Member Spotlight

Dr. Erin Almond, KIPP Through College Program, Jacksonville (FL)

When Dr. Erin Almond started with KIPP Jacksonville in 2013, she spent a lot of time listening to students and parents to understand what was important to them in regard to their education beyond KIPP so that she could provide the best counseling and transition experience.

Dr. Almond’s work has evolved quite a bit since then. As the Director of KIPP Jacksonville’s KIPP Through College (KTC) program, Dr. Almond leads a team to support our recent alumni in high school, as well as our college-aged alumni, to ensure that they are equipped to pursue the paths they choose–college, career, and beyond.

Additionally, Dr. Almond manages college partnerships that enable KIPP to provide additional levels of support for students and looks forward to how the KIPP Jacksonville KTC program can expand.  This year as KIPP Jacksonville plans to open KIPP Bold City HIgh School, she and her team are working to plan ways to extend the runway for postsecondary access by providing targeted programming in 9th grade.

In addition to leading the KIPP Through College team, this year she worked closely with regional leadership to support equity initiatives, including helping to lead an equity team that was charged with creating an inclusive process to define the first KIPP Jacksonville Regional Equity Vision. Dr. Almond views this equity work as deeply important and necessary in ensuring that students have an experience at school where they are seen, valued, and affirmed.

Dr. Almond earned her Doctorate in educational leadership with a concentration in organizational leadership. Her dream is to be able to take this work and build strategic partnerships within the community to further college access for all students.

“I have a deep love and respect for our students and their families. I view our role as one that helps them to see the array of opportunities available, and helps them overcome obstacles that may prevent them from being able to pursue those opportunities.”

Serving the Underserved in Puerto Rico

Dr. Maria Rosa Bruno, University High School – University of Puerto Rico

by Celeste Suris-Rosselli, Baldwin School of Puerto Rico

It has long been acknowledged the inequity that exists in the public school system, a fact that could not be more true of the public school system in Puerto Rico. Not tied to property taxes or limited to geography, the public school system on the island was centralized upon its inception to provide more consistency in access and instruction. Decades later, the centralized system continues to face significant decline.

It was the disparity of the system that inspired DJ Meehan, Director of College Counseling at Saint John’s School, to seek out SACAC’s support. Together, we pitched the first Mini-Camp College event held in August of 2019. With the support of current and past SACAC members Giselle Martin, Karen Vargas, Joe Latimer, Claudia Marroquin, Jimmy Suarez, Yamilette Medina-López Danita Salone, Carolina Echevería, Marilina Matta, Claire Oxford, and Jessika García we held two mini-camp college sessions. We were excited and looking ahead to Mini-Camp College 2020 but the pandemic paused our plans. This allowed us to see how we could improve on the program’s initial success.

Enter Dr. Maria Rosa Bruno.

Mari Rosa is the heart of the college counseling department at the University High School, the laboratory high school for the University of Puerto Rico(UPR). This public school serves about 500 students from 7th to 12th grade, and it offers dual enrollment courses as part of the college preparatory program. UHS was created so that the students in the university’s education department could do their practicum and develop new ideas, launch projects, and conduct research. Prospective students must pass a rigorous battery of exams similar to the college admissions process of the UPR to gain admission, making UHS one of the most competitive schools on the island. Notable alumni include two former mayors of San Juan, Hector Luis Acevedo and Carmen Yulin Cruz; current coach of the Boston Red Sox, Alex Cora; and celebrated Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.

DJ and I knew Mari Rosa for years as our paths crossed at dozens of counselor events. As we looked to expand the program, we knew that Mari Rosa would be an essential ally.  Though not a member of our organization, Mari Rosa has long felt the support of members. Karen Vargas, Mario Silva-Rosa, Marie Nocella, and Julie Maloney took the road less traveled and helped her increase the number of students who pursue their education in the mainland.

It was this experience that led to Mari Rosa joining our team, and for the past year, we’ve met to plan the next phase of Mini-Camp College. This newfound partnership with UHS and the UPR’s education and counseling departments will help us expand our outreach to students like those at UHS and other underserved communities. Together, we want to broaden their access to public schools on the island and expand their recruitment efforts, as well as connect with them and their families.

