Featuring Dr. Paula Di Dio, Ph.D., Senior Director of Communications & Research Strategist
Home » Resources » Pride Podcast Special: Why Supporting LGBTQ+ Students is Absolutely Critical
While colleges celebrate Pride Month in June, supporting LGBTQ+ students year-round is crucial for enrollment and retention efforts. In this episode of the Community College Marketing Master Class, equity expert Dr. Paula Di Dio, Interact’s senior director of communication and research strategist, explains why it’s more important than ever to support this student population 365 days of the year. Dr. Di Dio will reveal the unique challenges LGBTQ+ students face, how those pressures have increased during the pandemic, and how to build support for these students into diversity, equity, and inclusion plans. It’s a power-packed Pride podcast exclusive you won’t want to miss! 🏳️🌈
Episode Transcript for Supporting LGBTQ+ Students:
Podcast Intro 0:00 Welcome to the Community College marketing masterclass, where we explore the latest conversations happening in higher ed, including trials and triumphs and recruitment equity, guided pathways retention, and beyond. With more than 25 years of experience working with nearly 1000 Community Colleges nationwide, interact is proud to share best practices and insights from experts around the country. Tune in now for another great discussion with your host.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 0:27 Hi, everyone, Happy Pride Month. Today we’re going to talk about the unique challenges LGBTQ plus students face at college. Plus, how those pressures have increased during the pandemic, and what schools can do to support LGBTQ plus students. Today, I’ll be interviewing Interact’s expert, Dr. Paula Di Dio, Senior Director of Communications and research strategist. I’ll be your host today, Rachel Rosen-Carroll, and I’m Interact’s marketing copywriter. Let’s get started. Paula, thanks so much for joining me today.
Paula Di Dio 1:03 Thank you so much, Rachel, pleasure being here talking to you.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 1:08 So I first read your work talking about LGBTQ plus students and equity efforts in our white paper, Challenging Traditional Gender Roles and Boosting Enrollment. And we’ll also post the link below in our show notes in case you’re interested. So Paula, before we take a deep dive into today’s topic, can you let our listeners know about your background working on diversity and inclusion efforts in higher ed?
Paula Di Dio 1:36 Sure, yeah, well, I have a Ph.D. in Latin American literature and cultural studies. So for many years, I worked as faculty in different higher ed institutions. And more recently, a couple of years ago, I transitioned into the private sector. That’s when I started to work doing cross-cultural market research.
So basically, doing market research for higher ed, you know, for different segments of the population. Also, part of my academic background has to do with migrations with gender studies and gender issues. I basically combined both my academic background and my working experience in this field. I’m very interested in all sorts of issues related to equity, diversity, and inclusion. I’ve been writing about gender roles in higher ed. And how to target different segments of the population, including the Hispanic population in the US and African Americans. So that’s basically, in a nutshell, my background and my interest, and my passion.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 3:09 And I know personally, that you’ve also lived all over the world. So we’re especially lucky to have you in, in California representing.
Paula Di Dio 3:17 I lived
I lived here in three countries and in different cities, and different areas of the United States. So I guess I had the pleasure of knowing this country really from the East Coast to the West Coast. It seems sometimes that we are talking about different countries than just one country. So yeah, so my pleasure to be here to
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 3:46 Fabulous, fabulous, thank you. Well, to start, please talk about some of the unique challenges that LGBTQ plus students face at college. And unfortunately, how those pressures have increased during the pandemic.
Paula Di Dio 3:58 Well, this population has very unique challenges, especially when it comes to the socialization aspect of going to college. But they have obstacles not only within the colleges, but also mostly when it comes to their personal relationships.
So sometimes, this, you know, this segment of the population can’t count on their friends or family, and not to support them in their academic journey. And we all know how important it is to have support in your education, right. It’s not an easy journey. Especially during the pandemic, the social isolation, increase increased, you know, within this segment of the population more than with anyone else, I think so, There is a lot of fear of harassment and personal safety within this group that our groups might not necessarily feel as much. In certain areas of the United States right now, it’s not the same to be part a member of the LGBTQ plus community in California, as being a member of this group, in other, you know, in more conservative locations.
There was an article published in October of last year by Inside Higher Ed that says that nearly all the counselors and administrators surveyed in one of the many surveys that they conducted, said that COVID-19 worsen symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and difficulty coping with stress among LGBTQ plus community students, 84% cited depression and 75% listed family concerns, among the many issues that you know that we’re being faced by, by members of the LGBTQ plus community.
