More is More: Strategies for Including Gender Diverse Students; By: Elliott Kimball

I have a trained a lot of faculty and staff on how to be more thoughtful about LGBTQ+ identities, and more inclusive in their daily practice, yet one theme is always chief among their concerns: how do I work with and avoid offending transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse students? I find that most often their unfamiliarity with the mountain of language and terminology associated with this population only heightens these concerns. While I try to instill confidence in their ability to create that mindful and inclusive space, I also want them to understand why this must be a community responsibility.

Consider what this might look like in practice: Meet Taylor, our new favorite imaginary student. Taylor comes from a rural yet privileged hometown, steeped in conservative values and rooted in a strong Baptist community. Much of Taylor’s life has been spent questioning their identity, yet never had the exposure or language to understand or unpack how they were really feeling. Additionally, this wasn’t something Taylor felt safe questioning openly in their environment. Taylor is thrilled to come to college, hoping the experience isn’t marked by their parents guiding Taylor away from all things tagged as diverse, multicultural, or queer. Taylor is in your first-year seminar course, and upon receiving your welcome message notices your pronouns listed in your email signature. Taylor lights up, and immediately finds time to come to your office to discuss how they’ve been feeling about their own gender identity, wanting to share that they don’t feel like a man or woman. What do you do?

We should impress on all factions of our campus community that giving intentional thought to better serving gender diverse students is both critical and urgent, partnering this message with the encouragement that it is easier than most people think. We have to move away from the mindset that our resources for LGBTQ+ identified students lie only with specific people, often those that also identify as Queer, and only within specific offices, often charged in some way with cultivating inclusion on campus. You should feel empowered to become comfortable engaging with LGBTQ+ students.

Faculty and staff will often imply that they believe themselves unlikely to be engaging with a student that might come out to them as Queer. Yet the narrative of students struggling with their gender identity or sexuality and spending time on the institution’s webpage seeking out the most appropriate resource for support is further from reality. It is more likely that students will share this with those whom they have trusted connections with: meaning you.

Here a few things you can remember…

When a student shares with you their sexual or gender identity, don’t assume that you know why they did. They may have told you because you will be navigating their records and want to avoid you loudly declaring your confusion around a potential mismatch between the system and the person standing in front of you, but they may not have. Anytime someone shares a marginalized or oppressed identity with you, recognize the importance of the moment and extend appreciation for the courage and vulnerability required to share this part of themselves.

Ask how you can support them, understanding professional boundaries and circle of influence – don’t assume that you should immediately direct them to the nearest all-gender restroom. No, you can’t go home with them and share the couch while they tell their parents, but you can use language to reduce the stigma around counseling, walk them to their first appointment, and empower them to practice skills in a safe space that will help prepare them to navigate that potentially uncertain conversation. Challenge yourself not to tokenize. Tokenizing students can happen outside of simply reducing their entire being down to their recently shared identity, and using that to inform assumptions you will make about their person in the future – which hopefully you know not to do. Going back to the danger of assuming why they came out to you, don’t also assume that every professional interaction you have with them from now on will somehow center around their gender identity or sexuality. This is a part of them, yet they are still a student like any other. This also isn’t your opportunity for some free professional development through a live case study. Use online resources to hear queer narratives, finding on-campus workshops and resources surrounding the support of LGBTQ+ students, and put yourself in spaces with people who identify differently from you.

Identify resources on your campus, and understand that you simply connecting a student with someone who can better help them succeed doesn’t mean you aren’t doing your part. Prepare yourself to be more inclusive in all situations by practicing with gender-neutral language. This can include using they/them pronouns in the singular by default in situations where you are unsure of how someone identifies, but also thinking about processes that can help you gather the necessary information without potentially exposing students to a name they don’t identify with. Lastly, remember the importance of confidentiality when working with gender diverse students. Feel comfortable checking-in, making sure that they are comfortable with you sharing the name and pronouns they use with you in other spaces, being aware that everyone can’t be open in all spaces.

How would this be illustrated if our imaginary friend Taylor came to see you? First, you would want to recognize and appreciate the courage it took for Taylor to come in and share this important part of their experience with you. Second, validate their experiences, believing in their narrative and affirming what doesn’t feel right to them. Normalize their experience, sharing that coming to terms with who you are is a part of development, and that college is a place with many wonderful opportunities to do that. Ask if they have shared this with others, and if they might be interested in connecting with other students that identify similarly to learn more about LGBTQ+ identities and the on-campus community. Ask Taylor what they need from you and how you can support them, knowing that certain circumstances are beyond your control. Avoid making promises that you can’t keep, like ensuring Taylor that you will always be there, or that everything will be fine – because as we know about the coming out process, it might not be. Maybe next steps include you walking Taylor over to the LGBTQ+ Resource Center/Multicultural Affairs Office/Intercultural Engagement space, connecting them with another professional staff member, and encouraging them to start attending meetings for the LGBTQ+ group on-campus.

