Associate Dean, Graduate School
University of New Hampshire
As the pluralism of North America grows more evident, institutions of higher education share a common belief, born of experience, that diversity in their student bodies, faculties, and staff is important if they are to fulfill their primary mission: providing a quality education. As professionals in the field of academic advising we are guided by the principles outlined in the NACADA Statement of Core Values (2005), i.e., 'academic advisors work to strengthen the importance, dignity, potential, and unique nature of each individual within the academic setting.'
Our profession understands that students have diverse backgrounds that can include different ethnic, racial, domestic, and international communities; sexual orientations; ages; gender and gender identities; physical, emotional, and psychological abilities; political, religious, and educational beliefs' (NACADA, 2005).
The NACADA Statement of Core Values continues that:
"effective advising requires a holistic approach.To connect academic advising to students' lives, advisors actively seek resources and inform students of specialists who can further assess student needs and provide access to appropriate programs and services. Advisors help students integrate information so they can make well-informed academic decisions' (NACADA, 2005)."
The implications for academic advisors are clear; our profession has a central role to play in creating campus environments that can support the complexity of people's experience.
Using Cunningham's (2004) point that multicultural awareness is essential for academic advisors, this article explores specifics that can help advisors work with students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBTQQ 1 ).
According to Cass (1979), individuals seek congruency between personal and societal perceptions of self; development occurs when individuals work to rectify incongruence arising between these two perceptions. Consequently, as individuals begin to make sense of their lives, they effectively redefine their conceptions of self and world. Although this process confronts all of our students, those in the early stages of LGBTQQ identity development have the additional challenge of searching to find what it means to be LGBTQQ and whether such knowledge applies to them directly.
For many LGBTQQ traditional age students, this time in North American history could be described as the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, there have been many great strides towards equality for LGBTQQ people, e.g., gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts in May 2004, and in Canada and Spain in June 2005. Many for profit and non-profit organizations have non-discrimination policies that help prevent discrimination in the workplace and/or provide partner benefits for employees and their 'families.'
On the other hand, 17 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit gay marriage 2 , and there is still no federal law to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQQ people in the workplace. Unfortunately there has been little research conducted on Advising LGBTQQ students. In preparation for a presentation at a NACADA regional conference, Bob Coffey 3 and I asked University of New Hampshire (UNH) LGBTQQ students about their experience with their academic advisors 4 . Concern over the connection between personal fulfillment and career path is a common theme in advisors' work with students; the current political climate poses particular concerns for LGBTQQ students. After the recent election, one of the UNH Outdoor Education students shared his concern that the states he had planned to explore for career purposes had all voted 'red' 5 . This put his academic and career interests in direct conflict with his personal interests, marriage and family:
"My advisor has been really helpful in understanding my situation and said that he'd help me look for [gay-affirmative employers] in places where there isn't a chance of me being discriminated against. His response in an email to me was 'Don't worry, Isaiah; we'll find you a place that's super and fantastic - just like you.' He's been really supportive." Isaiah 6 '08, Outdoor Education
In our everyday lives we operate under some basic cultural assumptions. Many are very helpful, in fact, critical to the functioning of our society, e.g., a red stop light means stop. When studying North American history from the 1969 Stonewall riots (answers.com, 2005) through the civil rights and women's movements, theorists illuminate normative assumptions concerning sexuality and gender and the impact of compulsory heterosexuality and gender duality on people's lived experiences.
There are two sexes (male and female). Sex and gender are the same thing. Everyone fits comfortably into one or the other. Boys like girls and girls like boys. Optimal pairings are committed monogamous pairs between people of the 'opposite' sex.
These normative standards are so embedded that they are invisible to many people, particularly those who benefit from them the most. Violators face serious consequences including jeopardizing their physical safety (remember college student Matthew Shepard), their job security, even child custody.
LGBTQQ individuals, despite certain similarities, are different from each other and deserve to be treated as individuals. In the same ways as Cunningham (2004) warns academic advisors against "thinking we know much of anything about anyone simply because we are aware of their racial or ethnic classification ' the same is true about sexual orientation and gender identity. As I mentioned earlier, Bob Coffey and I interviewed some LGBTQQ students recently about their advising experiences. Not surprisingly, students had very different advisor expectations; some saw no connection between one's personal identities and one's academic decisions:
"I don't see it as an issue; I don't see how that person can help me with my academic advising. It's irrelevant." Danny '08, Continuing Education
"Being in the Business School, I wouldn't have expected my advisor to refer me to LGBTQQ resources - my preference has been to keep those worlds separate. In the business world, you're supposed to suppress your personal life anyways - it's like it's notpart of your job. You're there to do your best for your company - everything else, that's what your breaks are for."
Jeff '06, Business Administration/Accounting.
Jeff's quote outlines the reality for many LGBTQQ people, that of picking and choosing one's identity for the occasion. These students voices may sound familiar to advisors since, as a profession, we approach our jobs from both of positions, i.e., sometimes we just help students 'pick courses' while other times we need to know more about an advisee in order to help. Just as I believe Jeff and Danny will to move towards a more inclusive model, so to is advising developing an identity as a profession.
