Eileen Makak, Baruch College
Editor’s Note: To learn more on this topic, readers may wish to consider the new NACADA/Stylus book, Advising Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer College Students.
In a time of reconstructing the way higher education looks, academic advising practices can embrace a dynamic set of student development theories. In creating space for students, advisors and educators can thoughtfully reconstruct the ways in which inclusive practices are utilized while working with students, specifically those who identify in the LGBTQIA+ community. Higher education professionals can tap into this opportunity to welcome paradigm shifts. By doing so, campuses shift away from seeing gender and sexuality as binaries. Rather, institutions can re-create a space that emphasizes fluidity and spectrums of gender, sex, and sexuality. Below are some simple things that can be done to create a more inclusive environment in advising sessions.
Uphold the Value of Queering Discourses
This can take the form of many small acts that contribute to a larger picture. LGBTQIA+ discussions and representation does not only need to be held inside the classroom or within a specific event on campus. Advisors and administrators on campus can encourage the use of self-identifying technology features. Platforms like Zoom, PeopleSoft, and various user interfaces can allow students to create their identity. By allowing students to claim their name and gender outside of what might be listed on a birth certificate, students are given the tools to reconstruct their world for themselves. Additionally, simple acts like including pronouns in email signatures and introductions can help students feel empowered to explore and engage with their identity. These are practices that are becoming more and more popular. As practitioners, understanding where these ideas come from and the theories they are grounded in can help facilitate a deeper understanding of self and of students.
Embrace Paradigm Shifts
While not a new concept, growth mindsets play a role during advisement appointments. By focusing on learning and development and not performance evaluation, students may have the space they need in order to thrive. “Learning goals, as the research indicates, tend to make individuals less vulnerable to the effects of fluctuations in confidence” (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Advisors can support students as they navigate the challenges of college and identity development through an emphasis on learning and the construction of unique education paths.
Advisors are in a unique position to assist in the deconstruction of harmful systems. Advisors do not have to be gatekeepers in terms of grading and evaluation which provides the opportunity to coach students through developing their own learning goals instead of pre-set goals designed by the institution. Access to information and resources on curriculum and policy is key to the success of an effective advisement office. While advisors do not typically grade and evaluate students, it may be helpful to explore the concept of gatekeeping in the context of supporting LGBTQIA+ students. If students do not feel advisors are accessible or safe to approach, then necessary information may not be available and the opportunity to develop learning goals becomes intangible.
The college experience can be vast and overwhelming. Advisors can help students cope with the stresses of thinking through many decisions that are not just academic and professional, but also personal. To do so, professionals in the field can embrace changing environments—educators too are in a constant state of learning. “Although individuals often experience their sexual and gender identities as innate, unchosen, and ingrained, these feelings and identities exist within a specific historical period that limits and/or provides access to certain ways (e.g., categories, nomenclature, cultural norms) for making meaning of feelings, desires, fantasies, and identities” (Denton, 2019). Students may be simultaneously embracing and challenging the spaces they discover while in college as it relates to their identity. As one system of support for students, advisors can be acutely aware of the possible unsafe environment students find themselves in throughout their time in college at home or on campus. By supporting a student’s identity development, their reality may be both deconstructed and then reconstructed.
Hold Space for Expression
Because students may be facing several challenges, holding space for students to be vulnerable during advisement meetings can be essential. This can take on various forms of sharing. Sometimes, this means having a pride flag in the office that is visible to students. Sometimes, this means sharing interests with them and asking about their hobbies. A person’s identity is dynamic and multifaceted. Giving space for expression can mean embracing someone’s gender expression, but it also means embracing the whole person. Talk to students about the video games they play, about the poem they are working on, the craft project they were thinking about starting. This is a signal that the student can talk about what’s going on in their minds on a personal level—even if the formal title of the person in front of them is academic advisor.
Give students opportunities to express themselves in ways that are not vocal or visual. Especially during virtual advisement appointments, vocal communication styles might not be safe for students who cannot be their full selves while at home. LGBTQIA+ students may not be out at home, but advisors can help students feel comfortable to be out in spaces they create. Use chat features in advising sessions or ask students “Can other folks hear us? I want to make sure I am respecting your privacy as we go over your academic record.” These examples can be of assistance when creating space for students to communicate in their preferred and most comfortable form.
Advising conversations may begin within the academic sphere, but questions like “How are you feeling? What about your overall well-being?” do not have to be uncommon. Inquisitive advising practices demonstrate to students that advisors care about them as whole students. This convergence of inquisitive advising with grounding in queer theory can provide the instructions needed in the process of constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing space for students who may be going through several layers of uncertainty and development.
Eileen Makak, MSED
Senior Academic Advisor
Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College
Denton, J. M. (2019). Queer theory: Deconstructing sexual and gender identity norms, and developmental assumptions. In E. S. Abes, S. R. Jones, & D. L. Stewart (Eds.). Rethinking college student development theory using critical frameworks (pp. 58–64). Stylus publishing.
Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95(2), 256–273. https://www.unco.edu/cebs/psychological-sciences/about-us/faculty-staff/pugh-kevin/dweck_leggett88.pdf
Cite this article using APA style as: Makak, E. (2022, March). Advising practices for inclusive environments for LGBTQIA+ students. Academic Advising Today, 45(1). [insert url here]