-sex couples. In addition, not every country has anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ+ residents and visitors. Students should be sure to carefully look into a country's laws and regulations to help them make their travel decision.
Students who are not living on the host college's campus should do research on the accommodations available to them. Some countries don't allow bookings from same-sex couples at hotels and hostels while in other countries businesses seek out and welcome these customers.
Culture shock can be expected in anyone travelling to a foreign country, but it may be exacerbated for LGBTQ+ students. To fully make the best of studying abroad, you should immerse yourself in the culture, which means also being respectful of behaviors and things that may not be the norm at home. It's imperative to understand how a culture interacts with queers, as well as how queers interact with each other in a different country. Something that is acceptable at home may be frowned upon or disrespectful in certain cultures and LGBTQ+ students studying abroad should make sure they're able to deal with these differences in an appropriate manner.
LGBTQ+ students who are considering a place to attend college may want to give more weight to schools in cities that help the community flourish. Below are details on just a few examples of LGBTQ-friendly cities in the U.S.
(Note: Statistics are those most recently available - percentages from 2015 and hate crime numbers from 2013.)
About the LGBTQ+ Community
Once a quiet working-class neighborhood called Eureka Valley, the Castro District was San Francisco's center for gay activism in the 60s and 70s, and one of the first gay neighborhoods in the U.S. Today, the Castro is now the vibrant epicenter of the queer community. The neighborhood is home to numerous businesses owned by LGBTQ+ individuals, community activism organizations, and a thriving gay nightlife scene.
Percentage of residents who identify as LGBTQ: 6.2 percent
LGBT-related hate crimes: 0.44 per 100,000 residents
Notable pride events and historical landmarks
The historic Castro Theatre, Harvey Milk Plaza, Pink Triangle Park, Human Right's Campaign Store, Twin Peaks Tavern, the Castro Street Fair, the Pink Party, the International LGBT Film Festival, the Dyke March, SF Pride Parade.
About the LGBTQ+ Community
New York's Chelsea and Greenwich Village have long been known for their high concentrations of LGBTQ+ residents, LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-friendly businesses, and nightlife, though some argue that this is changing. Still, the two neighborhoods represent the city's historic LGBT landscape. Today, a number of other neighborhoods are helping to write the next chapter including Hell's Kitchen, the Theatre District, and parts of northern Manhattan.
Percentage of residents who identify as LGBTQ: 4 percent
LGBT-related hate crimes: 0.37 per 100,000 residents
Notable pride events and landmarks
Julius, Gay Liberation in Christopher Park, the LGBT Community Center, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, NYC Pride March, PRIDE festival.
About the LGBTQ+ Community
DC's Logan Circle and Dupont Circle neighborhoods are iconic areas for the city's LGBT community. Lined with gay bars and home to a thriving gay economy, Dupont Circle was where DC hosted the first official Gay Pride celebration. The District of Columbia is also home to several influential organizations dedicated to LGBT advocacy such as the DC Center, GLAA, SAGE, Capital Pride Alliance, and the Human Rights Campaign headquarters.
Percentage of residents who identify as LGBTQ: 10 percent
LGBT-related hate crimes: 0.77 per 100,000
Notable pride events and landmarks
Lambda Rising (1974 - 2010), the Furies house, Pride Parade, Youth Pride Parade, DC Black Pride, 17th Street High Heel Drag Race.
Q&A with LGBTQ+ Experts
- What are some of the challenges LGBTQ+ college students face? How can they overcome or avoid them?
- When choosing a college, how can an LGBTQ+ student know that a school is welcoming to members of the community?
- In your experience, what are the most important things prospective LGBTQ+ students should think about and/or look for when choosing a college or program?
- What kinds of LGBTQ+ degree programs are generally available? How can students benefit from these programs?
- What can LGBTQ+ college students do if they are being harassed or bullied?
Professor, Middle Tennessee State University
Director of LGBTQ studies, Kent State University
C.B. Arrott Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Scholarship
University of California, San Diego
This scholarship from UC San Diego is provided to LGBT students who are active in the community.
Dan Allen Memorial Scholarship
City College of San Francisco
City College of San Francisco provides this scholarship to publicly identified lesbians, gay men or bisexuals at the school. Recipients must be full-time attendees with a 2.5 minimum GPA.
eQuality Scholarship Collaborative
This award is given to high school students from northern and central California who have demonstrated service to the LGBT community. Other application criteria include financial hardship and academic achievement. The organization also has scholarships for nursing and medical students, as well as for allies of the LGBT community.
Gamma Mu Scholarships Program
Gamma Mu Foundation
Gay men who attend a vocational school, college, technical school or university can receive a scholarship from the Gamma Mu Foundation. Preference is given to those who come from or plan to attend college in a rural or underserved LGBT area, as well as to those who have overcome instances of discrimination. In addition, students must demonstrate leadership in the community and strong academic performance.
LEAGUE Foundation LGBTQ Scholarships
The LEAGUE Foundation awards up to eight scholarships each year to LGBTQ high school seniors who plan to attend an accredited vocational school, college or university. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA and be involved in LGBTQ community activities.
Leroy F. Aarons Scholarship Award
The Association of LGBT Journalists (formerly the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association)
This scholarship is designed for graduate and undergraduate LGBT students who plan to pursue a career in journalism. Applicants must be accepted or enrolled in a journalism degree program.
LGBT Leadership Scholarship
University of Puget Sound
The University of Puget Sound offers this scholarship to LGBT sophomores, juniors and seniors at the school. Applicants must be involved in activities that benefit the community on or off campus.
LIVE OUT LOUD Educational Scholarship
Live Out Loud
Live Out Loud gives three annual scholarships to LGBTQ students in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who are graduating high school. The organization is looking for applicants who have demonstrated leadership, academic success and involvement in community service.