So there’s a lot of fear of coming out, sometimes, in some cases, in an acceptance of their own identity. And this is very unique to this group. So we know that when, you know if within our community, we have a group of people that fears acceptance of their identity, we are perpetuating inequality, we are perpetrating structural conditions of discrimination. Because that person is not going to be assertive, that person is not going to claim their rights is not going to navigate, it’s going to navigate life in the margins of certain communities or on the margins of society. And that leads to depression.
So there are a lot of public health implications, too. The issue of when someone you know, doesn’t feel the part of a community doesn’t feel a sense of belonging, comes up public health concern because you have higher incidences of you know, substance abuse, higher incidence of suicidal ideation, higher incidence of chronic stress, chronic stress leads to depression. So I think we’ve had to look at these problems from a more holistic approach. Instead of just focusing on DEI plans or issues, we should look at this from the perspective of public health too.
Another unique challenge of this group is also that some students during the pandemic didn’t have health insurance. So they were receiving some sort of counseling through the, you know, some campus services. And that stopped during the pandemic. Or if you didn’t stop, they mean, we all went online, and some students didn’t feel like didn’t have a private space for them, to communicate to where there are concerns in the where at home, you know, because again because many of them don’t receive any support at home or don’t feel safe to open up at home.
Another unique issue with this group is data. Since so many people still don’t feel safe, you know, about being open or being more vocal about their own identity. We don’t have reliable data, as we have with other populations, you know, so we know exactly how many Hispanic students we have. In colleges. We know exactly how many African American students we have. But we don’t know exactly how many members of the LGBTQ plus community we have. And since we, unfortunately, pack them all in the same group, you know, we pack gays, transgender people or lesbian people all in the same group, then it’s more difficult to unpack that data and tailor, you know, services counseling services to in a more like specific way.
Since we don’t have reliable data is hard also for colleges to implement change. Because we might not have a number high enough to justify the allocation of budget, for example, to implement some counseling services. So that is a big problem, not having reliable data. And speaking from the perspective of a researcher, unfortunately, if we don’t have reliable data… There’s only so much that colleges can do to implement change.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 11:03 That’s really unfortunate. And I thank you so much for sort of speaking on how complicated this issue is. Can you talk about how the enrollment of LGBTQ+ students has dropped at community colleges?
Paula Di Dio 11:17 I don’t think that enrollment dips are necessarily unique to this group. We’ve seen enrollment, dips across all, you know, populations, like general populations, Hispanics, African Americans. So we know that, for example, LGBTQ+ men are as twice as likely as LGBTQ+ women to finish their degrees. Within this, this is the opposite for heterosexual, you know, cisgender population.
Normally, we have higher graduation rates among women than men, for example. But when it comes to enrollment dips, I think, again, this is not unique, something that I think could be going on with this population. Especially is, you know, if the pandemic brought to light, many issues with, like, again, depression, you know, chronic depression. So if you fear opening up about your own identity. And you live in the margins, you suffer from some sort of depression. Then you’re not going to enroll in college, this is, you know, as simple as that.
So, you know, with other populations, it could be that we saw, for example, with Hispanics, they all went to work more than any other population, so many of them had to drop College because they didn’t have enough time with members of the LGBTQ plus community could be the case also that when they were attending classes in person they were receiving, or they were having some sort of support from certain centers or groups within the college. And that stopped with a pandemic. So, you know, if you’re not able to receive that support anymore, maybe you’re not as interest interested, in or, or you don’t have the, you know, the drive to apply to college. But again, we’ve seen enrollment dips across all populations.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 13:55 Got it. Got it. Thanks for clearing that up. For me at least. I guess my next question for you is, you know, how, how can colleges support LGBTQ plus students, especially now, given the stresses everyone’s under?
Paula Di Dio 14:12 Well, start by trying to get better data in order to understand better, you know, what are the issues with enrollment and retention within this group? And the way I think we are going to obtain better data is by creating trust, creating a sense of belonging, and creating a sense of community where people can feel safe enough to disclose their gender orientation, for example, gender identity.
So make sure that your students are aware of all the resources that you have on campus. Better equipped counseling services for me Evaluate by especially for this population, better training also in diversity inclusion and equity issues, we again tend to pack sometimes when we do, when, you know, we attend, or we create diversity and equity and inclusion training, we pack the training with like ethnicities, gender orientation, gender identity. And this should be two different separates in two separate pieces of training for example, so, because the issues that are the challenges that these populations face are very different.