What is more important than knowing the complex definitions of every term surrounding gender and sexuality? Authenticity. Students are used to being targeted, intentionally misgendered and identified as a form of discrimination, so you being honest and upfront about what you know and how you can help will take you further than you think.

 

Elliott Kimball, M.Ed. (he/him/his)
Assistant Director of Intercultural Engagement, LGBTQ+ Outreach and Advocacy
UNC Greensboro


Elliott Kimball currently serves as the Assistant Director for Intercultural Engagement at UNC Greensboro, overseeing LGBTQ+ Outreach and Advocacy. Prior to this, Elliott held positions at UNC Asheville and the University of South Alabama, bringing more than four years of work in higher education across areas such as residence life, fraternity and sorority affairs, sexual violence prevention and education, commuter student programs, and student engagement. Elliott holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Appalachian State University, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of South Alabama.

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Access and Racial Diversity: A Personal Story, By: Catherine Molleno

Let me set up the scene: It was a hot, humid September morning in 2007. I was moving in to my Residence Hall along with thousands of incoming freshmen. Both of my parents were with me to drop me off and to see where I will be in the next 10 months of my life. This is the first for the three of us. I was the first kid going to college and honestly, would be the last. I’m the youngest so that means that in a traditional sense, I would be the first and only kid to ever move into a Residence Hall and have the traditional college experience.

Before this scene ever happened, I had to maneuver my way through a very confusing process. As a first generation college student and an immigrant, I had to figure out how the process worked. When the conversation about college started with my parents, I was expected to attend the local community college about 10 minutes away from home. There is nothing wrong with attending a community college, it would have been more affordable, and would have kept me closer to home. However, I knew that I wanted to attend a four-year institution so I started speaking to my high school counselor. I was lucky enough to have had an attentive Counselor who helped me get into an overnight program at Ohio State University. However, even with her help, I still had to figure out the admission process, scholarship applications, FAFSA, financial aid, university housing application, orientation, major declaration, and scheduling classes. No one really talked to me about the differences between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan. No one mentioned what a Pell Grant was and that every year while in college, I could have applied for more scholarships that was offered at Ohio State. No one mentioned how financially burdensome a private loan could be. These are important conversations to have with our students, especially those who are first generation students. According to Zack Friedman (Forbes, 2017), student loan debt is the second highest consumer debt category just behind mortgage. We collectively owe $1.3 million. It is our job in Higher Education to make sure that we help our students navigate life during and after college.

My parents, even as supportive as they were, didn’t know how to help me when I started college. Neither one of them had the experiences nor the resources to help me, which I don’t blame them for. It was hard for my mom, who moved from the Philippines with me to help me navigate my way through higher education in America. My dad, who is an American but didn’t have any of his other children go to college, also couldn’t help me as much as he wished. I can imagine that my experience is not unique. I, also, am aware that many of our students (especially students of color), face the same things I did. Many Higher Ed professionals are first generation students too. We should make it a point to mentor our students. If you don’t have an organization in your institution to match first generation faculty and staff with first generation students, then I suggest professionals create one so that we can help our first generation students. I have seen the positive impact of an organization like this while in graduate school, supporting those who first generation undergraduates. We see students get accepted in universities, but many of them don’t stay because of their various hardships and lack of information.

That 18 year old from 2007 has faced many obstacles, but managed to end up becoming successful. Let’s all remember what our 18-year-old selves would have needed and let’s try to be that for our students so that we can ensure they successfully get through college.

 

Catherine Molleno (She/Her/Hers) is the Director of Housing and Residence Life at Louisiana State University-Eunice. Catherine has over 8 years of experience working in student affairs at various institutions across the country, including The Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, and Lamar University.  Catherine has a varied professional experience and passion for planning campus activities and student engagement as well as a passion for underrepresented and disenfranchised student populations. Follow Catherine on Twitter for further conversations and dialogue: @catmolleno. 

 

Reference: Friedman, Z. (2017, February 21). Student Loan Debt In 2017: A $1.3 Trillion Crisis. Retrieved February 8, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2017/02/21/student-loan-debt-statistics-2017/#111423b65dab

Gender Identity Development Theory: Critiques and New Perspectives; By: Carson Williams

Gender identity development, while a relatively recent topic in student affairs and psychology, plays a great role in people’s lives. Gender interacts considerably with many important aspects of life, including career paths, social barriers and opportunities, personal perceptions, and even the talents we choose to nurture, which makes it vital to the work of student affairs practitioners (Bussey & Bandura, 1999).