Colleges can start to bridge this divide by learning more about how the system works and what college options students have available. The island has a strong college-going culture, but finances keep many students from going away when more affordable options are available to them within our state and private college system. The PAA is a College Board entrance exam similar to the SAT and used for admission in Puerto Rico and at Fordham University, NYU, Bentley University, Assumption University, University of Connecticut, University of Texas at El Paso, and Temple University.  In PR, students in the public school system take the PAA for free twice before their senior year, and on average, 2,000 sit for the SAT while close to 30,000 take the PAA.

Community-based organizations like the Kinesis Foundation and their Bright Stars program have made inroads in offering students in underserved communities guidance during the college search process. Community programs like Caminando Con Caimito and POSSE’s new partnership with Bard College and the Lin-Manuel Miranda Foundation hope to increase mainland college-going rates.

Getting to know the PAA, the history of the public school system, and connecting with counselors like Mari Rosa are key ways our organization will be vital in opening doors to students in Puerto Rico.

Highlighting John Palmer Rea

John Palmer Rea, Belmont University, Nashville, TN

John Palmer Rea started as a student recruiter and student worker in admissions when he was enrolled at Belmont University (Nashville, TN).  He managed and trained all of our tour guides and became president of our student Bruin Recruiter organization of over 130 volunteers.  He found a passion for higher education, and we hired him immediately upon graduation as an admission counselor.  He left Belmont from 2018-2019 to be a regional recruiter for University of Mississippi and lived in Atlanta where he did what he does best – developed strong personal and professional relationships with the school counselors and other recruiters in the Atlanta area.

In 2019, we hired him back as an Assistant Director where he has been an invaluable team member. From training and mentoring new counselors, answering many questions from the team, organizing the logistics of our virtual events, to being the Honors program liaison, he is always willing to help lend a hand for our team (and recommend a local coffee shop in the cities in which he travels!). For the profession, he served as Faculty Member for two consecutive years with the Dry Run annual SACAC workshop in 2019 & 2020, where he mentored new professionals and facilitated sessions about best practices within the industry. He is an amazing face and voice for the profession and a brilliant advocate for the students. He always knows the right thing to say and extends kindness and grace. As a mentor, he has helped us learn our CRM, helped with planning travel, and even shadowed our beginning sessions to give feedback. He is committed to pursuing excellence and does his job so well. We are so grateful to have John Palmer on our team.

This Day in 1965: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Bill Pruden, College Counselor/Director of Civic Engagement, Ravenscroft School

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a centerpiece of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislative program.  It was also a foundational part of his administration’s War on Poverty.  Indeed, when Johnson sent the bill to Congress in January 1965, he asserted his belief that the country should commit itself to “a national goal of full educational opportunity.”  For Johnson, educational opportunity was something he took personally.  The memories of his year as a teacher of 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at the Welhausen School, a small school established primarily to serve the Mexican-American population of Cotulla, Texas, were something he never forgot. Johnson knew the value of education and the impact a teacher could have on a person’s life, and his own appreciation of what an education could mean was evident when, on April 11, 1965, he signed the new law, one that marked the beginning of a vastly expanded federal role in the nation’s educational efforts.

In a bill signing ceremony held in Johnson County, Texas, in front of his childhood school, and seated at a table next to his own elementary school teacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, Johnson made clear his deep personal commitment to education and the students it served.  Noting that the ceremony was taking place on Palm Sunday, he said that his “minister assured [him] that the Lord’s day will not be violated by making into law a measure which will bring mental and moral benefits to millions of our young people.”  The President then explained that he had come back to his childhood home for the ceremony because “I felt a very strong desire to go back to the beginnings of my own education–to be reminded and to remind others of that magic time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.”  Expanding the opportunities for that magic time in which he so deeply believed would prove to be one of the most enduring legacies of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

Further information on the law and its subsequent revisions and impact can be found at these websites:

https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/education/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965/

http://www.hunt-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Development-of-the-Elementary-and-Secondary-Education-Act-August-2016.pdf

http://acsc.lib.udel.edu/exhibits/show/legislation/esea

First-Generation Experiences

Leri Argueta, Associate Director of Diversity Recruitment, University of North Georgia – Gainesville

Can you share a little bit about your journey as a first-generation Latino male through higher education? Who/what inspired you to work in higher education? What has been your experience working with students prior to higher ed? 