So, when you create diversity and inclusion training, and you, you include every group, under the same umbrella, you are diluting the message, you are diluting the urgency that, you know, having a good diversity and inclusion training, how house on campus. So another way that colleges can support LGBTQ plus students is great representation by making sure you have hiring practices that encourage hiring diverse faculty and staff, body and also leadership because we forget about leadership, you know, we always say, Yeah, we need to pay representation among faculty and staff, but also, the more diverse the leadership team is that you know, trickles down within the institution.
Make sure also that your marketing materials reflect your equity plans, because and that your website reflects your equity plans, because sometimes you have a perfect Equity Plan, you know, in place, in theory, everything looks fantastic. But then there’s no implementation, you know, like, sometimes I visit colleges because of my part of my, my job, my work with interact, and I don’t see like brochures about you know, counseling services for LGBTQ plus community, members of the community, or I don’t see, you know, support groups or so making sure that if you have equity and good Equity Plan, you reflect that into your marketing materials into your website, do the images that include put in your website represent this, you know, a segment of the population, that’s the language you use in your website, represent this group of, there’s some sort of representation for this group.
Also, well training for you know, faculty and staff, and especially for staff that is in close contact with students, right, this is really important because when students are sometimes they don’t feel safe, you know, a word or just not answering the phone on time or not guiding someone to the right counseling services, or the person having to wait weeks until they get you to know, connected to a counselor that could make the difference between someone dropping out college and someone persisting. So, training for faculty and staff is key.
I think and also something that I would like to mention there is another layer of complication, sometimes when we talk about like, some sort of intersectionality you know, and that is something that sometimes diversity and inclusion the training overlook, you know, when there is more like, the more intersection, right between different or I don’t know how to explain that, but the more a person carries with him with her when they with them have this sort of, you know, different ethnicities, different sexual orientations, different races, the more complicated their lives sometimes are, unfortunately. Right?
So if you are, you know, sexual orientation, plus certain ethnicities, you know, these students are suffering from sometimes, like more discrimination, more biases, you know, more prejudice against them. So, again, the more the intersectionality is a key issue also to understanding what, like, particular challenges, some of these students might feel?
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 20:52 Yeah, it’s, it’s a lot more complicated, I think than just, hey, it’s June and it’s Pride Month. It’s a very, it’s a very, yeah, it’s a huge issue. Yeah.
Paula Di Dio 21:04 Because also, you know, this history behind the LGBTQ plus community history of decades, if not centuries of discrimination in biases, you know, structural, structural conditions that that that perpetuated you know, discrimination. So, I mean, decriminalization of gay rights, for example. I mean, it’s gonna take forever to get rid of that baggage behind that issue. So it’s not like, Okay, we decriminalize certain things. And that’s it No, as that history, it’s a heavyweight, you know, in something along those lines might have mean happens with, you know, African American students. I mean, the challenges are different, but the history of discrimination for decades and centuries. That’s heavy.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 22:21 Yeah, Indeed, indeed. Well, thank you for adding that nuance. I wanted to ask about LGBTQ plus support and resource centers, and how crucial they can be to supporting this population. And if colleges don’t have a support center in place, what they can do to make up for that lack?
Paula Di Dio 22:43 Yeah, well, similar to what I said before, some of these students don’t have support at home. So for them having to support a college, it’s a huge difference. So we have to take that into account. We had to, like, sometimes I know that students need to wait for weeks until they can see a counselor and that’s not okay, you know, at any level, because the students are suffering, again, from other issues, not only not knowing what classes they’re going to take, right.
So creating support centers, you know, creating more opportunities, more avenues for students to get access to quickly. Counseling Services are key. Because, unlike other populations, these students don’t receive sometimes not in all cases, of course, but sometimes they don’t have the same support that other people have at home. So again, if there’s a fear of disclosing your own identity, that’s a huge deal for students. So yeah, so definitely. But again, sometimes we don’t have reliable data. So it’s difficult for colleges to justify opening more services or starting new services for this population. Right, but at the very least, get the counselors on board perhaps, practically. Exactly. Yeah. Wonderful.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 24:28 Wonderful. Well, you know, it is June it is pride month. So what are some ways colleges can celebrate?
