In order to best serve LBGTQ+ students, colleges must first help them to claim and nurture their identities on campuses that support and reflect them by providing targeted services and opportunities for the building of community and the fostering of academic success. While the LGBTQ+ movement has made considerable strides and notched lofty political successes over the past decades, systemic oppression and both familial and social pressures still prohibit many students from coming out of the closet, thus compelling us to provide spaces for students to create community during this learning process. Colleges can employ various practices that will help to attract and retain LGBTQ+ students as well as inspire and abet the completion of their goals.
First, colleges must recognize the intersectional identities of LGBTQ+ students, many of whom face systemic barriers on a variety of levels including race, gender, sexuality, documentation status, and socioeconomic position within a system of global capitalism that often refuses to accept their personhood. If data is required to inform Student Equity Plans, then colleges must begin an earnest effort to responsibly collect data regarding LGBTQ+ students. The ASCCC has passed three resolutions pertaining to the collection and dissemination of data regarding LGBTQ+ students by the Chancellor’s Office from CCC Apply, but to date such information has not been provided to the colleges. In addition, exact data regarding the demographics of this student population is sometimes difficult to accurately ascertain because of students’ desire for privacy. Regardless of these challenges, the demographics of LGBTQ+ students may reasonably be assumed to reflect the overall student demographics on a campus. Therefore, a vast majority of queer students may be students of color, and many may be undocumented or the first of their families to attend college. Colleges must ensure that at the beginning of their academic and professional journey these students can see themselves in the physical environment the moment they step foot on campus.
Decades of scholarship has shown that students achieve their goals when they see themselves validated and reflected by the physical spaces in which they study and work. For many of our LGBTQ+ students, “external validation is initially needed to move students toward acknowledgement of their own internal selfcapableness and potentiality.” Another recent study found a 23% variance in academic success for queerspectrum students and that “[LGBTQ+] students who had higher comfort with campus climate, greater ratings of institutional action perceptions for campus climate, and warmer perceptions of campus climate, rated their academic success as higher.” Therefore, colleges should provide signs and banners all over campus, as well as on the college website, with images of queer students, promotion of LGBTQ+ themed events, and messages of support. Curriculum must be intentionally designed to include queer voices, scholarship, science, and art. Financial aid, scholarship, DACA, and transfer workshops can all be geared toward LGBTQ+ students who have specific needs and opportunities. And, finally, whenever possible, students should be able to see themselves reflected in a community of proud LGBTQ+ and ally faculty and staff who visibly and vociferously advocate for their rights and success on campus.
If queer and trans students who do not identify with a binary gender category are going to be able to see themselves as part of the integral fabric of college communities, colleges cannot assume their gender and provide compulsory binary gender options on required applications, forms, and other documents. This practice can be alienating, even violent, for students who do not identify with binary gender paradigms. Along similar lines, trans students should be given the option to provide an “affirmed name” on all forms and documents, including on email and the class roster, so they are not misgendered and misnamed in physical or virtual classrooms. A simple practice faculty can employ is to provide their own personal pronouns on the syllabus and during the first class session to at least let students know that they are sensitive and aware of trans and non-binary gender identities and that the space is inclusive. Finally, colleges should have clearly designated and commensurate all gender restrooms in accessible locations across campus. This practice has already become common in airports and many municipal buildings, and all colleges should follow suit.
Ideally, LBGTQ+ events, clubs, and forums should be diffused throughout the many branches of student life of campus. Each college should have at least one robust LGBTQ+ oriented student club with a strong and committed faculty advisor. Via the club, student life offices can promote events for National Coming Out Day, Trans Day of Remembrance, Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Native American Heritage Month, among others. Through this type of intentionally intersectional programming, colleges can not only educate students in their particular fields of interest but also demonstrate and teach new narratives that center the rich histories of LGBTQ+ communities and people of color in art, science, and industry. Furthermore, Pride celebrations can be held in May and June and may include activities such as genderqueer fashion shows, movie nights, karaoke, social justice lectures, pride marches, and lavender graduations. In the best case scenario for LGBTQ+ student services, colleges should establish a physical Pride Center with a strong social media presence that organizes programs and acts as a beacon of community and an engine of success for our LGBTQ+ students and their allies. In addition, after graduation, LGBTQ+ alumni networks and scholarship programs, such as The Point Foundation, can support life-long success after students leave their campuses.
A strong commitment to social justice, as well as incentives from a new funding formula, indicates that system wide the time has come to collect good data and invest many more resources toward the equitable success and completion of LGBTQ+ students. They are among the most resilient and ambitious students, achieving their goals despite experiencing systemic oppression on a variety of intersecting fronts of their social identities. Colleges can do much more, right now, to create services and spaces that facilitate their success. If the community college system commits to creating equitable academic and social pathways that serve LGBTQ+ students, we will make great strides in achieving equitable outcomes for all students.
1. See Resolution 7.01, fall 2015, “LGBT MIS Data Collection and Dissemination” (Bruno), Resolution 7.04, Spring 2017, “Accessing Data on LGBT-Identified Students from the CCC Apply” (Pitman), Resolution 3.01, fall 2018, “Non-Binary Gender Option On CCC Apply” (Donahue). The Chancellor’s Office has cited privacy concerns regarding the dissemination of this data, which is certainly legitimate. A responsible method of data collection on our LGBTQ+ students needs to be created.
2. Laura Rendon “Validating Culturally Diverse Students, Toward a New Model of Learning and Student Development” in Innovative Higher Education, vol. 19, no. 1, p. 17.
3 Jason C. Garvey, Dian D. Squire, Bret Stachler, and Susan Rankin, “The Impact of Campus Climate on Queer-Spectrum Student Success” in Journal of LGBT Youth, vol. 15, Issue 2, February 2018, from abstract.