Bilodeau’s (2005) commonly-referenced transgender identity development theory focuses too heavily on behavioral and environmental aspects and has directed little attention to the development of a cisgender identity. This essay will review the literature concerning gender identity, its development, and related theoretical perspectives. After identifying a gap in previous theories, it will then use Bussey’s and Bandura’s (1999) social cognitive theory of gender development and Marcia’s (1966) research on identity statuses to submit a non-linear model of gender identity development that may be helpful to more accurately describe the gender exploration, declaration, and development process.

Gender and Transgender Individuals

It is crucial to define the appropriate terms when looking at gender and sex. Even though the two terms are closely related, Caplan, Crawford, Hyde, and Richardson (1997) state that sex refers to a “biological distinction between women and men that may be based upon their anatomical, physiological, or chromosomal properties” (p. 7). Gender, on the other hand, refers to a “sociocultural distinction…on the basis of traits and behavior” that are thought of a masculine and feminine and assigned to either the male or female sex (Caplan, et al., 1997, p. 7). LaFrance, Paluck, and Brescol (2004) note that gender and gender identity are terms that were designed to define individuals’ outward behaviors, traits, and attitudes. When a person’s gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, they are referred to as transgender, while people whose gender identity does match their sex assigned at birth are known as “cisgender” (Patton et al., 2016).

With an understanding of basic definitions, it is also important to understand how a transgender identity is oppressed, at least in American society. Bilodeau (2009) used the term “genderism” to refer to the set of rules and expectations society imposes on individuals to exhibit behaviors consistent with their observed sex. When children are born, they are immediately assigned a sex and assumed a gender (Tate, Youssef, & Bettergarcia, 2014). Under the operation of genderism, a society may inhibit opportunities for gender exploration for students who believe they may not identify with their observed sex. For individuals who experiment with gender identities and roles misaligned with their observed sex (and therefore expectations from peers and society), there are consequences. Harassment, bullying, isolation, and violence are common concerns of transgender individuals in genderist societies (Bilodeau, 2009).

Gender identity development should also consider the experiences of cisgender individuals. While research concerning cisgender identity development is scarce, there is enough to make basic connections. Men and women are expected to fulfill clear gender roles in a society under the operation of genderism (Bilodeau, 2009). Tate, Bettergarcia, and Brent (2015) indicate that, for cisgender adults, behaving in gender-typical ways resulted in higher indicators of self-esteem. This research underscores how a genderist society has a great impact on the actions of both transgender and cisgender individuals. While cisgender and transgender experiences are often studied separately, research does not present a particular reason why gender development stops in cisgender adults. Instead, the development of a gender identity (and subsequently gender roles and social presentations) are fluid and have the possibility to change over time (Tate et al., 2014).

Theoretical Perspectives

Many theories have emerged to explain overall identity development and, specifically, gender identity development. The commonly-accepted theory to explain transgender individuals’ identity development was introduced by Bilodeau (2005). He adapted a previous sexual identity theory that describes a timeline of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students’ experiences (Patton et al., 2016). Bilodeau’s (2005) stages involved departing a cisgender identity, developing a personal transgender identity, developing a social transgender identity, coming out to parents, developing an intimate relationship, and becoming part of a transgender community. There are issues with this theory. First, the initial three stages describe a vast bulk of identity development. Developing a personal and social identity takes time and effort, and Bilodeau does not explain this process in detail. The fourth stage, coming out to parents, is significant but can be considered a part of a social identity because it involves interacting with external factors. Developing an intimacy status, the fifth stage, is also important but does not take into account individuals who may not be interested in intimate relationships and can be considered a part of either the personal or social identity. The sixth stage involves social and political action. This stage parallels stages in other theories like Black Identity Development (Cross & Fhagen-Smith, 2001) and Racial and Cultural Identity Development (Sue & Sue, 2003).

Arguably one of the earliest identity development theories, Marcia’s (1996) Ego Identity Statuses, sets a foundation for many theories related to identity development. His theory states that two components, exploration and commitment, occur in specific realms of identity and decision-making. In 1972, he added sexual decisions into his study (Patton et al., 2016). While he did not conduct research on gender identity and decisions thereof, his theory can be applied as a model to identity development processes in many areas. The interaction of exploration and commitment creates four statuses: foreclosure (commitment to an identity without exploration), moratorium (exploration without commitment), diffusion (neither commitment nor exploration), and identity achievement (commitment following exploration; Marcia, 1966). Identity achievement is considered the “healthiest psychological status” since it indicates a successful navigation of developing an identity (Marcia, 1980).