I always say that it is an honor to be a Latino in higher education since we are underrepresented in this field, especially in leadership roles like the one I am fortunate to have now. The journey has not been easy as I have had to battle a lot of issues systematically in this field that affect both students and staff. Often, I am put in places where I need to be vocal on issues that affect minoritized students since rarely do people look like our students in the spaces where the decision-making process happens. On the other side, it has also been one of the most rewarding professions that I have been blessed to have! With the headaches of the policies and comments made about minoritized students, the students themselves inspire and motivate me to keep pushing through! Being their champion in this field and giving back inspired me to work in higher education. Looking back at my experience, I had few student affairs professionals of color that helped me with my tough college career. To now be in this space and to be a guide for students that look like me means the world to me. I am Latinx, son of immigrants, first-generation, and from a very low-income community. I statistically am not supposed to be where I am today. Yet, here I am. To be in this position where I can assist with breaking the cycle of poverty and increasing the number of underrepresented students that attend college, that is the dream. Before higher education, I worked in a non-profit for four years assisting first-generation college students in the state of Georgia. I worked with roughly 300 students during my time there.

Tell us about your first-generation programming/workshop efforts you put on for high school counseling offices and their students.  

Before COVID, we started a Shadowing Tour experience with some high school counselors that would identify first-generation students and bring them to our campuses. We would then pair up the student with a current University of North Georgia (UNG) student, and they got to experience college as “a day in the life of a UNG student.” We launched this program to show first-generation students what college was really like by attending classes and joining on-campus activities. Another program I started was partnering with a county’s academy specialist and a county-wide mentoring program in Georgia to facilitate virtual workshops such as “College like a Pro” and “College 101” with first-generation students from grades 8-12. High school counselors would promote it to their students, and I would cover various topics such as scholarships, 2-year vs 4-year degrees, and understanding financial aid. I also attend first-generation conferences and facilitate workshops for first-generation students at college fairs.

What are some effective outreach strategies that you use for counselors, students, families, etc.?

Honestly, everything. Text, call, email, and even making personal home visits. First-generation students will vary on their level of engagement and the type of communication they prefer. The key, I find, is that messaging has to be personal (not generic like “hey don’t forget x,y,x.” When the pandemic hit, we sent messages that said simply, “We know college is probably not a priority right now, but we are here for you.” Showing first-generation students that you care when you outreach, I find, tends to be the most effective way to get students to engage. Also, emailing and texting their parents too! They can help or nudge their children to respond and get ahead of the curve. We often think that our students live in a digital world; the truth is they do. However, first-generation students might need that personal and extra support from us. Last year alone I made 14 house visits assisting students with their FAFSA and college application (following COVID guidelines). I know it sounds like it is a lot of extra work; however, the relief students and families have when you do this  makes it worth it and reminds you why we do what we do.

Is there a difference in outreach to first-gen students/groups in metro areas vs. non-metro areas? 

Not sure to be honest. I typically find myself doing the same effort for metro areas vs non-metro areas. Since our state demographics are changing, I tend to see more first-generation students in metro areas engaged with outreach. However, from a recruitment side I try to always do the same amount of effort with outreach for all of Georgia since the barriers vary depending on where students live and the type of support they are receiving at home.

How do you build or use your own personal experience as a first-gen Latino male into your recruitment and programming practices?

I use my personal experience as a first-generation student to connect and relate to students and their families. While we might want to be quick and say “Why are they not doing what we are telling them to do?” I check myself a lot of times and ask myself “What was I thinking at this point of my high school career?” I also use my experience to reassure families and students that I know that the whole college application process is overwhelming. No one in my family helped me because my parents were not from the United States and never attended any form of schooling in their home country. It is a process that we have to explain and make sure we inform first-generation students and their families about since this will be their commitment for the next few years. We need to assist them with making sure they are prepared for it.

What has been your biggest win since offering first-gen programming at Georgia high schools?

One of my biggest wins was having a student come up to me after a first-generation college presentation at a high school (Pre-COVID) and hug me saying “Thank you for showing me that we can do it too.” I nearly cried because I talked about college admission, how to pick a college right for you, and my personal story at the end. I think my story resonated with her. I’m happy to report that she completed her first semester of college (at a different college) and is thriving!

What is your best piece of advice for high school counselors working with first-gen students?

Make things relatable, personable, and simple. While we may want our students to be able to figure things out quickly, first-generation students are not all at that same level. They have other external factors that may cause them to have road bumps along the way. Also, we need to be consistent with our outreach to make sure students know that we are here for them. Sending one email a month is not enough. We need to go the extra mile for our first-generation students.

Can you share any special opportunities for first-gen students at UNG or other University System of Georgia schools that high school counselors and students can look into?  

