At this year’s NAFSA, the EA Subcommittee for Diversity and Inclusion was pleased to invite Russ Alexander from The Education Abroad Network to facilitate a small group discussion on Supporting LGBTQ+ Students in EA. The format was casual and conversational as everyone (about eighteen people) squeezed around one table, expanding the circle as each new attendee arrived. Note for next year – do not schedule this session at 8:30am!
The first question Russ posed to the group was simple – what kind of outreach are you doing on your campus? The following responses were shared:
- University ally network
- LGBTQ office has a study abroad subcommittee with an EA advisor on it
- University participation in pride festival/parade
- Ally training through counseling center
- Posters with resources discretely placed, especially for international students who may not be out
- Partnership between EA office and LGBTQ+ office to offer returnee panels
- Peer mentors who are comfortable, identify in online profile as LGBTQ+ and are available to meet with students
- An advisor intake form that asks if student wants to discuss any identity related topics
- Have Stonewall guide to different countries link on website
Next the group discussed best practices for advising and program selection. The general consensus seemed to be that one wouldn’t tell a student not to go to a particular country but rather make sure they were aware of resources to look through so they could make an informed decision. This meant making these resources available early on so there was enough time to make a thoughtful choice. Some shared information on a website or in a general information session with encouragement to come talk to an advisor. Please see all of the available resources and advising guide on the NAFSA Diversity and Inclusion page to assist your office and your students.
The collegial discussion then delved into pre-departure and in-country topics such as accommodations and counseling. One of the best suggestions was similar to the advising suggestion of having former students share their experiences either in pre-departure or through blog posts. Another college breaks up pre-departure into four sections and has students conduct non-credit research and dig deeper into a study abroad topic. They don’t have to necessarily share the research with the group and students have used this opportunity to explore LGBTQ+ issues in the country they are studying in. As for accommodations, this was an issue many admitted they had some trouble with when it came to transgender students. One suggestion was to ask all students who they wanted to room with so as not to single out a transgender student. Additionally, it was recommended to invite all students through email to come to you with any concern they may have about housing. It was pointed out that EA professionals should know the housing policies of their university partners as well as information about gender neutral restrooms.
Overall the open discussion was helpful in terms of new ideas and approaches but also provided an intimate forum for what can sometimes be a challenging topic. It was a nice break from the busyness of the conference and opportunity to navigate an area in which everyone was committed to supporting our students in the best ways possible.