As we wrap up celebrating Pride this June, it’s important to be conscious of how we communicate the work we’re doing to support LGBTQIA+ and other vulnerable populations not only today, but throughout the whole year. The challenges LGBTQIA+ students face in the journey to and through college are not limited to four weeks during the summer, and it’s important to reflect on what practices we can adopt to make communication with students more inclusive year-round.
Keep reading for three recommendations to help your student-facing communications help students feel welcome at your institution. And remember, while communication is an important part of developing trust and connection with students, we also have to back up those communications with work that makes our campuses deserving of this bond.
1. Be conscious of your language
It’s so rare that we actually need to refer to students using gendered terms, and oftentimes it can be easily avoided. Instead of using “he or she,” use “they” as a singular. As an example, instead of writing “if a student is selected for FAFSA verification he or she should,” try “if a student is selected for FAFSA verification they should.” This allows students who don’t identify as a particular gender to feel part of the conversation, and in the case of writing text messages, you’ll also save on character count.
And speaking of “particular gender,” try to avoid referring to gender as something with only two options. This means avoiding phrases like “opposite gender,” “either sex,” or “both genders.” It’s a small adjustment, but one that can go a long way in making students feel more accepted.
Interested in learning more about how to use more inclusive language? The Conscious Style Guide is a great resource that includes information about not only how to be more respectful and inclusive of LGBTQIA+ students, but also students of different socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, races, religions, and more.
Mindfulness of our language can also extend to the options we present when building interactive campaigns for students. Check out this setup for a housing campaign that presents more inclusive options:
Consider including links to video tours or interviews with residents from the communities listed in your messaging to give students an insider’s perspective! For example, if a student responds with “2” to the above framework, your bot can respond with a video that includes tours of different cultural house options as well as a link to the application.
2. Amplify and listen to diverse stories
As institutions expand the student voice in their communication strategies, it’s key to ensure that voice is diverse. Student takeovers of Instagram accounts, video interviews, and student blogs (and vlogs!) continue to rise in popularity as methods of sharing authentic experiences. It is crucial that amplified stories come from a variety of sources. This helps both prospective and current students feel a higher sense of belonging, which not only leads to students choosing (and continuing to choose) your institution, but also better academic performance and mental wellbeing for those students.
Summer is a great time to talk with some of your recently graduated students to gather stories and advice that can be shared with incoming or current students. To ensure you’re hearing voices that might not normally be elevated, consider reaching out to faculty and staff who work specifically with underrepresented groups for recommendations of students to talk to.
Remember that Gen Z students frequently share stories on their own through things like personal YouTube channels. Do a quick search on YouTube to see who is posting videos about your institution on their channels. Not only does this give you an unfiltered perspective of what students are really thinking, but it also gives you a chance to amplify stories from students who may not always be heard.
3. Share institution-specific resources
LGBTQIA+ students face different problems than non-LGBTQIA+ students, and as a result need different resources. The Human Rights Campaign’s Youth Survey asks both LGBTQIA+ and non-LGBTQIA+ students to describe “the most important problem facing their lives right now.”
The differences are staggering and highlight the need for spaces and resources dedicated to helping LGBTQIA+ students manage the unique challenges they face.
Students may not always be aware of the resources available to them on campus, so it’s worth highlighting what your institution offers. Be sure to distribute information about campus affinity groups and spaces such as student lounges dedicated to LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and/or intersectional groups. Resources related to health and wellness, including opportunities for counseling and support groups, are also beneficial to distribute, as is information about the availability of inclusive housing and restrooms on campus. If your institution has academic courses, programs, or centers related to LGBTQIA+, these are also excellent to promote!
We hope that these tips are helpful to you, not just during Pride, but any time you’re talking to students about your institution. If you’re interested in learning more about how to support LGBTQIA+ students, check out the Point Foundation and Campus Pride!