Yes! UNG offers a great mentoring program for first-generation students called Gen1 in which students get paired with faculty and staff who were also first-generation, and they receive personal mentorship! We also offer scholarships for first-generation students. Please contact me for more information regarding our programs.

What’s your favorite quote and how do you use it in your work?

My favorite quote is hands down from the Marianne Williamson poem “Our Deepest Fear.”

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness

That most frightens us.”

I constantly remind myself as a first-generation professional and my first-generation students that we are capable of so many things if we believe in ourselves. I came along from that one-bedroom apartment that my mom, dad, brother, and I shared when I was a kid. Fear is not always negative; it is sometimes a call to awaken the lion you really are. What we are really capable of: that, to me, is what really frightens us.

When you finally get down time away from work, how do you like to spend your time?

When I am not working, I love to read and spend time with my family. I have a three-year-old daughter who is my world. I am striving to be the best father I can be for her since I come from a dysfunctional family.

My History with SACAC

Jonathan Ferrell, SACAC President, Director of College Counseling, Pace Academy (GA)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing? 

I entered the profession as an admissions counselor at Centenary College, my undergraduate alma mater. While most people are excited about being accepted to law school, for me it caused great anxiety because I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go in the first place, and not getting accepted would have made  my decision easy.  After a bit of soul searching I was convinced by the Director of Admissions at Centenary that I should “take a year,” work as an admission counselor, then decide what to do. That was 16 years ago! In that time I have worked on both sides of the desk, had the awesome privilege of being the team leader on both sides of the process, and have made so many lifelong friendships.  I think the thing I am most proud of accomplishing is earning my MBA.  Not so much because it’s another degree, but at the time I was in the program I was a full time student, a full time director of admission, and I was planning SACAC’s annual conference.  While I still don’t know how I did it, I was just so proud to have navigated all of those things at once.

As a professional and individual have there been moments when you felt challenged or unsupported?

I am going to redirect this answer a bit and describe a feeling that I feel more than the two you’ve asked about.  More specifically, I often feel heavy.  I’m going to paraphrase something that Maya Angelou said in a poem and it was this…though I come alone, I stand as ten thousand.  While everyone may understand those words, I think you’d have to be a leader who is often the “only” in a room to truly understand that, and the pressure and expectations it brings with it.

What are ways in which allies/accomplices in the field have/have not shown up for you? What do you wish you would see more of with respect to support from colleagues in this profession?

It has always frustrated and baffled me that in a profession that centers around education, many people continue to place the burden on those who are already burdened to teach those who need to learn. If accomplices educate themselves, there’s no way they can sit on the sidelines.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

While I am often exhausted, I do realize that I have a platform that comes along with an obligation to use my voice to speak truth.  While I am sometimes criticized for not speaking loudly enough, I don’t believe that being the loudest equals being the most impactful. What continues to affirm my passion are the many offline conversations I have with a diverse group of students and professionals day in and day out.

What are things you hope to accomplish in the future professionally or personally? 

In some ways I’ve stopped focusing so much on the future.  What I really strive to do is to be fully present in the present.  My hope is that learning to do that really well will continue to push me toward my more authentic self each day.

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

Silence isn’t always the best policy.  I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve walked into my office the day after an unarmed black person was shot and none of my white colleagues said a word to me about it.  I know that it’s often because they didn’t know what to say, but silence isn’t always being supportive to our colleagues.  I try and serve ALL of my students by always making sure they know that I see them and that I am always available to listen and hear them.

Celebrating HBCU Excellence!

Jameia Tennie (pronouns: she/her), Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions, North Carolina A&T State University

The pursuit of post-secondary education continues to open the door to endless possibilities for students across the globe.  Each year, SACAC professionals are privileged to support students as they make these important collegiate decisions.  Choosing to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) is one of the best decisions that I have made!  That decision for myself and so many other HBCU alumni has charted the path for us to display our greatness across multiple industries.  As a two-time HBCU graduate (Hampton University & North Carolina A&T State University), I am proud to champion the celebration and continued success of HBCUs.

