Michigan's College Access Blog

Celebrating Pride 365: Supporting LGBTQ+ Students and Offering Support through the College Application Process

Melissa Monier is an AdviseMI alumna and is currently pursuing her a Master’s Degree in Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

During June Pride Month, it is easy to get swept up in the rainbows and glitter, to celebrate the beauty and diversity of life, to celebrate love and to support one another. But Pride is also a month of remembering LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Trasngender, Queer, and the “+” stands for a multitude of identities that are always growing and expanding) history and also recognizing that we still have a ways to go to ensure equal access and treatment for this vulnerable, yet resilient, population.

LGBTQ+ issues are college access issues. According to GLSEN and the HRC (Human Rights Campaign):

  • 73% of LGBTQ+ youth have been bullied because of their actual or perceived LGBTQ+ identity.
  • 42.5% of LGBTQ+ of LGBTQ+ high school students reported that they did not plan to finish high school/considering dropping out because of the harassment, they faced at school
  • LGBTQ+ high school students were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any post-secondary education

Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde said: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” We are not one-dimensional. We often use the term “intersectionality” to describe the way that all of our multifaceted identities and intersect to shape our experiences and the way we navigate through our everyday lives.

Our students of color could also be our LGBTQ+ students. Our students on free/reduced lunch, our DACA/DACA-mented students, Dreamers, first-generation American students could also be our LGBTQ+ students. Our rural students, urban or suburban students could also be our LGBTQ+ students. Our homeless or independent students could also be our LGBTQ+ students (and in many cases, LGBTQ+ students experience homelessness at an even higher rate). We fight and advocate for these issues, and because our students are often at the intersections of more than one, we also need to fight and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, especially in our schools.

Be an allyGLSEN has some great resources on learning how to improve your allyship:

  • Assess your personal beliefs. Check yourself for any anti LGBTQ+ bias, understand your own privileges, and learn more about LGBTQ+ terminology.
  • Respond to anti-LGBTQ+ behavior: stand up for students and stop transphobic or homophobic behavior when you see/hear it. Use inclusive language. Be visible in your allyship.
  • Being in a near-peer situation as a College Adviser, students are going to trust you. You have the opportunity and the responsibility to make sure your space is a safe and affirming space. If a student confides in you or comes out to you, listen and offer them support, but don’t assume they need any help.
  • Don’t think you have all the answers, and don’t make any assumptions. We’re all learning, and we all have to start somewhere! Make sure you’re listening to your students, they’ll tell you what they need. Sometimes your support and visible allyship is more than enough.

College can be a safe-haven for LGBTQ+ students; a place to be independent, to freely be themselves to explore their identities, and a place to connect and meet others who share their experiences and can support them. College was the first time that I had the space, the resources, and the encouragement of faculty and other students to explore queer issues and develop a passion for intersectional feminism and activism, which I believe helped me greatly during my service as a College Adviser. That’s why finding the perfect fit is so important.

 There are a few resources available to help your students through the college search process:

  1. The Campus Pride Index allows colleges to self-report information about their institution and then Campus Pride scores them based on LGBTQ+ inclusivity. If you are working with a student, this can be a good place to start showing them options, or be aware of the resources that they might want to look out for in their college search process.
  2. University representatives: your reps will be able to answer student questions or refer them to other campus resources. Some questions you might want to ask: Are there gender-neutral bathrooms on campus? Is there gender-neutral housing or LGBTQ+ housing? Is there an LGBTQ+ resource center? Is there a preferred name policy or an option for students to add a preferred name to the system? Are there any scholarships for LGBTQ+ students? Are there any counselors/health services for LGBTQ+ students?
  3. Also, look for local LGBTQ+ organizations in your local/surrounding communities that can offer support or resources

As we celebrate pride, we are called to re-evaluate what it means to be an ally, and we must remember to support those that need it most, not just in June, but 365 days a year.

Additional resources:

Posted: June 27, 2019
Author: Melissa Monier 

Stepping Outside Social Work: A Year of College Advising

AdviseMI is an initiative of the Michigan College Access Network that works with AmeriCorps to place recent college graduates in Michigan high schools with low college-going rates. The advisers are trained to help students navigate the complex college exploration process, retake college admissions tests, apply to colleges that are a good match/fit, complete the FAFSA, secure financial aid, and matriculate to college.