A third relevant theoretical perspective is Bussey’s social-cognitive theory of gender identity development. Her theory asserts that gender identity development takes three interrelated components into account: personal components (such as biological features), self-perception, and self-concept; behavioral components such as gender roles and activity patterns; and environmental components that involve the people and places that surround individuals (Bussey, 1999; Patton et al., 2016). This theory is an ecological approach to explaining factors related to gender identity development and states that the three components intersect when individuals decide to display behaviors or appearances associated with gender. Bussey (2011) also mentioned that culture and time have a significant effect on individuals’ decisions to explore non-conforming identities. This theory can be helpful in determining different depths of a person’s gender identity by recognizing that a person can identify personally separately from how they express themselves socially.

Towards a Model of Gender Identity Development

The gaps in Bilodeau’s model mentioned above support the need for a comprehensive gender identity development theory that is detailed and takes into account social and internal decisions and exploration. The proposed model (Figure 1) draws from previously mentioned research and is explained below. This model may appear similar to a theory proposed by Dillon, Worthington, and Moradi (2011). That is because their theory derives from Marcia’s (1966) ego identity statuses, and reflects the same process used here. As supported by Bussey (1999), this development can happen on two planes: individual development (self-concept and self-perception) and social development (representation of gender through behaviors and appearances).

Stage 1, Foreclosed Cisgender Identity, describes how individuals are assumed to be cisgender from birth (Tate et al., 2014). This stage is also supported by Bilodeau’s (2005) first stage, exiting a cisgender identity. To exit that identity, an individual must have existed in it. Stage 2, Gender Moratorium, Gender Diffusion, and Commitment to Gender Identity, describes the process of exploring and committing to a gender identity. These processes align with Marcia’s descriptions, detailed above. Commitment to a gender identity is the process through which individuals can declare their identity and move forward to deepen it. When individuals enter Stage 2, they can enter into any of the processes and move to another freely, similar to Marcia’s theory. As Patton et al. (2016) state, “Marcia’s identity statuses are not progressive or permanent” (p. 291). Individuals may move directly into the foreclosed cisgender identity into commitment to a cisgender identity, or they may explore identity options before arriving at a trans* identity to which they can commit.

Stage 3, Development of the Identity, includes the choices a person makes that supports their committed gender identity. This stage encompasses stages four and five of Bilodeau’s theory without putting undue emphasis on actions and behaviors. For transgender individuals, this stage may include coming out to parents or friends and connecting with other members of the transgender community. For all individuals, this may include entering into an intimate relationship or participating in actions that confirm their gender identity. Sax (2008) states that cisgender individuals are more likely to engage in events that perpetuate a gender schema (masculine actions belong to men, and feminine actions belong to women), like fraternities, sororities, and gendered sports.

Stage 4, Social and Political Awareness, describes the process of individuals engaging with society and developing anti-genderist attitudes. For transgender individuals, this theory is much like Bilodeau’s sixth stage. This concept of abandoning oppressive systems and supporting underprivileged populations is a common theme in several social theories and may look similar to Helms’s (2005) model of white identity development. This theory states that there are two stages of identity development in white identity, which are abandonment of racism and the evolution of a non-racist identity.  In cisgender development, Helms’s concepts of opposing structures of systemic oppression may be applied to indicate that individuals can abandon genderism and adopt a non-genderist identity.

Conclusion

Gender identity development is complicated and under-researched because the field is relatively new and existing research focuses mainly on transgender experiences with a limited lens. The proposed theory seeks to explain the personal and social development of gender identity in transgender, cisgender, and non-conforming individuals. Beginning with the foreclosed cisgender identity, individuals can move through life with varying degrees of exploration and commitment. After experiencing gender moratorium (high exploration and low commitment), gender diffusion (low exploration and commitment), or by simply committing to a gender identity without exploration, individuals can move forward in solidifying their identity in their world. It is important to have a theory that encompasses all gender identities because the development of the expression of gender is different for all transgender, cisgender, and non-conforming people alike. This theory can be helpful to student affairs practitioners as they continue to work with increasingly diverse populations. Mrig (2015) stated, “The time is now…creating more diverse inclusive environments isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s imperative for continued success” (Sec. 4). As we look to understand underserved and oppressed individuals, we get closer to the inclusion of all students.

 

Gender identity model

Figure 1. Proposed model of gender identity development.

 

Carson Williams (he/him/his) is a second-year graduate student at Western Carolina University studying Higher Education Student Affairs. Before pursuing his graduate studies, he taught high school band in the foothills of North Carolina for two years. In student affairs, he has worked in several different areas such as academic advising, residential living, and disability services. Carson believes that creating inclusive environments for all students and validating their lived experiences is essential for their success, and incorporates that philosophy into his daily interactions with his students. He will graduate in May 2018 to pursue his career as a student affairs generalist. Carson currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina with his partner Josh, and their two pets Steve and Waldo. You can reach him online at linkedin.com/in/cnashwilliams or via email at cnwilliams4@outlook.com.

 

References

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Berscheid, E. (1993). Forward. In A. E. Beall & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The psychology of gender (vii-xvii). New York: Guilford Press.