Markowski-Leach Scholarship Fund
This scholarship is for LGBTQ students who attend Stanford University, San Francisco State University, UC San Francisco or UC Berkeley. Students must be enrolled full-time in a degree or teaching credential program and have a minimum 2.5 GPA.
Milton Fisher Scholarship for Innovation and Creativity
Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
This scholarship is open to high school upperclassmen and college freshmen who are from the New York Metropolitan area or Connecticut and plan to attend college anywhere in the U.S., or to students who live outside of New York or Connecticut but plan to attend - or are already attending — college in either location. Awards are granted to students who have solved an artistic, technical or scientific problem, students who have found a distinctive solution to a school or community problem, or students who have created a new group serving an important need.
PFLAG National Scholarship Program
LGBTQ+ and ally students are eligible to receive this scholarship from PFLAG. Applicants must be high school seniors entering college the following year. Awards are given to those who have demonstrated an interest in serving the LGBTQ community.
Point Foundation Scholarship
The Point Foundation awards funding for students who demonstrate dedication to both their academic studies and the queer community. Students must be enrolled in a degree-granting graduate or undergraduate program or be high school seniors who plan to enroll in such a program.
Pride Foundation (Pacific Northwest) Scholarships
LGBTQ residents of Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and Washington can receive this scholarship from the Pride Foundation. Students must be enrolled in a trade school, college or university to qualify.
Queer Foundation Scholarship
This is an essay contest that provides scholarships for LGBT high school seniors who plan to study queer theory in college and who are interested in giving back to the LGBTQ community.
Rich Chicotel Memorial Scholarship
LGBT MBA students at Stanford University qualify for this scholarship. Applicants must have financial need and maintain a minimum GPA of 3.25.
Russ Ty Gay and Lesbian Scholarship
University of California, San Diego
LGBT students at the school who have demonstrated financial need and have a 3.5 GPA qualify for this award.
Team DC Student-Athlete Scholarship
LGBT high school student-athletes in the Washington, DC metropolitan area can receive this scholarship to attend a two- or four-year college. Applicants must participate in a competitive sport, such as baseball or soccer.
Traub-Dicker Rainbow Scholarship
Stonewall Community Foundation
This scholarship is for women-identified students who either are in high school and plan to attend an accredited university or are already in college (including graduate school).
USC Lambda Scholarships
University of Southern California
USC Lambda offers several scholarships for LGBTQ students at the University of Southern California. Eligibility requirements include a 3.0 minimum GPA, full-time enrollment at the school and completion of community service for the USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association.
LGBTQ+ and Ally Resources
A Hidden Crisis
The Center for American Progress discusses the violence LGBTQ+ students face on college campuses in this full-length article from 2014.
National LGBTQ Task Force
The National LGBTQ Task Force addresses discrimination against queer college students.
Campus Pride is a nonprofit organization that works to create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students on college campuses. It runs leadership programs and advocacy trainings, publishes news, and links students to events and organizations near them.
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Campaign is an organization that both lobbies the federal government about issues that impact the LGBTQ community and educates the public about these challenges.
This organization works toward advancing the civil rights of the LGBTQ community as well as those living with HIV. Queer students can learn about their rights, read up on relevant state initiatives and access publications through Lambda Legal's website.
Nondiscrimination Laws: State by State Information - Map
The American Civil Liberties Union provides a color-coded map showing which states have nondiscrimination laws in place for sexual orientation, which have laws in places covering both sexual orientation and gender identity, and which states have no nondiscrimination laws on the books.
The Trevor Project
This crisis intervention organization specializes in helping LGBTQ+ young people. Services include a suicide hotline, text and instant messaging services, and a social media platform.
Transgender Law and Policy Institute
TLPI provides advocacy support for the transgender community. It has expert knowledge of nondiscrimination and hate crime laws, employment policies and healthcare regulations. Through its website, TLPI answers legal questions from transgender people.
Resources for Parents
Family Acceptance Project
The Family Acceptance Project conducts research designed to help strengthen families that have LGBTQ+ children. It then uses the evidence it gathers to create a model by which families — no matter their ethnic, religious or social status — can care for their children.
This website, unrelated to the Family Acceptance Project, is maintained by parents of a young man who came out as gay. It details their initial struggle as a religious family to deal with this news and accept their son. They provide practical and loving advice to parents who might be in the same situation.
Our Daughters and Sons
Filled with definitions, parent testimonies and FAQs, this guide produced by PFLAG answers questions that parents may have about their LGBTQ+ children.
PFlag stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It supports family and friends of the LGBTQ+ community. Services include education programs, events and advocacy networking.
Resources for Educators
College professors play a huge role when it comes to fostering inclusiveness on a college campus. Below is a list of resources specifically for educators covering key topics such as creating inclusive curriculum/lesson plans, how to prevent bullying, and how to create a safe classroom space for both LGBTQ+ students and allies.
Advocates for Youth
Advocates for Youth offers resources, tools, and strategies specifically for youth-serving professionals to help them promote the health and well being of young LGBTQ people.
Consortium of Higher Education
Dedicated to supporting educators who work with LGBTQ+ students, the Consortium of Higher Education helps professionals develop curriculum that promotes improvement, change, and advocacy.
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
GLSEN offers a variety of resources for educators. Teachers can find guides on creating inclusive lesson plans and building safe classrooms for all students.
National Education Association
NEA provides different tools and resources to help educators address and prevent various forms of bullying.
Safe Zone offers free online resources and training workshops to help teachers - or anyone - make a campus safe for LGBTQ people.
The Trevor Project
This national organization offers training for counselors, educators, administrators, school nurses, and others working directly with LGBTQ youth and adults.
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