Mara Casado is a first-year adviser who just completed her first year of service at Hastings High School.

As a graduate of Calvin College with a bachelor’s degree in social work, I was looking for a job that would allow me to gain meaningful skills and experiences before starting graduate school and begining my career as a social worker. I came across the AdviseMI AmeriCorps position and knew that dedicating myself to serving my community through supporting students in their college readiness efforts would be a valuable experience. My role as an adviser is to increase the number of high school students who start and complete postsecondary education. On a day-to-day basis, I get to meet with individual seniors to help them craft their post-high school plans, apply to colleges, complete the FAFSA, fill out scholarship applications, and help them understand the crazy-confusing college world. I also plan college-related events, give presentations for each grade, and support the counselors in various ways.

As my service year comes to a close, naturally, I’m feeling quite reflective and slightly sentimental. In the last 10 months, I have developed a lot of skills and learned a wide variety of new things and met so many amazing advisers, counselors, teachers, and other advocates for college access. I have been blown away by the dedication and passion of the staff at my school and the work being done by organizations like the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) to increase access to higher education for low-income students, first-generation college students, and students of color. I have been equally amazed by the students I work with every day, who, despite sometimes needing to be gently nagged multiple times to complete the FAFSA, are also incredibly smart, kind, and determined, and are breaking down many barriers to get to college - and I am honored to have even a small role in their journey to success.

Through my service, I have learned two big lessons. First, effective collaboration. Each workplace environment is different, and our school sites are no exception. I’m at a school where collaboration is expected and I receive supervision for most of my tasks, but other advisers may be at schools where they’re working more independently on tasks without much supervision. There are pros and cons to each, and while I am grateful for the amount of support I receive from teachers and staff, I did need to learn very quickly that timely communication, building relationships, and flexibility were all a key part of success in my role. Second, the importance of knowing a student’s story. Once upon a time, I was a social work major. I spent much of my undergraduate career learning about the impact of a person’s environment on their psychological, social, and emotional wellbeing. I knew the importance of a person’s environment, but I developed a deeper understanding of this in my role as an adviser. Each day I am reminded that a student’s home environment can seriously affect their behavior, academic performance, self-esteem, and even their motivation to consider college. Recognizing this and giving students both the space to focus on their pressing needs at home, and the encouragement they need to pursue their plans for after high school, plays a pivotal part in my relationships with students.

Through this journey, I have also encountered some challenges. The biggest challenge has been learning patience. I’m someone who loves seeing immediate results, and although I do see the immediate results of students getting scholarships or college acceptances, it took time to see the results of a growing college-going culture in my school. Building this culture is not a quick process and there is often community pushback on our efforts to promote college for all students. This stems from a lack of understanding of what college is and what it isn’t, but my supervisor and I have worked to push the recognition that college is not just a four-year university. There are many paths to earning a postsecondary credential. We are seeing slow, but positive changes. So we keep pushing. Because the work we do at an individual and school-level is the foundation of the work that’s done at the state-level, and we need people at all levels to “get things done” for college access.

Author: Mara Casado
Posted: June 18, 2019



My Experience at the Rural College Access and Success Summit

Ashley Justice is a Program Manager & School Liaison for the Capital Area College Access Network, which is a Local College Access Network (LCAN) in the Lansing area

At the end of April, I was able to attend the Rural College Access and Success Summit in Lexington, Kentucky. I went to Kentucky looking for best practices and inspiration to bring back to our rural communities in Ingham and Eaton counties as part of CapCAN’s College Attainment for Rural Students initiative. What I found was a large community of dedicated, rural practitioners passionate about their own rural communities, and I learned so much from them.

The summit was kicked off by a plenary with the former Education Secretary, Dr. John B. King Jr. Currently, Secretary King is the CEO of the Education Trust. Secretary King spoke about having the necessary moral courage to fight and advocate for our students to have opportunities, and the necessity of mentors, especially for our rural students who are more likely to come from a low-income family and to be the first in their families to go to college. With 20% of the public school population classified as rural, King stated “America cannot succeed without the success of rural America.” This was a great way to kick off the conference, and to remind the practitioners of the importance of our work, not just for our communities, but for our country as a whole.

