Writer’s Note: It is important to note that both authors, while members of a sexual minority group, are white, cisgender people who were raised in the colonial system. Although we have committed to the process of decolonization, it is important to acknowledge that the process of decolonization is an arduous road; we have and are bound to make mistakes. This blog post is being written with the intention to promote continued learning, and self-exploration within the field of academic advising.
When we were approached to write a blog pertaining to gender and sexual minority (GSM) university students’ experiences within an academic advising context, we realized it was an important opportunity to utilize this platform, and our privilege (in not only the aforementioned ways above, but in that we were afforded the opportunity to pursue post-secondary, and post-graduate education) in such a way to promote thoughtful conversation and reflection. The civil unrest we have been witness to in the US after the brutal and public death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 has brought more attention to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and systemic racism within our colonial institutions. We are being asked by Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) to enact real lasting systemic change and we felt this may be a good opportunity to challenge both ourselves and others about what this may mean in an academic advising setting.
Multiple forms of systemic oppression work together and help secure each other in ways that then impact the lived day-to-day experience of marginalized populations. Sherene Razack (1998) refers to this as “interlocking systems of oppression” and our GSM students are located within these interlocking systems. For instance, all our GSM students are also racialized students, whether they be Black, White, or Brown. To negate their racial identities and how they interlock with their sexual and gender identities means we may not be fully understanding their academic needs and their experiences on university and college campuses.
Research shows us time and time again that GSM populations experience higher rates of mental health issues, increased risk of poverty, a greater lack of familial support, and an increased risk of violence (Hatchel, Espelage & Huang, 2018; Simpson, 2018; Taylor & Peter, 2011). The fact GSM struggle and face more challenges than their heterosexual and cisgender peers is because they live in a society in which heterosexual and cisgender people are the desired norm or “default.” All other “non-normative” sexualities and genders face the possibility of discrimination, hatred, and/or violence due to homophobia and transphobia. GSM populations who are also BIPOC may experience these things to an even greater degree as they are oppressed by the interlocking nature of both a heteronormative and a racist society (Fattoracci, Revels-Macalinao & Huynh, 2020; Sutter & Perrin, 2016).
Knowing about the interlocking systems of oppression means that we will have hard conversations with our supervisors and other trusted advisors. It will mean that we as educators, therapists, and advisors must be committed to pursuing professional development informed by, and lead by, BIPOC or GSM folks. We will show up in solidarity at community events and use our positions of privilege within the post-secondary community to work with student led GSM groups. When we meet with students, we will work to acknowledge these interlocking identities, and inquire into our students’ lived experience. This means never assuming that just because a student presents as a certain way, that their lived experiences will be the same as another student from similar backgrounds. It also will require us to risk being uncomfortable in confronting our biases. It will mean doing the work.
When working with and advising GSM students, it is important to recognize our own positioning within the interlocking systems (our racial, sexual, and gendered identities) and how this may shape our interactions with them, in particular, those who are BIPOC. So how do we do this? What does it mean to recognize our privilege and the interlocking nature of systems of oppression? How does this impact student advising? How does what we do make any sort of impact on larger systemic issues?
Every year I (Nathan) teach a new group of students who are very adamant that they are supportive of movements like Black Lives Matter and that they attend their local Pride festival every summer in support of their GSM friends and family. They are motivated, caring, and genuinely want to make this world we live in a better place. However, they also resist the notion that they could be racist, homophobic, or transphobic in any way. In order to address this, I will often get them to complete the Harvard Implicit Association Tests (Project Implicit, 2011). The tests help measure hidden biases, and these include racial bias, heterosexual bias, and cisgender bias. Every year the students are shocked to see that they do, in fact, privilege people who are light skinned, heterosexual, and cisgender. What they find even more shocking is that their professor (myself), who is openly queer and is teaching them about oppression, also continues to have implicit bias toward light skinned, heterosexual, and cisgender people.
