Scholars who assembled at Michigan State University for the first National Symposium on LGBTQ Research in Higher Education focused on methodology and practice.
Among them that day in 2014, was Z Nicolazzo, a soon-to-be NIU College of Education professor who studies trans* collegians with a particular emphasis on trans* student resilience and kinship-building.
Nicolazzo’s memories from that event include hearing the loud-and-clear invitation for another institution to host the next gathering. Three years later, ze and Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education colleagues Katy Jaekel and Carrie Kortegast are the first to answer that call – and with a different and expanded premise in mind.
Called “Working the Intersections,” the second national symposium will take place Saturday, Oct. 14, at NIU. Researchers, faculty, staff and students from across the United States and Canada are expected to attend.
“Our theme is really thinking about how gender and sexuality show up alongside a lot of other identities and experiences,” Nicolazzo says. “We were really intentional when we called for papers.”
“When we talk about things like gender and sexuality, oftentimes particular identities are left out,” adds Jaekel, whose research agenda includes the classroom experiences of LGBTQ students. “We want to be more inclusive, and we hopefully want to generate some new knowledge.”
Keynote speaker Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart, professor of higher education and student affairs at Colorado State University, will speak at 8:30 a.m. Kristen Renn, a professor of higher, adult and lifelong education at Michigan State University, gives the closing address at 4:30 p.m.
In between are several paper-and-panel sessions, roundtable sessions and a PechaKucha plenary session, all geared to illuminate emerging knowledge, trends and conversations of LGBTQ research.
Under the “Intersections” theme, participants will discuss the experiences of LGBTQ people of color – “it’s vastly under-researched in our field,” Nicolazzo says – as well as how LGBTQ identities coexist with disability, spirituality, religion and more.
Exploring these topics is critically important, both say, especially for those in higher education.
Many faculty members and Student Affairs professionals don’t put LGBTQ issues up for discussion, Jaekel says, because such topics are often considered “value-neutral.” Others believe they don’t know enough, she adds, or are afraid to misspeak.
“While many people think that because things like gay marriage have occurred, and there’s been an increase in civil rights, that these issues have been solved and everything is better,” Jaekel says. “The truth is there continues to be a group of students who have particular needs.”
And, Nicolazzo says, that population is on the rise.
“All indications are that there are three- to six times more people identifying as transgender below the age of 18 than over 18 – that’s our college-going demographic. We have more LGBTQ students in higher ed, and we need to meet the diversity of our students, faculty and staff in college environments,” ze says.
“We also have a growing awareness that there are LGBTQ faculty and staff at institutions of higher education,” ze adds, “so I think it’s important to not only highlight the research of those folks who are LGBTQ but to also highlight the work about LGBTQ people.”
Both are excited that a large number of students have registered to attend the symposium.
“It’s really important for students, and particularly LGBTQ students, to see what Laverne Cox calls ‘Possibility Models’ – models of who they can become in the future,” Nicolazzo says. “A lot of folks who are interested in doing research, or are interested in teaching, but identify as queer and trans* might not think they can do it because they don’t see a lot of faculty who are queer and trans*.”
“Different privileges are afforded to some and less to others, so we really wanted to highlight that,” Jaekel adds. “A lot of times, we look only to experts for knowledge and truth about gender and sexuality. Students have much to offer us, and highlighting different voices and different positions, we can learn from one another. Everyone can be deemed the expert of their own experience.”
The College of Education colleagues hope their participants share wisdom, gain insights, create knowledge and leave energized.
“Because I know we have so many students coming as participants, one of my main goals is for them to develop some good mentoring relationships and networks that might last beyond the conference,” Nicolazzo says.
Hir personal goals likely apply to all of the scholars coming to the symposium.
“I’m really hoping that we can continue to practice how we share our information in ways that are understandable for the broader public,” ze says. “I’ve become really good at talking to other gender scholars about why my work matters. What I really want to become better at is making my working understandable to people who don’t do this kind of work at all.”
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