Since the 19th century, HBCUs have been established to provide education and training for students primarily of African descent. Eighty-nine percent of HBCUs are located in the southern region of the United States, providing service to student populations ranging from 300 to over 12,000.  These diverse classified institutions provide academic excellence in STEM, agriculture, business, education, law and liberal arts.  The family atmosphere, legacy significance and school spirit shape each institution in a unique way.  Through internships, academic engagement and service opportunities, HBCU students gain a multi-faceted educational experience that prepares them for the global workforce.  These experiences allow graduates to go on to blaze trails in their respective industries.  They journey on to become app inventors, astronauts, CEOs of fortune 500 companies, doctors, educators, engineers, lawyers, or even the first Black and South Asian woman to serve the United States of America as Vice President.  HBCUs continue their commitment to developing the next generation of leaders.

Keep shining HBCU family!

SACAC Note:

Please make sure to register for the next webinar in our Spring Series, “Highlighting the Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” which will occur, Thursday, February 18th @ 11:30 AM CT/12:30 PM ET.

Historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are a beacon of hope in Black and Brown communities. Whether it be their illustrious history, cutting-edge majors and programs, or notable alumni, HBCUs transcend cultural divides to unite communities through education and access. Join us as we celebrate Black History Month to learn about their impact on higher education and our society at large, what differentiates them from predominantly white institutions or PWIs, and how to educate your students and staff on their efficacy.

Panelists:

Bryan Cooper – Associate Director of Admission, Xavier University of Louisiana
Jarred Honora – Dean of Alumni Relations, Crescent City Schools
Sydney Dowd-Smith – Associate Director of Admission, North Carolina A&T State University
Sandria Mason – Admissions Recruiter, Savannah State University
TJ Snowden, Ed. D. – Director of Admissions & Recruitment, Morehouse College

Register for the webinar

 

A Glimpse Inside Elon Academy in North Carolina

Princess I. King (3rd from the left; pronouns: she/her/hers) and the Elon Academy staff, Assistant Director of College Success, Elon Academy (NC)

Tell us about your program and what you do:   

The Elon Academy is a non-profit college access and success program housed at Elon University. We serve high-performing high school students in Alamance County who would be first in their family to go to college and/or who would experience a financial challenge to pay for college. In my role, I support our high school juniors by instructing their college planning course during our summer and year-round programming. I also lead our college scholar programming by providing ongoing 1:1 support for our college scholars at various universities in and out of North Carolina.

How did the program get started?

The Elon Academy began in 2007 as a growing educational commitment to the Alamance County community by immediate past Elon University President Leo Lambert. With the threat of a local school closing due to underperformance, President Lambert wanted to increase Elon’s educational efforts within the local community. Partnering with Alamance-Burlington School System and building upon several initiatives within the Elon School of Education, the Elon Academy was created. Thanks to several generous donors, the program has persisted almost fifteen years.

What is one thing your program is known for?  

Our summer program is truly the epicenter of what makes our program unique. It is fun, intense, academic, and inspiring. Before COVID-19, scholars had the opportunity to attend a four-week residential program on Elon’s campus where they would participate in academic courses, college planning, and cultural enrichment. Throughout the four weeks, scholars also connect with college scholars, attend college visits, complete service projects, meet with Elon University Faculty and staff, and simply enjoy each other’s company while getting a brief feel of what life on a college campus will be like.

Biggest “win” in your program history? Explain what it was, how it came about, and what it meant to your team.

Our biggest win is being able to report year after year that 100% of our scholars who complete the high school portion of our program are accepted into college.

What are you excited about in the near future for your program?           

We’re excited about celebrating 15 years of service to the students and families of the Alamance County Community, and we look forward to the next 15 years.

How has SACAC played a role in your program and/or team?     

SACAC has been wonderful in providing ongoing support and information to help us serve our scholars and families. We truly enjoyed being able to attend conferences and professional development opportunities. The biggest help has been the fund that has allowed us to attend conferences in the past. We are a non-profit and sometimes sending three staff members to a conference is a challenge for our budget, so we greatly appreciate everything SACAC does to support our work and professional development.

What’s the favorite lunch food of you or your team?     

Pupusas

What’s your favorite quote, and who originally said it? 

“Why not go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is.” -Mark Twain

Tell us an interesting and fun tidbit about your program.            

The highlight of the summer program is the slideshow… Everyone looks forward to it and scholars make sure to submit their photos for the big reveal!

