By Lindsay Ritenbaugh

"Being an ally is about the work, not necessarily the title. It's recognizing your functionality within a system of oppression."

This past Friday fellow SA First Years blogger @LuisHGaray and I attended a daylong institute for supporting LGBTQ+ college students. The quote above particularly resonated with me. In addition to the valuable resources and deeper understanding I gained as an ally, I was able to network and share best practices with other professionals within my region.

One of the most powerful sessions of the conference was the student panel. Students from a variety of universities, representing a wide spectrum of intersectionalities, shared their varied experiences as college students. Many of the students raised concerns about forced representation during classroom discussions (seeing as they were often the only queer person in the room). It was a rude awakening for me, as I sometimes think that all college and university settings are progressive when it comes to serving the needs of LGBTQ+ persons. While many are moving in the right direction, there are still microaggressions and systems of oppression that exist for many students, like:
  1. Only being able to choose from "male" or "female" when signing into the student health center
  2. Being told that the root of your anxiety is stemming from fear of your sexuality during a counseling session 
  3. The lack of gender neutral restrooms in certain parts of campus

When the panel concluded, the professionals processed at our tables about what we had learned from the students—and in the words of St. Vincent de Paul: "What must be done?" At one of the tables, an attendee named Nick Royal (@nicholas_royal) challenged us to think about the following:

What if instead of microaggressions we used microaffirmations?

Such a simple thought, right? Yet my mind was blown. Instead of limiting the opportunities for our students of varying identities, can we instead provide means for opening doors for them? I think a quote that tugged at my heart most was when a trans* person was describing the struggles of using their preferred name or pronouns in an online space hosted by the university. In this specific situation, the student could make changes each day when participating in online discussions. However, the system would reset each morning at 12:01, causing the student to have to spend extra minutes each day proving to a computer system that they in fact preferred to use and be recognized by their peers with a different name than the one given at birth. "I just want to be able to use my time in a more productive way—like to learn or have the opportunity to grow,” they said.

How many times do our students struggle daily with microaggressions such as the ones listed above that impede their ability to learn? Since Frozen reminds us that "Love Is An Open Door," how can we mirror this opportunity through microaffirmations? What small changes can we make to have a greater impact on those who are affected by them on a daily basis? How can we make sure that safe spaces extend beyond the walls of existing LGBTQ+ resource centers?

I say this not to dismiss the notion of microaggressions. As an ally, it is my role to listen, accept, and work to change systems of oppressions even if my privilege prevents me from experiencing it firsthand. I recognize that privilege is blind, so we have to listen, accept, and add to the conversation surrounding microaggressions and microaffirmations.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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