Bilodeau, B. L. (2005). Beyond the gender binary: A case study of two transgender students at a Midwestern university. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues in Education. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.

Bilodeau, B. L. (2009). Genderism: Transgender students, binary systems, and higher education. Saarbrucken, Germany: VDM Verlag.

Bussey, K. (2011) Gender identity development. In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles (Eds.), Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 603-628). New York: Springer.

Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676-713. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.

Caplan, P J., Crawford, M. Hyde, J.S. & Richardson, J.T.E. (1997). Gender Differences in human cognition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Cross, W. E., Jr., & Fhagen-Smith, P. (2001). Patterns in African American identity development: A life span perspective. In C. L. Wijeyesinghe & B. W. Jackson III (Eds.). New perspectives on racial identity development: A theoretical and practical anthology (pp. 243-270). New York: New York University Press.

Dillon, F. R., Worthington, R. L., & Moradi, B. (2011) Sexual identity as a universal process. In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles (Eds.), Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 649-670). New York: Springer.

Helms, J. E. (1995). An update of Helm’s white and people of color racial identity models. In J. G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. A. Suzuki, & C. M. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling (pp. 181-198). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

LaFrance, M., Paluck, E., & Brescol, V. (2004). Sex changes: A current perspective on the psychology of gender. In A. Beall, A. Eagly, & R. Sternberg (Eds.), The psychology of gender (2nd ed.). (pp. 328-344). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego-identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551-558. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.

Marcia, J. E. (1980) Identity in adolescence. In J. Adelson (Ed.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (pp. 159-187). New York: Wiley.

Mrig, A. (2015, November 18). Improving diversity in higher education: Beyond the moral imperative [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.academicimpressions.com/news/improving-diversity-higher-education-beyond-moral-imperative

Patton, L., Renn, K., Guido, F., & Quaye, S. (2016). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sax, L. J. (2008) The gender gap in college: Maximizing the potential of women and men. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2003) Counseling the culturally diverse: theory and practice (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.

Tate, C., Bettergarcia, J., & Brent, L. (2015). Re-assessing the role of gender-related cognitions for self-esteem: the important of gender typicality for cisgender adults. Sex Roles, 72(5), 221-236. Retrieved from Springer Link.

Tate, C., Youssef, C., & Bettergarcia, J. (2014). Integrating the student of transgender spectrum and cisgender experiences of self-categorization from a personality perspective. Review of General Psychology, 18(4), 302-312. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.

Social Change in Hierarchical Institutions, By: Pat Tetreault

Hierarchical institutions are prevalent in our culture. We grow up within a variety of communities that are often structured with clear roles and a clear chain of command or authority. These include our families, faith communities, educational institutions, and government. All are structurally layered with those at the top of the system having more authority, status and decision-making power in regards to policies and practices, budgets, and resource allocation. Regardless of where we are located in the system, developing the skills to advocate for changes within the system to help obtain more equitable resource allocation, support services, programming, and inclusive excellence is vital. This is particularly true in regards to policies and practices.

Policies and practices differentially impact individuals and groups because we have different life contexts. Over time, structures expand to take into account the differing identities and experiences of the populations we serve. However, many of the structures in place have resulted in the creation of silos (or neighborhoods) as a way to provide space and to help address diversity, inclusion, and equity issues that exist in society and on our campuses. For example, we have programs for students of color; LGBTQA+ students; women; veterans and military members; international students; and services for students with disabilities. These neighborhood resources are important because neighborhoods provide visibility and recognition for the community (aka marginalized groups) to participate in the larger community, access resources and their identity communities, along with providing education and programming for the larger campus community.

One outcome of having these neighborhoods is individuals and groups often have to choose which neighborhood is going to be their primary community. Given the structures and often limited resources (of which time is one), we often navigate the campus environment while having one of those neighborhoods as our home base; addressing multiple, intersecting and mixed identities as needed or we are able. We are often under resourced for current demands. This means we are busy (although that may be a word we are not supposed to use as some perceive we are saying we are busy while they are not). We have also been socialized to perceive the world based on what we see and that often means we categorize people based on one or two primary identities. Societally, we often talk about and frame identities on a binary – woman or man; black or white; straight or LGBTQA+; progressive or conservative; and the identities list goes on. Yet, our identities rarely fit into such distinct boxes. When looking at campus climate, and addressing issues, it is often more manageable to address one or two areas rather than the complexity and challenges that accompany looking at the intersections of identities (gender, race/ethnicity, orientation, ability, faith, age, etc.).  Developing communities that are truly inclusive while allowing space and recognition for individual and group identities and contexts is needed and challenging; particularly when we consider the socio-political context within a country and world where inequity, privilege, and power varies for individuals and groups and there are differing value systems and approaches regarding differential resources and access.