Supporting Transgender & Transitioning Students in the College Application Process

Melissa Kotacka, MA NCC CT, Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment

*Views and opinions expressed herein are the author’s own and not the institution’s

This year marks my thirteenth year in the admissions profession, and thirteen years of working with and supporting LGBTQIA+ students through this process across three institutions. I’ve been on the undergraduate and high school sides, and now I work in graduate admissions for a professional school within a larger university, with some independent client work. Some years, such as when I worked at the high school level at a small, independent school with a high proportion of students who were out within our community, my work with LGBTQIA+ students — especially with transgender, transitioning, nonbinary, and gender fluid students — was more visible given the amount of time I was able to spend with those individual students and their families. Some years, it has been more subtle, such as holding space for students to share deeply personal stories in their essays during committee, or shepherding a student through application systems back before those systems understood that “sex” and “gender” were two different things, and that our societal binary was incredibly limiting and inaccurate.

I am not special for my experiences. I am not rare in admissions work. Unless you are brand new to counseling, admissions or working with students in any capacity, you must know that the sentence “We’ve never had/I’ve never worked with a trans* student before” will always be followed by the unspoken caveats of “that you know of” and/or “that felt safe being out with you/your community.”

We have to assume we have trans* and nonbinary students in our populations. Even and especially if those students aren’t out and may be exploring and/or questioning their identities, these students need and deserve to feel seen and safe with us as their counselors, admissions officers, and support staff. It is also important to remember that all of us are working with trans* and nonbinary colleagues in the admissions space. We have to do this work for our students, and we have to do it for each other, full stop.

Please know: trans* and nonbinary communities are part of the larger LGBTQIA+ community – and within that larger community, there are challenges of discrimination and transphobia (and biphobia and racism). Here in the SACAC region, we must truly mean it when we say “Y’all means ALL.”

To that end, I offer the following collection of resources, queries, and suggestions for expanding your and your educational communities’ capacity for supporting trans* and nonbinary students. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’m hopeful that you’ll find something useful here:

