LGBTQ+ panel discusses finding support in academia

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 - 3:43pm

About 35 graduate students, postdoctoral students and staff attended a panel on LGBTQ+ experiences in academia to learn about the acceptance of marginalized identities across academic disciplines, during a series of events put on by the Spectrum Center Tuesday.

Panelist Trevion Henderson, a graduate student in the School of Education, spoke on how identity formation is discussed in University of Michigan classes and classes at Ohio State University.

“When I was at Ohio State ... one of our faculty got married,” Henderson said. “We had a whole discussion about identity and identity formation, whereas here when it is brought up in classes every so often, it kind of gets pushed aside and people are less willing to talk about it.”

Panelists noted levels of acceptance and awareness differ not only between campuses but between disciplines within academia. A panelist who requested anonymity for personal safety reasons said he has noticed this phenomenon throughout his time in the field of natural sciences.

“Although I'm in a University that values these things in the greater (science) community there isn't an organization or a solid thing that values these identities,” he said. “There is one in the business world, Out for Business, that is a very popular organization across universities but there is nothing like that for the sciences.”

In addition to discussing lack of acceptance in academia, the panelists suggested strategies for finding a support system. Social Work student Alex Kime emphasized the importance of creating community on campus, regardless of identity.

“Community building is so very key,” Kime said. “Identifying people in your cohorts, in your classrooms, other spaces on campus, anywhere that you can find folks, where you don't have to explain your entire self to them, is so key regardless of their identity. Folks that you can simply exist around.”

Panelists named many organizations University students can use to find a community or speak with an advocate, such as the Trotter Multicultural Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Spectrum Center and Wolverine Wellness.

Attendee Stephanie Miller, who currently works at the School of Kinesiology, echoed it is essential to find a group of people with whom an individual is comfortable.

“It's important anywhere you go and however you identify to be able to feel like you're at home and to have people who support you,” Miller said. “I think for the particular topic of navigating in the academy, we're trying to learn how to be our best selves well still being in the academic research world.”

The anonymous panelist touched on the importance of speaking up to higher administration.

“Make your voice be heard in whatever program or whatever administration you're a part of,” he said. “Being part of the administration, being part of making your voice be heard. That is important to really make change.”

Finally, the panelists suggested ways to help ensure people of all identities will be comfortable in their graduate programs — such as seeing if a program’s website has resources for the LGBTQ+ community, reaching out to current and former students before choosing the program and selecting an advisor who is cognizant of individuals’ needs.

Panelist Liz Vestal, a student in the School of Social Work, told the audience its important to continue these dialogues. 

“I think in terms of any marginalized group of people, we need to be able to build coalition and community with each other in order to build each other up,” Vestal said. “I think especially now more than ever we need to figure out how we’re going to create collective resources for each other, whether that’s across disciplines, schools, or colleges. I think it’s important to be able to talk about our individual experiences and be able to share the story of LGBTQ people.”

CORRECTION: This article has been edited to remove a source's name for privacy and personal safety reasons.