Working in higher education  allows us to advocate for policies and practices that have the greatest benefit for the most people on our campuses in the same way that the constitution of the United States can allow people living at the margins to work with supporters to advocate for more equitable access to the benefits of living in this country. This allows us to build our case for diversity and inclusion and hopefully moves us toward a more socially-just campus community as well as a more socially-just society. While change can be quite slow, and not everyone wants or appreciates change, it does happen. Having worked in Student Affairs for over 25 years has allowed me to witness the progress and resistance to change that has taken place. Some positive changes include adding sexual orientation and gender identity to our nondiscrimination policy; starting a LGBTQA+ center on our campus; the development of a military and veteran success center; changes in policies and practices that include gender inclusive housing, a chosen name option, the ability to change gender markers on records with a changed driver’s license or passport (vs. a changed birth certificate); and the development of a disability club that helps provide community and advocate for a campus climate that moves beyond compliance to inclusive excellence for students of differing abilities.

I have been fortunate to have a career in higher education that has allowed me to advocate for change informed by my education, experience, and multiple, intersecting, and mixed identities.  During my career in Student Affairs, I have worked in positions where I was the first and only professional staff person in the role (Sexuality Education Coordinator; Assistant Director in Student Involvement serving as the Director of the LGBTQA+ Resource Center). Being the primary person in a role where I developed the programs and services has provided me opportunities to define the mission of the programs, which have included a focus on diversity, inclusion, equitable access, and social justice education in programming and services. Being a mid-level management position with students as staff and volunteers has also meant helping students develop the knowledge and skills to help create change through information and skills development. This is where the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin & Astin, 1996) has been a useful tool to encourage leadership that can help foster an inclusive environment where anyone and everyone can develop and utilize skills to help create a system that is responsive to individual and group needs, particularly given our diverse identities and experiences. Leadership as a process encourages the concept of leadership as a behavior that anyone can engage in regardless of their position. The model consists of 7 C’s. Three C’s focus on individual values (consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment); 3 on group process values (collaboration, common purpose, and controversy with civility); and the Community/Societal value of Citizenship. These combined values result in an 8th value (or goal), Change (Astin & Astin, 1996).

Whether aware of this model or not, the process in student development and education can be related to the Social Change Model of Leadership Development. Individuals and groups, knowing their values, acting in congruence, and committed to making a difference, worked collaboratively with others on a common purpose, and managing controversy. This can be applied to a variety of situations. Good citizens working for the common good. This process reflects the importance of individual rights and responsibilities; and having a concern for the rights and wellbeing of all members of the larger community.

Our changing social and political contexts indicate the need to move in the direction of working at the intersections of identities and understanding the commonalities that impact all of us and working toward social justice education. According to Adams, Bell and Griffin (2007), social justice is both a process and a goal; and “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.”

In order to work at the intersections, we have to be aware of specific topics and needs. We need space for marginalized populations, as well as ways to integrate all members of the community. We need interdisciplinary approaches; and we need equitable funding. We need transparency in budgets and decision making criteria. We also need to be able to work toward achieving balance. We are here for the students. How do we find those who are here for us? How do we achieve a healthy workplace and work-life balance if we are the primary professional attempting to meet the needs of a marginalized population, which also means changing the culture of the larger campus community? It takes time, it takes clarity, and it takes our supporting each other in our work.  We need space, resources, and support. We need to manage emotions, not only others, but our own. We have to recognize that we are impacted by the same minority stress and microaggressions that those we serve experience. We need to take care of ourselves so that we role model for others that self-care is valued. One way to approach our work is to work with primary identities while recognizing and acknowledging that we need to work at the intersections of identities and stretching our own comfort zones. We need to recognize that almost every identity label is more than a primary identity or label; and every identity is incorporated into other identities.

LGBTQA+ people are within other identity categories and need to be recognized in the same way that other identities within the LGBTQA+ community need to be recognized.  Working collaboratively across identity groups will help achieve the common goal of social justice if we can accept and support each other in moving toward equity and social justice for every individual and every group member. Understanding the difference between diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice is also important (see Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, 2017) because we need to continually strive for moving the conversation from diversity and inclusion to equity and social justice. We need to recognize and claim our own value within the institutions that we work in. This is not a small or easy task. It is an ongoing effort in how we manage our work lives, particularly given the challenges of working from the level of the hierarchy we are in to get the message up the chain of command in order to help create the changes that are needed to shift toward a more equitable campus environment. It is essential for us to build community at work for ourselves as we strive to help create community for students. We need to determine how we can best work at and across intersections of identities while building community and supporting each other in this work, not only with the identity group(s) we work with but across identity groups. We also need to acknowledge and manage the emotional impact of the work we do given that we are also impacted by sociopolitical climate, microaggressions, and inequitable resource allocation.  This takes time, consciousness, congruence, commitment, collaboration, and working toward a common purpose while managing controversy with civility. We also need to celebrate our successes and accomplishments.  It requires acceptance that we all matter.

