July 24, 2017
With Pride month just behind us, I believe it is important to reflect on the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals within student affairs.
Nearing the end of the first year of my PhD program, one notion that I have noticed discussed more and more in classes and research is representation. Representation is an important part of feeling welcomed and included on a campus, especially for students, faculty, and staff who identify as LGBTQ+.
Through reflection on my own experiences and conversations with friends and colleagues in student affairs, I have assembled a list of the most frequent responses on what is important when considering the interactions of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff within an institution.
When posed with the question “what does your institution do that makes you feel supported and represented as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and where do you feel improvements can be made,” there were mixed answers.
Safe zones, ally training, and Gay Straight Alliances were the most commonly listed items that individuals saw at their institutions.
Safe Zones and Ally Training: Incorporating safe zones and ally training on campuses helps individuals who do not identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community gain insight on the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals. Safe zones and ally trainings also provide support for members of the LGBTQ+ community to learn more about themselves.
Gay Straight Alliances: As registered student organizations, Gay Straight Alliances at their best are supposed to provide a safe environment for students who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community and to students who identify as allies.
Gender Pronouns: While many noted an increase in the usage of personal gender pronouns, it was mentioned that the inclusion and usage of gender pronouns within offices would be beneficial and more inclusive.
Gender Neutral Restrooms: While we have seen the inclusion of gender neutral restrooms at both the NASPA and ACPA conferences, not all institutions have gotten onboard. As a result, some members of the community feel left out.
Gender Neutral Housing: When it comes to housing, many institutions assign students to residence halls based on their gender. While a designated LGBTQ+ community is not the answer, establishing gender inclusive or “open housing” is an approach that will potentially enable students to feel comfortable and safe.
LGBTQ+ Resource Center: LGBTQ+ resource centers are beneficial in that they can better serve LGBTQ+ individuals through advocacy and training to the campus community. While Gay Straight Alliances are an excellent form of support for students, they cannot always provide the same level of resources and support when advocating for changes in institutional policies.
Representation for the Entire Community: Sometimes within higher education and student affairs, it may seem like individuals that do not fall under the four letters “LGBT” get swept to the side or ignored. It is important, as student affairs professionals, to recognize that there are many important identities in addition to LGBT. It is our responsibility to ensure everyone feels represented and welcome at our institution.
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Andrew Herridge is a PhD student in Higher Education Research at Texas Tech University. Andrew earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and English at Florida State University and his Master of Education in College Student Affairs Administration from University of West Florida. He enjoys playing with his hedgehog and finding new coffee blends to try. Andrew can be reached on Twitter at @andrewherridge.
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