The benefits of being a PRIDE Club advisor

By Amy Reddinger

In 2007, when I was considering an offer for a faculty position after grad school, I checked the college’s website to be sure that they had an LGBTQ+ student organization. As a queer-identified educator, I wanted to know that the campus I was committing to had done some of the preliminary work of welcoming LGBTQ+ students.

The existence of a student club signaled that there was some level of support and understanding that would help me find belonging in my workplace and that would allow me to further those inclusive efforts. I accepted the position and advised the club for 10 years.

When I left that college to become a dean at Bay de Noc Community College, I became the advisor of that campus’s PRIDE Club as well. I have continued as the club co-advisor in the role of academic vice president. While advising a student club isn’t unusual for faculty, it is less common for administrators. I am often met with surprise when I share with peers at other institutions I advise a student club.

However, the overall impact of having a senior administrator serving as the advisor of the PRIDE club is manifold. This work has kept me connected to students now that I am not in the classroom; the students in the PRIDE Club have a relationship with an out LGBTQ+ college leader who takes the time for them weekly; and campus culture benefits from a leadership model that is inclusive, service-oriented and student-focused.

Why do it?

I advocate strongly for leaders to take a role in student life, if possible, as I believe that it can have these multi-layered benefits. At the same time, this work is always done by choice. We know there is often an additional burden of labor on BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and other minoritized populations who are asked to engage in identity-based work across college campuses. The work that I have done has always been a decision I have made because it has helped me to create my own sense of belonging around shared LGBTQ+ identity at my institution.

And I was fortunate enough to have institutional support that acknowledged this work as a meaningful part of my workload. Institutions create a model that encourages and supports a broad diversity of faculty and staff, including administration, to support co-curricular and extra-curricular activities on their campuses.

Supporting student clubs and orgs not only helps to support the student experience, but also enhances our jobs as leaders and innovators. The work of advising our PRIDE Club has made me a better administrator. In the last several years, I have worked directly with LGBTQ+ students on campus to create targeted policy and facilities improvements that are student-centered and inclusive of all student identities. Some of these projects include:

  • Creating student-led trainings for faculty and staff on how to support LGBTQ+ students in the classroom and on campus
  • Implementing a campus name policy and integration to our ERP and LMS to allow students to be know by their preferred name on campus
  • Advocating for more all-gender single-use bathrooms on campus
  • Collaborating with our local public health department to create an LGBTQ+ inclusive health clinic on campus

A more supportive, welcoming campus

This collaborative work with PRIDE Club students has helped us to create a more supportive and welcoming campus environment for LGBTQ+ students on campus. We know from Terrel Strayhorn’s work on belonging that creating a sense of welcome and connection enhances student success in college. Peter Felten and Leo Lambert’s Relationship Rich Education builds on this research and emphasizes the role of the “relentless welcome” as a central piece to creating that sense of belonging on college campuses.

Student clubs have a particular role in creating welcome and belonging. At the same time, community colleges face the unique challenges of building student club leadership as two-year institutions serving a student population with complex and busy off-campus lives. If the institution doesn’t support investing in student student orgs, they will not thrive.

The next generation of leaders

After 17 years of advising LGBTQ+ student clubs, I am now in a bittersweet moment,  transitioning away from being the official club co-advisor. My role as vice president has shifted and changed and I have become busier than ever — in the past year, I missed too many meetings and was an absentee advisor.

But, fortunately, I have two amazing colleagues who are now going to be at the helm, leading the club with new energy and vision. One of those advisors is a former student, and the former PRIDE Club president, who now holds a bachelor’s degree and is an employee of the college. I have mentored this student over the last several years and it is truly an exciting moment to witness a new generation of LGBTQ+ leadership on our campus.

Nearly 20% of Generation Z members ages 19 to 26 identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride month is an opportunity for all of our campuses to think about how we celebrate and invest in our LGBTQ+ students. Providing them with strong and well-supported student networks is just one of many ways to enhance their sense of belonging and success.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Amy Reddinger

Dr. Amy Reddinger is vice president of arts and sciences and diversity, equity and belonging at Bay de Noc Community College in Michigan.