NACADA's Statement of Core Values, defines advising is in more holistic terms, thus taking into account integration of one's being, one's academic pursuits and one's career planning. I believe that this shift towards a holistic approach is timely and necessary for our profession to meet the needs of our ever more diverse student bodies.
"Assumptions are powerful. That's probably the most important thing to me - [how an advisor handled this] would've turned me off or turned me on. Assumptions like when they ask about future plans, marriage, and careers. Your career can sometimes be connected to those kinds of plans. Everyone sees an advisor. For first-year students, [advisors can be] the first staff they interact with - they represent the.school." Abigail '07, Women's Studies
"[Identifying as LGBT] never came up as far as grades and classes; it wasn't important. It was important when I went to inquire about an incident involving a professor who made comments I was offended by - it helped that [my academic advisor] knew that I was out and could help me come up with options." Blair '05, Psychology/Justice Studies
Suggested Advising Strategies 7
We are all composed of multiple specificities, race, ethnicity, religion, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression etc. As academic advisors, we can support student development by being conscious of our own embedded cultural assumptions and values and the ways in which those are exhibited by us personally and by our institutions:
Be Aware of Your Language: Take our own and other's multiple identities into account. This represents a shift away from a more static understanding of identity, allowing for movement, for increased self-awareness, for on-going change based on social interactions. We can educate ourselves and our colleagues on the appropriate use of labels and expressions used to refer to LGBTQQ individuals.
Increase Visibility: We can reduce isolationby using inclusive language and content in our offices and in our interactions withallstudents, e.g., ask if there is 'someone special' in their lives rather than assuming heterosexuality, i.e., boyfriend or girlfriend.
Promote Understanding: We can support LGBTQQ students by making an effort to learn about LGBTQQ people, their history, issues and communities.
Ask questions: Openly LGBTQQ people usually prefer that their heterosexual colleagues risk sounding uninformed or offensive by asking questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, rather than make incorrect assumptions.
Brainstorm solutions: As with all students, we can help LGBTQQ students by helping them brainstorm solutions to academic, personal and career-related challenges they face rather than offering solutions.
Facilitate and Support: We are most effective when we support and facilitate - rather than overprotect - LGBTQQ students in their struggles with prejudice and discrimination. It is a tough world; empower students to advocate for themselves.
Speak up: It is critical that advisors challenge words, decisions and actions that target LGBTQQ people, even at the risk of being misread as LGBTQQ ourselves.
Equal treatment:LGBTQQ students do not want 'special' treatment or privileges. They want anequalopportunity to live as whole individuals
Know your resources: Find out what resources are available on your campus for LGBTQQ students. Is there an LGBTQQ center? If you have a multicultural center, does their definition of 'multicultural' include LGBTQQ people? Where does a LGBTQQ student go with a safety or health concern? What curricular offerings exist in the area, i.e., does your institution have an LGBTQQ or Queer studies major or minor? Are Career Center staff aware of the unique employment concerns of LGBTQQ students?
Get involved on campus: If your situation allows, meet your students in social settings. Attend an LGBTQQ event. Find out what activities are taking place and show up. Your involvement will help nurture affiliations that cultivate all aspects of our being. You might be surprised how much your efforts will be appreciated.
1In the early days of the modern gay movement the term 'gay' was seen as inclusive. Movements for social change, such as the civil rights movement and the feminist movement, highlighted the importance of explicit recognition, i.e., the term 'man' ought not to imply woman. In the same way, the term 'gay' became a male term and term 'lesbian' was added to indicate 'gay' women. The current list is fluid and ever changing. For the purposes of this article the term 'LGBTQQ' refers to lesbian (L), gay (G), bisexual (B), transgender (T), queer (Q), questioning (Q) people. LGBTQQ is also intended to include people questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and/or those who reject labels. The term 'Queer' in this context can encompass those who identify with any sexual orientation or identity. Intersex (I) --one having both male and female sexual characteristics (biology-online.org, 2005) -- is a newer term that is making an appearance on college campuses. The terms 'allies' can be added to the list (LGBTQQA) to refer to those who identify as heterosexual and actively work to build an affirming community for LGBTQQ people. The order of the letters has political implications, i.e., GLBT or LGBT.
2Human Rights Campaign's annual review of the State of the American Workplace, 2004.
3Bob Coffey recently left the University of New Hampshire to become the Education, Training & Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Student Conflict Resolution at the University of Michigan.
4Bob and I requested, and were granted, permission from the UNH Internal Review Board (IRB) prior to beginning our interviews.
5During the election of 2004 states won by Kerry were referred to as “blue” states, while those won by Bush were referred to as “red” states (see http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/ )
6Students provided us with pseudonyms.
7This list began life based on Jan Smith's work in Smith, J. (1995). 'Concerns of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Graduate Students'. New Directions for Student Services n72 p111-19 Win 1995.
Cite the above resource using APA style as:
Moorhead, C. (2005). Advising lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in higher education. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Website: http://nacada.ksu.edu/tabid/3318/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/1556/article.aspx