During the first breakout, Sarah Beesley from Concord University spoke about some of the barriers that she faces working with rural West Virginian students. One of the barriers that stood out to me was the overall lack of confidence among rural students in their abilities to succeed in college. Many of these students came from areas where they didn’t interact with adults who hold a college degree outside of doctors and teachers. They didn’t have role models and mentors who had similar backgrounds or experiences to support them. Their strongest support network was their peer network. However, many of these peer support networks dwindled as fewer and fewer students progressed in their college education, often dropping out after their first or second year. Another major barrier that Beesley spoke about was the harm of the stereotypes of rural students. It’s a stereotype that we see a lot in the mediathat people who live in rural areas are ignorant and poor. Rural students don’t see many positive examples of themselves in colleges to counteract these views. It creates a situation where the rural students either do not go or are not comfortable on college campuses resulting in dropping out of college.

A common theme throughout the sessions was around how to better engage parents in the college going process. A speaker out of rural California created a Parent Advisory Committee, which allowed for a group of trained parents to educate and engage other parents in the college-going process. The parents were trained to hold their own meetings with other parents to better inform them about the college-going culture and help dispel the myths surrounding it.  

Another prominent theme was how to better engage rural communities. Presenters talked about bringing in mentors to work with students while students were enrolled in both high school and college. It is important for the students to feel supported by these mentors in their pursuit of a degree. Mentors allow for students to see that they don’t have to choose between remaining part of their rural communities or going to college, as many students feel like they are rejecting their community’s way of life by making the choice to get a college degree. Community support helps rural students feel like they have a place to come back to once they do receive their college degree.

I took much away from the summit. I learned about some best practices occurring in other rural areas of the country. I also connected with the NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group and found some great resources within that. But what I really took away was the sense that CapCAN is now part of a larger movement to assist the rural population of students who have largely been forgotten to navigate the college process. I cannot wait to put all of the things I’ve learned into practice here in the rural communities within Ingham and Eaton counties. Thank you to MCAN for sponsoring my trip down to Lexington, it was truly a life changing experience. 

Author: Ashely Justice
Posted: June 11, 2019

My Experience with the Detroit Promise: An Adviser’s Reflection

AdviseMI is an initiative of the Michigan College Access Network that works with AmeriCorps to place recent college graduates in Michigan high schools with low college-going rates. The advisers are trained to help students navigate the complex college exploration process, retake college admissions tests, apply to colleges that are a good match/fit, complete the FAFSA, secure financial aid, and matriculate to college.

Juanita Janee’ Gool is a first-year adviser who serves at Martin Luther King Jr. Sr. High School in Detroit.

As a social work major at Wayne State University, I completed my field placement with the Detroit Promise. I was able to get the experience of working with freshman first-generation college students. The connections with the students were so surreal because I am a first generation myself and I could remember how I felt during my first year in community college. As a student, I had never heard about the Detroit Promise as a resource. I remember the feeling of not knowing what to do next and when I met with my advisers I found that I didn’t receive real assistance or answers to my questions, and I had no real connection the staff at my institution. Navigating through community college before transferring on my own was a real challenge for me, but dedication, determination, and the driven spirit is what carried me through. Through that experience, I told myself that if I was ever in the position to help someone get through what I been through, I would jump at that chance!

When the opportunity presented itself to work with a familiar population, I knew there would be an instant connection. The Detroit Promise gave me a different deeper nuance. The ability to learn from some of the best Promise Path Coaches, staff, peers, and field liaison helped create who I am today. All of the knowledge from everyone has assisted me in becoming more successful in my current position. During my college internship, I had the experience of serving students at the beginning stages of college. Now I serve them before they even hit those doors and it is really amazing and truly rewarding. Bridging the gap is a part of my purpose in life. Having someone in your life that you can connect with based on relatable experiences helps create a better support bond. I have learned a great deal of knowledge from college, the Detroit Promise and AdviseMI. Everything intertwines, which is great for me and those who I serve.

One of the most valuable things I have learned is networking. Networking and creating working bonds that come together like none other that can really expose and be more effective for those who I serve. The work I do would not be possible without others. My only challenge that I face and will always face is the dismay of not knowing. I seem to be the type of person who wants to know and pencil in a plan for it all. Despite a lack of knowledge, being a team player, adjustable, understanding, and empathetic has helped me conquer every time.

Author: Juanita Janee’ Gool
Posted: May 28, 2019

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