Recognizing our own privilege in addition to knowing where we lack privilege is another essential component for it is where we have privilege that we can use it to help make the world a better place. Where we lack privilege can help us with understanding, awareness raising, and with advocacy. We can use our stories and our voices to demonstrate leadership from where we are at to the best of our ability.  Having the support of others who do this work is invaluable because there is a commonality of experience and identities. Community is essential, whether it is on our campus or beyond. Knowing and appreciating our commonalities is useful and one area that we all share privilege in higher education is having access to and being a part of higher education. How we use our privilege in this context can make all the difference in the world.

 

Pat (pronouns: she/her/hers) is the Founding Director of the LGBTQA+ Resource Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Prior to opening the Center, Pat served as the Sexuality Education Coordinator for the campus and is in her 26th year as a Student Affairs Staff member. Pat is the 5th of 6 children. Her parents were first generation college students, who were both proud of their ethnic heritage. Pat’s mom was Lebanese American and her father was French-Canadian descent with an English great, great grandmother. Both of her maternal grandparents were immigrants. Having grown up in a Catholic, military family influenced and shaped her views about diversity and social justice. She is a published author (articles and book chapters), has presented at international, national, and regional conferences, and has received recognition for her work over the years on her campus and nationally.

 

References:

Bell, L.A. (2007). Theoretical Foundations for Social Justice Education. In Adams, M., Bell,          L.A., & Griffin, P. (Editors) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook,              2nd Ed. Routledge Publishing, New York, NY.

Astin, Helen S. & Astin, Alexander W. (1996, January). A Social Change Model of                          Leadership Development Guidebook, Version III. Higher Education Research                        Institute, University of California at Los Angeles.

Dafina-Lazarus, Stewart I2017, March 30). https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2017/03/30/colleges-need-language-shift-not-one-you-think-essay

Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students (2016, May 13). https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201605-title-ix-transgender.pdf

A conversation on Wholeness, By: Dr. Stephanie Bondi and Naomi Rodriguez

For many student affairs professionals, our daily work is focused on campus life. However, the growing movement for self-care and the need to balance our professional and personal lives is quickly becoming part of the daily dialogue. Wholeness, defined by a quick google search as “the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole” is a part of the self-care process. The following is a transcript of an interview between Stephanie Bondi and Naomi Rodriguez talking about Wholeness.

N: What’s the concept? I would say metaphorical connecting the mind/body experience. What we are doing physically with what we sense who we are and connecting that with what we do. So, utilizing our minds and our critical thinking skills and our ability to do things in kind of whole hearted way.

S: Yeah, I like that. What I keep thinking about are the moments when I don’t feel whole. I know those moments, where, I can’t fully be myself. Or I feel tension in what I know and how I feel with how I think I should be. And I know what it feels like when I experience that tension– my body is on edge and I don’t trust myself. I have lots of questions. And it generally feels not good.

N: I definitely agree with that. For me right now wholeness is a journey. Finding those other moments where I feel the opposite. I know what my physical feeling is and my spiritual feeling is and what my mind is thinking but I’m not outwardly projecting that. So, how can I connect that and integrate into a state of wholeness? So, I can recognize all those moments when I’m not feeling whole. But hey, now that we can identify that, it’s the first step, right? (Laughs)

S: Yeah! So as I am able to identify it I can figure out what are those different things that are going on. And I can narrow down what is it in myself that needs to be seen in a particular way to meet those external expectations. Then I can start saying: “Well do I want that? No.” And I can start letting go. And when I let go I am finding the more and more that I do this the more and more I can get those moments where it’s like. (Exhales) It’s a sense of relief and there is also an energy. That feels great! Then I trust myself and am very confident because I’m not feeling those divisions and tensions that distract me. Those tensions are a huge distraction. You’re nodding. It’s good to know I’m not the only one.

N: No.

(Both laughing)

S: So we talked about this before and you mentioned your family. How does your family play into your experiences of coming into wholeness?

N: I think part of this wholeness journey for me is analyzing who I am. Again, the spiritual and inner core part of who I am. And when I was thinking about it I realized so much of, you know, of what each individual has comes from the ideals of our parents, our families and those closest to us. Oftentimes, tensions and insecurities we have can go back to when we experienced it as kids or our parents struggled with the same things. And maybe they didn’t want to tell us that because they were parental figures, and they were trying to be strong and be role models for us.

But  part of coming into wholeness was of going back and identifying what that was. After I brought things up from my childhood, my mom said: “When you talked about that, I looked back when I was young. And I realized a lot the things you talked about have been so important for me now.” So my mom will tell me she’ll go through parts of the wholeness process by thinking about: “Why do I feel this way? How have I felt this way before?”