  • Start with getting your vocabulary updated.
  • Practice and normalize using pronouns:
    • At my current institution, our Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity emailed our full campus at the start of this Fall 2020 semester with instructions for how to add our pronouns to our Zoom screennames. It is also expected that we include our pronouns in our email signatures. In pre-pandemic times, we included pronouns as part of our introductions during live events (e.g. “Hi, my name is Melissa and I use she/her pronouns, and I am one of our Assistant Directors of Admission”). Pronoun buttons and stickers were also common practice.
    • Especially normalize screwing up, quickly fixing mistakes, and then immediately moving on without making misgendering someone else all about you. Apologize, correct yourself and/or gracefully accept correction, and do better next time.
    • NOTE: Pronouns are not “preferred” – they simply are. I don’t “prefer” to use she/her – I just do.
  • For trans* and nonbinary students, use their chosen names wherever possible, and follow their lead.
    • Coming out is a lifelong process, as individuals determine when and whether to share this part of their identities based on a combination of personal, safety, professional, and other factors. It is possible that your trans* and nonbinary students may only be out in one of their communities at first – maybe at school, but not at home; or maybe just one community at school (e.g. their athletic team or close friend group) but not to the whole school. Ask your students how they want you to navigate their naming and pronouns.
    • Avoid deadnaming where you can, and talk about those circumstances where you can’t.
      • Know your campus policies for updating transcripts and other records (e.g. most institutions require that a legal name change be on file with the state first). If you don’t already include a “preferred name” section on school documents and online learning systems, advocate to add one.
      • Proactively reach out to trans* and nonbinary students when you know there will be a conflict in naming conventions. Explain when and where they may still see their prior name so that they are not caught off guard.
      • In a virtual world, allow students to rename themselves on virtual platforms. Constantly seeing their deadname in their learning environment with no option to change it is hurtful.
      • Navigating applications can be tough in this regard, and this is where open, honest, and authentic conversations with students are key. These logistics will also depend on how the institutions themselves handle applications from trans* and nonbinary students. Ask admissions offices for support here, and present the options to your students for how they would like to proceed.
  • Get trained:
    • Campus-based colleagues: your LGBQTIA+ center likely has staff and faculty sessions available. Check their schedule for each semester, and talk to your manager/team lead about the possibility of attending as a group – or even scheduling a training session with your whole office.
    • CBO- and School-based colleagues: if you are located near a campus, check in with their LGBTQIA+ center or office. They may have the capacity to accommodate you to attend one of their training sessions, or to host a training for your staff. If your area has a city-sponsored LGBTQIA+ Center, they may also be able to support you.
    • Independent colleagues: Reach out to city-supported resources, and see what community resources there may be.
  • Get trained again.
    • Best practices evolve over time. We have a professional obligation to ensure we are as up to date as we can be.
    • Most of us will change institutions at one or more points during our career. That is a great time to both refresh your general knowledge on LGBTQIA+ best practices AND to learn how your new community supports their trans* and nonbinary students, staff, and faculty.
  • Make trans*, nonbinary, and LGBTQIA+ training part of your regular professional development.
  • Institutional-based colleagues, some considerations for you
    • Do you link to your campus LGBTQIA+ center from your admissions homepages as a resource?
    • Does your application offer the option to identify beyond the rigid binary of female/male, and if so, do you allow students to self-identify rather than simply selecting “Other”?
    • Update your prospect and inquiry forms to be more inclusive: include preferred name as a bare minimum, and consider including an option for students to self-identify their gender. Double check that you are using “preferred name” in your mailings rather than defaulting to “first name.”
    • How do you train your readers to hold student essays about coming out with care and respect?
    • Do your application instructions include guidance on how to navigate documentation for trans* and nonbinary students?
  • School- and CBO-based colleagues, some considerations for you:
    • If you are writing letters for your students and they have come out to you, ask them whether/how they would like you to address anything about their identity, and then do that. Follow their lead here.
    • Gender-neutral bathrooms should be clearly marked and easily accessible. “Just use the staff bathroom” is a band-aid, not a solution.
    • If your school has a gay-straight alliance, is it welcoming for trans* and nonbinary students?
    • What kinds of harassment policies do you have in place to protect your students? Are they equally enforced?
    • If your school offers sexual education, advocate for https://www.hrc.org/resources/a-call-to-action-lgbtq-youth-need-inclusive-sex-education.
    • Go beyond the basic pride flag. There are many communities within the broader LGBTQIA+ community, and as noted above, some struggle for visibility and acceptance.  Some campuses have the resources to provide pride flags for students, such as setting them in a designated area of an office for taking. Whether the flags are big or small, this can be a strong but passive way to signal “You are seen and held for who you are.”
  • School- and CBO-based and independent colleagues, help your students check campus culture at the institutions they are considering
    • Ask admissions representatives about supports specific to trans* and nonbinary students.
    • Does a campus have a LGTBQIA+ center? How well is it staffed? How robust is their training, support, resources for their campus and how public are they about it on their website and social media?
    • Does the institution’s application include space for gender identities beyond the binary?
    • When an institution emails your student, do they use the preferred or legal name?
    • Check the surrounding community where schools are located – while college may be a bubble, it isn’t hermetically sealed.
    • What supports are in place through an institution’s Title IX office?
    • How robust are student health insurance plans? Do they cover hormones and other medical support (e.g. surgery) for trans* students?
    • Check state laws and policies regarding LGBTQIA+ communities, such as bathroom bills.

There is a lot of work to be done in ensuring that our trans* and nonbinary students and colleagues are safe and affirmed in their learning and work environments. Are there other resources and suggestions you’ve found helpful in your work? I encourage you to share additional suggestions, and resources in the comments to this piece or send them to SACAC’s Inclusion, Access, and Success Committee at access@sacac.org

Be well and hold each other close, y’all.

Today we celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights

Sunishka Deshpande, 10th grader at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, NC, shares more with us about this Hindu tradition:

Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.” Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival celebrated with lighting diyas, fireworks, and prayer ceremonies (poojas).

The epic of Diwali – The Ramayana is the story of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay oil lamps (diyas). In southern India, people celebrate it as the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic that follows Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his beloved wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana with the help of an army of monkeys. It is one of the staples of later dramatic traditions, re-enacted in dance-dramas, village theatre, shadow-puppet theatre and the annual Ram-lila (Rama-play).

Rama, King of Ayodhya, won the hand of the beautiful princess Sita, but was exiled with her and his brother Laksmana for 14 years through the plotting of his stepmother. In the forest, Sita was abducted by Ravana, and Rama gathered an army of monkeys and bears to search for her. The allies attacked Lanka, killed Ravana, and rescued Sita. In order to prove her chastity, Sita entered fire, but was vindicated by the gods and restored to her husband. After the couple’s triumphant return to Ayodhya, Rama’s righteous rule (Ram-raj) inaugurated a golden age for all mankind. The people of Ayodhya joyously awaited Rama’s return by lighting diyas and bursting firecrackers.

Thanks to Sunishka for sharing more with us!