Post-Election Support for LGBTQIA Students

Waking up on the morning of November 9, 2016 was a challenge.  I sat in bed and reread CNN headlines over and over again, thinking to myself “is this real life?” The misty morning didn’t help with the fogginess that overcame my brain.  The dreary weather only added to the feeling of complete despair and hopelessness.

Hope. There’s a word I love.  That’s the word I remember from the 2008 and 2012 elections.  A word that symbolized a union of our country under the leadership of inclusion and freedom.  It was a word that was marketed directly to my generation – out with the old and in with the new.  I voted on the ideals of hope.  I saw acceptance flourishing before me with gay marriage becoming legal, having a president vocalize his support of the LGBTQIA community, and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t tell that allows our service members to hide in the closet no more while serving this great nation of ours.  I felt empowered and excited.  I had hope that the better tomorrow was finally here.

After 8 years of living within a hopeful vision of our country, I found it difficult to get myself ready for work the morning after the election.  How can I work with the feeling of hopelessness and true uncertainty of what a Trump and Republican Congress will look like?  Will I be distracted all day, contemplating all the scenarios in which the Supreme Court can reverse Roe v. Ward and the ruling on gay marriage?  Then I thought, what about our students?

My students motivated me to come into work and provide advising and educational resources that day and every day after.  They are why we are in this profession, and they are the future leaders of this country (hey, maybe a future president is in your classroom now). Last year, in this column, I stressed to you the importance of providing a safe space to all students who walk into your door.  I cannot stress this point enough again.  Many of your students may also feel this sense of hopelessness and uncertainty.  The questions of “what’s next?” will be on everyone’s mind and as an educator, be the person to provide the safe environment to have these discussions.  If you have not already followed my request from last year, get trained to be a safe space on your campus.  Encourage your colleagues and students to get trained.  Let’s work to make our campus communities inclusive and a place where all feel welcomed.  We owe it to our students to provide this service.

I estimate these feelings will continue for the next four years (yes, even during the 2018 midterm elections).  The next steps are to take those feelings of hopelessness and fear and transform it into action.  As an example, the College of Public Affairs at University of Baltimore is a college dedicated to public service.  We host lectures on public policy, hosted the Maryland Senate Debate, promote activism and community building in Baltimore and beyond. Your college can do the same.

This time of uncertainty does not mean we sit back and wait for the “what if’s” to occur.  As members of the LGBTQIA community and allies, we get involved.  We make sure our voices are heard now.  We contact our representatives and remind Capitol Hill we exist.  We look for volunteer opportunities with the Human Rights Campaign and community organizations that help to influence positive changes for LGBTQIA.  Advocacy is important to Fortune 500 corporations that have adopted inclusive hiring practices.  Partnering with these business will provide more allies and resources to our students.

We provide a voice, a sense of purpose, and a desire to protect our rights. We come together as a community and we provide hope for our students.

Kristen H. Tuss, MA, is coordinator for student academic success at the University of Baltimore.