S: I see that you’re talking about that with a lot of emotion. And I can relate to that because my mom would tell me too about how I would get very emotional about things and for me I knew that that wasn’t always welcome. And the message that I always got was “Ok, well you’re fine.” A piece of wholeness for me is, I guess, being okay with the fact that I am emotional about things. And maybe things matter to me that don’t matter to other people. I’m realizing how often I use other people’s values and ideas to judge myself. And so, over time I think what that has taught me is that the feelings that I have are not as important as going along with how things are going. Or what other people’s need might be.

Part of your story was in sharing your own process of coming to understand wholeness with your mom then she’s considering that in her own life. And I’ve kind of wondered if that had an effect on your relationship because I feel that relationships are so important in social justice work.

N: I would say that it has been positive. Leading up to now, my relationship with my mother has been up and down. Now, I’m far away, it has been a great help. My mom, she will say “All I had was my kids. Raising you and making sure you found your way in the world.” But now, she is having that moment where: “Both my kids are adults. What about what I’m doing and what’s my role now in this world?” I think in a lot of ways it has helped her a lot to talk with me about my journey for wholeness.

S: Do you have any recommendations for Student Affairs Professionals?

N: If we think about it, we fulfill so many roles. We’re counselors, leaders, motivators, supporters and encouragers. When I look at wholeness, sometimes it’s about not getting lost in all those things. If I have a hectic day at work, I’ll go home still thinking about all the things I have to do. Then, I’m not being a whole person because I’m just thinking about the stresses of being at work, what went wrong that day and what I wish I could do better the next. So lately I’ve been thinking of ways to spend “me time.” I found that if I just take the bus for five/ten minutes, I get to sit there and enjoy life for a moment. Like how the suns out, the scenery is beautiful and watching the people walking by. Those moments just appreciating who I am and where I am in my journey.

S: You know when I hear you saying that “I need to do this and I need to do that.” It’s like you’re a robot or like a machine where you are supposed to be cranking stuff out. That doesn’t sound very human to me. So thinking the importance of paying attention to the fact that we’re human and we’re living a life. I think people could really benefit from just paying attention more to what’s going on in their mind, body and spirit. I’ve heard some yoga instructors say “Let go of anything that doesn’t serve you.” I found in my own life the more I can let go of the things that don’t serve me, the more whole I feel. For example, if I’m trying to have a conversation about a social justice issue. I’m often worried the person is going to say “I didn’t mean it that way.” Which will feel like a conflict to me, and I avoid conflict.  I’m finding moments where I can let those kinds of anxieties go. The energy changes, and it’s so hard to describe but I feel lighter, more excited, and I feel happier. When I have that energy, gosh! I could move mountains! I could be so productive and check all the things off my list! And, I have so much compassion and capacity for other people who are dealing with their own stuff.

Are there certain things that you found to be really helpful in trying to prioritize wholeness in your life?

N: Being very intentional about what my goals are and planning for the day. If I’m going to ride the bus for instance, it might take longer in my day instead of walking. Or another example, intentionally setting aside 45 minutes to practice piano so I’m not going to think about “Well, if I maybe skimp on practicing, I can get back to my busy schedule.” No, I have 45 minutes. So I’m feeling the moment and enjoying a spot of wholeness in my day.

S: Any last thoughts?

N: I think a lot about what wholeness feels like, and it’s such a self-exploratory process. It is really not going to be the same for every single person. So for me, the process is like what you said. When I’m being whole, I’m stepping away from that high emotional person that I am. I recognize that, but instead saying “Ok, I don’t have to protect myself right now or worry about all the things I’m doing wrong.” And that’s what wholeness really feels like for me. But for other people who always feel cool as a cucumber and detached, being whole might be in an emotional movie and a good cry. But either way when you come out, you just feel so good. You feel so invigorated with life. And now I just want to hi-five everyone and give everyone hugs. When I think about wholeness the ultimate goal is connecting with others’ wholeness and changing the environment.

S: Yeah, it would be nice to feel that way more often than not.

N: Yeah!

S: Well, I’ve enjoyed the conversation. And I feel like we should hug now?

N: I know right? Make the world a better place!

 

Stephanie Bondi (She/Her/Hers) is a faculty member in the student affairs program at University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She keeps her family in mind as she works towards wholeness.  She studies dominance and oppression and student affairs preparation.

Naomi Rodriguez (She/Her/Hers) is a Los Angeles native with a B.A in Graphic Design. After a chance job opportunity at the student union of her undergraduate school, Cal State University Northridge, she has steadily taken the career path into student affairs. She is currently studying at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in the M.A Educational Administration, specialization in Student Affairs Administration program.