In 2018, the Association of American Universities reported that out of 180,000 undergraduate and graduate students surveyed, nearly 17 percent identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer, or questioning. As the LGBTQIA+ community continues to grow, colleges and universities are taking steps to ensure that their unique needs are met.
Kelsey Moran, Psy.D, coordinator of LBGTQIA+ Counseling Services and Programming at College of the Holy Cross, reported that college chaplains launched an LGBTQ group some 27 years ago and since then, support for other groups, including transgender and non-conforming individuals, has increased. “There is an increased need on campus,” Moran said. “The data suggests that the national average of students on campus who seek help is 12 percent. We’re closing in on 30 percent.”
At the height of the pandemic when students were remote, the counseling center worked with students at home where the situation might be unsafe or where they were unable to be “out.” Moran reported that staff spent weeks doing a “deep dive” to get temporary licenses to practice in other states.
Moran noted that transgender students in particular, although their numbers are small, face a number of challenges. “Changing the name used to enroll at the school poses a problem since the college uses different systems for email, class registration, housing, etc.,” she said. “You have to make changes to each individual system. I’m trying to create a formal policy to help students navigate the system.”
Cory J. Clark, Ph.D, director, Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Rhode Island’s Counseling Center, reported that URI started an LGBTQ+ women’s group in 2010 that discusses life challenges and successes; this group was involved in the 2010 video “It Gets Better.”
URI staff is all trained and certified in Safe Zone, a project designed to increase awareness, knowledge, and create a visible support network for LGBTQ+ people and issues and improve the social climate for LGBTQ+ people.
Clark said the center collaborates with and participates in the annual Gay Straight Alliance program by giving presentations and information about the center. “We try to be affirming and visible,” he said.
A series of monthly programs address relevant topics such as navigating the job search as an LGBTQ+ person, how to get involved in advocacy, and panel discussions with transgender, nonbinary and/or gender-nonconforming people from different professional fields.
The Center also collaborates with the URI Gender & Sexuality Center, which has support groups for trans and nonbinary, gender variant, nonconforming, and questioning students. Out and Proud enables faculty and staff to sign on as an ally or to come out. “This helps to identify people as resources,” Clark said.
Additionally, URI is looking to augment offerings by adding an app that matches students with a clinician of specific cultural background and offers direct chatting.
The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Psychological & Counseling Services collaborates with the Beauregard Center, Stonewall Grads, and student-led Alliance and Transgender to foster connections with students who identify as LGBTQ+, according to Director Elisa Bolton, Ph.D.
During the pandemic, the center offered crisis appointments and created a virtual care package of tips and resources for managing during COVID. Bolton noted that the school launched web-based telehealth services, increasing access to care; in-person care was temporarily halted for only two weeks. “The vast majority wanted in-person care,” she said.
Bolton reported that the center plans to increase peer support by offering training, stepping up capacity and promoting more student engagement. “We’ve found that the students wanted to interact with other students with shared identities and life experiences,” she said. “This doesn’t require talking with a therapist. [Peers] simply help the student find support, guidance, comfort, and ideas to navigate throughout their college career.”
Additionally, the Counseling Center at UNH offers professional development to university staff to ensure that all staff feels comfortable offering gender-affirming care to students who identify as LGBTQ+.