Maximillian Matthews, Clark Atlanta University
As a transfer student at Elon University, I only met with my academic advisor when I needed an approval for something. Being a black queer young man, I was already accustomed to not having safe spaces. The interactions with my academic advisor indicated nothing would change during my time at Elon. While she may not have been culturally insensitive or could have even had a rainbow flag on her office door indicating LGBTQ+ allyship, spaces specifically designed for someone with my identity intersections were unheard of. Elon went out of its way to make black students welcome with our Multicultural Center, now the Center for Race, Ethnicity & Diversity Education. The university even had a LGBTQ+ student organization at the time, but I still did not believe there was someone on campus to confide in about my experiences.
The experiences I had at Elon reaffirmed my ideas on the non-existence of safe spaces available to me as a black queer young man. Taking classes as a freshman at North Carolina A&T State University the year before, I received the same messages and felt invisible in navigating college on my own. Although I graduated from Elon with a solid GPA and went on to graduate school, this does not mean my invisibility could not have been avoided. Academic advisors cannot forget about black queer and gender non-conforming (BQGN) students who may feel similar invisibility.
While there is lack of research on the experiences of BQGN students, current research on black gay male college students primarily focuses on how they tackle challenges regarding lack of support, being a double minority at PWIs, and their personal and psychological struggles (Means, 2014). Patton and Simmons’ (2008) research on the experiences of black lesbian students at an HBCU found these students encountered numerous challenges including feeling their identities were in conflict and not being accepted due to their sexuality. Existing research suggests higher levels of gender nonconformity increase the likelihood of adversity across both peer and family domains (Martin-Storey & August, 2016)
William A. Smith comprised the term “racial battle fatigue” in his research on how microaggressions affects black students at PWIs. The RBF framework explains the physiological, psychological, and behavioral burdens imposed on racially marginalized and stigmatized groups and the amount of energy expended while coping with and fighting against systemic racism (Smith, Mustaffa, Jones, Curry, & Allen, 2016). These systems are found in higher education as black students must navigate institutions that favor whiteness (Chesler, Lewis, & Crowfoot, 2005). Such experiences are not only what BQGN students carry when we advise them, but also to their classes.
Rather than serving as institutions of learning and scholarship, colleges and universities can be places of antagonism for black students. There have been increasing reports of black students experiencing racial trauma from their universities. Professors using racial epithets, white students calling the police on their black peers using common areas, university employees calling the police on black students attempting to use the library, and nooses appearing on campus after a black student body president getting elected are only a few of the numerous cases seen in recent years. When blackness, queerness, and nonconformity intersect, the burdens can be more profound as many studies have shown a connection between queerness and discrimination, harassment, and victimization on U.S. college campuses (Rankin, 2003; Rankin, Blumenfeld, Weber, & Frazer 2010; Yost & Gilmore, 2011). Academic advisors cannot underestimate how these incidents impact the lives and academics of BQGN students. To best serve these students, there are methods that can be utilized.
Partner with the LGBTQ+ resource center on campus, if applicable. LGBTQ+ resource centers collaborate with faculty, staff, and students to develop programs and increase awareness on LGBTQ+ student issues. They usually host workshops and activities, oversee LGBTQ+ student organizations, and manage LGBTQ+ resource materials. There is a wealth of information that advisors can learn from working with their LGBTQ+ resource centers. Reach out and set up a meeting with the center staff, schedule a tour of the center, inquire about potential collaborations, and/or attend their sponsored events.
Explore and utilize the resources offered by Campus Pride. Campus Pride is a non-profit organization that serves LGBTQ students, campus organizations, and allies in leadership development, support programs, and services to create safer and more inclusive LGBTQ friendly institutions (Campus Pride, n.d.). They provide several resources in the areas of leadership, organization, event planning, activism, and advocacy for queer and transgender students of color. Campus Pride also runs an Advisor Academy for professional staff and faculty members seeking to increase LGBTQ inclusivity and safety on their campuses.
Practice nurtured advising. Glenn, Wider, and Williams (2008) describe nurtured advising as a specialized form of advising that simulates a concerned family member. They argue the nurturing advisor is a caring adult who shows they have the student’s best interest at heart by communicating expectations and extending the core values of advising into teachable moments. As BQGN students are in need of safe spaces, the presence of a nurturing advisor can provide security and a sense of belonging to their institution.
Learn about the various facets of the BQGN community. Although far more research is needed on BQGN college students, advisors can still educate themselves on this population. Thanks to platforms such as Black Youth Project, Native Son Now, and Out Magazine, more BQGN stories are being told. With BQGN authors including Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Janet Mock, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill, Clay Cane, and Darnell L. Moore to name a few, there are various books available for those who are interested in the BQGN experience. There is no better way to learn about the BQGN community than from our own perspectives.
BQGN students will notice when advisors are invested in their lives. Advisors should strive for these students to feel empowered and equipped after using their services. This can be verified through utilizing assessments where students can give feedback on the work advisors do. Through being intentional with BQGN students, advisors can ease concerns and make a notable difference. The success of BQGN students is certainly worth the effort.
Clark Atlanta University
Campus Pride. (n.d.). Mission, vision & values. Retrieved from https://www.campuspride.org/about/mission/
Chesler, M. A., Lewis, A., & Crowfoot, J. (2005). Challenging racism in higher education: Promoting justice. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Glenn, P. W., Wider, F., & Williams, I. L. (2008, March). Nurtured advising: An essential approach to advising students at historically black college and universities. Academic Advising Today, 31(1). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Nurtured-Advising-An-Essential-Approach-to-Advising-Students-at-Historically-Black-College-and-Universities.aspx
Martin-Storey, A., & August, E. G. (2016). Harassment due to gender nonconformity mediates the association between sexual minority identity and depressive symptoms. Journal of Sex Research, 53(1), 85–97.
Means, D. R. (2014). Demonized no more: The spiritual journeys and spaces of black gay male college students at predominantly white institutions (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Proquest LLC. (1554337409). Available at https://repository.lib.ncsu.edu/bitstream/handle/1840.16/9263/etd.pdf?sequence=1
Patton, L. D., & Simmons, S. L. (2008). Exploring Complexities of Multiple Identities of Lesbians in a Black College Environment. Negro Educational Review, 59(3), 197–215. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.706.7671&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Rankin, S. (2003). Campus climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The Diversity Factor, 12(1), 18–23.
Rankin, S., Blumenfeld, W., Weber, G., & Frazer, S. (2010). State of higher education for LGBT people. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride.
Smith, W. A., Mustaffa, J. B., Jones, C. M., Curry, T. J., & Allen, W. R. (2016). You make me wanna holler and throw up both my hands!: Campus culture, black misandric microaggressions, and racial battle fatigue. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (QSE), 29(9), 1189–1209.
Yost, M., & Gilmore, S. (2011). Assessing LGBTQ campus climate and creating change. Journal of Homosexuality, 58(9), 1330–1354.
Cite this article using APA style as: Matthews, M. (2019, June). Approaches for advising and supporting black queer and gender nonconforming students. Academic Advising Today, 42(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]