Similarly, I (Cassidy) found my own personal experience of d-colonization, and confronting my own implicit biases a humbling, and eye-opening experience. When I first encountered Project Implicit (2011), I was convinced I was immune to the heteronormative and racist undertones that many western societies are built on. Looking back, this arrogance and ignorance was fueled by youthful naivety and my idealistic nature, which is exactly the mindset that maintains these attitudes. After taking a few of the implicit bias tests, I was surprised. These tests shine light into the shadows of ourselves, the parts we don’t want to admit, or acknowledge. It’s the ugliness outside (in society), reflected on the inside. Since encountering Project Implicit (2011), I have taken an active role in un-learning, acknowledging, and addressing these not-so-subtle messages and biases I have learned as a result of being raised in western culture. Currently, in my role as LGBTQIA2S+ Wellness Coordinator, I am working on having Project Implicit (2011) incorporated into orientation week activities for first year students in order to normalize the experience of exploring, and de-constructing these harmful ideologies.
Doing the Work: Academic Advising with BIPOC and GSM Student’s
What implicit bias highlights is that all of us, no matter how anti-racist or anti-homophobic or anti-transphobic we may be (or think we may be), continue to support these systems of privilege without always knowing we are doing so. We believe that one way to counter this is to be more mindful of when our biases are being enacted and then ensuring we do not allow them as easily to impact the way we interact with our students. For instance, if you are advising a student who is transgender and also BIPOC, and you are a cisgender heterosexual person, it is important to acknowledge your stance/orientation in society prior to attempting to advise this student. If the student presents as exhausted and withdrawn, remember it may be because they have heard racial and transphobic slurs throughout the day, been misgendered in each class they’ve attended, feel unsafe even around campus security, and had to run all the way back home to use their washrooms at home because they don’t feel safe doing so on campus. These are all examples of the ways in which interlocking oppression affects the daily lived experiences of BIPOC and GSM students.
As cisgender, white, well-educated, well-fed, middle-classed academics, we work to maintain this awareness. In action, this looks like validating a student’s experience, and really working to make them feel seen, valued, and important. This means introducing ourselves with our pronouns, and then inquiring to see what the student is comfortable with. Next, we ask what a student knows about the process they’re inquiring about (whether that be via academic advising or in a classroom environment). We approach teaching and advising from a place of co-facilitated learning, and we try to promote their autonomy, resiliency, and voice by allowing student’s a place where they can use it. As educators and advisors, we work to keep our resources up to date, pursue relevant professional development, and help by using our own power to advocate for funding, protective policies, and connect GSM and BIPOC students with supports on our own volition.
Real systemic change happens when we recognize that we are, in fact, the system. We are the academic institution, and by paying more attention to our implicit biases and the interlocking nature of oppression, we can make better decisions that help support BIPOC and GSM students in real tangible ways. We can talk to administrators, the heads of academic departments, and to advocate for new policies. We can take our BIPOC GSM students seriously and hear them when the tell us they are experiencing racism, homophobia, or transphobia (or some combination of all three). We can find ways to use our privilege, and make the institution work for BIPOC and GSM students. Real systemic change happens when those of us who make up the system change it; but we must start with ourselves. Real systemic change happens when we do the work.
Fattoracci, E. S. M., Revels-Macalinao, M., & Huynh, Q. L. (2020). Greater than the sum of racism and heterosexism: Intersectional microaggressions toward racial/ethnic and sexual minority group members. American Psychological Association. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000329
Hatchel, T., Espelage, D. L., Huang, Y. (2018). Sexual harassment victimization, school belonging, and depressive symptoms among LGBTQ adolescents: Temporal insights. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(4), 422-420. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ort0000279
Project Implicit. (2011). About Us. Retrieved on June 24, 2020 from: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/aboutus.html
Razack, S. (1998). Looking white people in the eye: Gender, race, and culture in courtrooms and classrooms. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Simpson, L. (2018, May 31). Violent victimization of lesbian, gays, and bisexuals in Canada, 2014. Statistics Canada. https://www150statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2018001/article/54923-eng.htm
Sutter, M., & Perrin, P. B. (2016). Discrimination, mental health, and suicidal ideation among people of color. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(1), 98-105. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cou0000126
Taylor, C. & Peter, T. (2011). Every class in every school: Final report on the first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.