Paula Di Dio 24:34 I think, you know, this is a little bit tricky, because sometimes when we think about the, like Pride Month, we tend to think okay, now we have to start the engine with, you know, new resources and new, but this should be a year-round Effort, Right? Not only this month, the only thing about that I could say about taking the opportunity of this month to identify some groups, that during this month, but some groups or some people are also going to be more vocal, maybe, you know, they’re going, some groups are going to be posting more on social media, for example.
So maybe if colleges could identify certain groups within, in other colleges that can help support other students that might be less vocal. This month could be an opportunity for that to track, you know, social media and see, oh, you know, there’s this group within this college, that maybe we can tap to, you know, to get help for other students that are maybe a little bit less vocal. During this month, this type of massage is going to be a little bit more obvious.
Colleges can take advantage of that. Make sure your students again, know, all the resources that are available on campus and try to connect people because this is why sometimes, also, you know, if colleges don’t have professional counseling, available right away for students, they, you know, the action of connecting people with, you know, same concern, same interests. That helps a lot, you know, Samson, some group of students can be helping other students to Mabel, maybe, maybe tackle some issues. So create a sort of network, you know, or a safety net. For students that might be a little bit more, I mean, less vocal about this.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 27:06 Wonderful, wonderful. And I guess my last question would be, you know, talk about how LGBTQ plus support is a vital component of colleges equity plans.
Paula Di Dio 27:17 Well, like I said, before, you know, equity plans are all the law all look great, in theory, the right language, the right goals, the right missions. But the problem is with implementation. So you can have the most comprehensive equity plan, but if the implementation fails, then you’re failing your students.
So, again, when it comes to training, maybe the idea is not to pack, everyone under the same umbrella term, that is diversity and inclusion by trying to tailor this training for more like specific concerns within each group. Have in mind, the idea of intersectionality that complicates things a little bit more for some students. And again, make sure that you are implementing what you have already in theory, right.
That will be my, yeah, my sort of, I see that when I go to colleges, that I, you know, with their websites, and everything looks great, but then when I go to visit, some of them don’t have enough, you know, representation within the college or they don’t have enough information on marketing materials or counselling, service, services, brochures, for example. And that is not so difficult to implement, you know, that those changes could make a lasting effect in in students. And those are not really difficult or expensive steps that you can take. So it’s always good to hear that it’s, it’s an easy fix, hopefully.
Yeah, it’s not necessarily I don’t think it’s I mean, it’s not a fix in terms of, we’re not going to change structural conditions, right with with a brochure, services, but at least we can help you know, some students get the help that they need right away. And so instead of waiting in, that’s the way that’s gonna A way of creating change. I mean, we can create change at a more like structural level. But we can also create change in everyday life interactions. And that’s where the brochures, you know, would enter for example.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 30:20 Wonderful, wonderful. Well, Paula, thank you so much for your time. Is there anything you want to add before we wrap it up for today?
Paula Di Dio 30:30 Just don’t forget about the students around the year. Not only think about this, this group of students during pride month as a marketing device to try to implement whatever measures you can, whatever plans around the year, make this effort an evergreen effort.
Rachel Rosen-Carroll 30:58 Beautiful, beautiful, well said. Well, thank you so much, Paula, and thanks to all of our listeners for joining us today. We’ll add helpful links in the show notes. We’re also going to have some blogs with helpful topics coming out this month for pride. Thank you all and be well. Thank you, Rachel.
Podcast Intro 31:18 Thank you for listening to another episode of the community college marketing masterclass podcast hosted by Interact’s team of two-year college experts for more community college resources, insights, and downloads, including the transcript of today’s show, visit interactcom.com That’s interactcom.com. And don’t forget to follow interact on social media and subscribe to this podcast to keep your finger on the pulse of higher ed trends. That’s all for today. We’ll catch you next time
Dr. Paula Di Dio, Ph.D.Senior Director of Communications & Research Strategist
Dr. Paula Di Dio holds a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been a lecturer at several universities across the country. For over fifteen years, Paula’s job has been to analyze, write, edit, teach, and interpret stories and their broader social, political, and cultural contexts.
She has conducted academic research on migrations, pop culture, cosmopolitanism, and political dissent. She brings her teaching and research skills into the marketing and communications industry as an experienced cross-cultural Market Research Strategist for qualitative research projects.
For fun, Rachel reads style guides and the dictionary, especially The American Heritage Dictionary… We wouldn’t make this up. When Rachel’s not writing feature stories about inspiring community college alums, the author works on novels, micro fiction, and poetry, and has been published by various lit journals. Reach out with questions or blog ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.