Generation Y or the Millennial Generation (1982-2004) is the most “watched-over” generation and is mostly comprised of optimists. They are hopeful and confident in themselves and their abilities; yet, Millennials are very concerned about their family dynamics. They are extremely creative, technologically savvy, and have never lived in a world that did not consist of cellphones, DVD Players, computers, the Internet, or MTV (Moriarty, 2011).
College is a time for identity exploration and expression, no matter what gender or sex a person identifies with, either before college, during, or post-graduation.
- Strengths of LGBTQ Millennial College Students -
Millennials are special, according to Williams, Beard, and Tanner (2011) because of their overprotective Baby Boomer and Generation X parents. These parents anxiously instill in their children that they are to be recognized simply for showing up and trying their best. This may result in a bit of over-confidence, leading Millennials, and their parents, to become upset when things do not go as they intended, especially within a college campus community. When peers judge or discriminate against a person based on their identity as a LGBTQ it creates a conflict between the Millennial students’ expectation of society and the harsh realism that people do not treat others how they expect to be treated. Being sheltered by their parents, Millennials constantly fear for their safety.
For the LGBTQ student, this could retard their ability to pursue their interests in a LGBTQ club or community on campus for fear of the reaction, or retaliation of other students. This could explain why some (not all) Millennials may, at first, be unprepared for life outside the watchful eye of their parents (Williams, Beard, Tanner 2011).
Not all parents are accepting of their children once they come out or identity as an LGBTQ student. Support from one’s family can severely impact a LGBTQ Millennial college students’ experience. It could foster their growth as a person, or prevent them from exploring the inclination that they may identify as LGBT or Q. Millennials do not like criticism, and in fact, have been predicted to challenge professors when they do not receive the grade they think they deserve (Williams, Beard, Tanner 2011, p. 44). This could also be seen as a reason why LGBTQ Millennial college students are very vocal about the power and privilege that heterosexuals have on campus over them and other minority groups.
Williams, Beard, and Tanner (2011, p. 45) also suggest that Millennials are very comfortable living the values that their parents place upon them. This depends, however, if their parents are accepting and open to the LGBTQ lifestyle of their children. Some LGBTQ Millennials may receive acceptance and support from their parents, yet others may be disowned, and not welcome in their family system. Another finding (Williams, Beard, and Tanner, 2011) is that Millennials take fewer risks and have an innate ability to “walk away” when times get tough. LGBTQ Millennials are faced with taking risks everyday.
Some of these risks pose questions:
- Do they come out to their friends and family?
- If they already have, how to they deal with resistance or slander from the campus community?
- Can a LGBTQ millennial simply walk-away from an injustice or the segregation of members of their community?
- What about their expectations? If a Millennial has an expectation, and it is not met, will they be likely to find another opportunity where their expectations can be exceeded (Williams, Beard, and Tanner, 2011)?
- How do LGBTQ Millennials deal with their own expectations of society, the campus community, faculty, senior level administrators, and their peers when they face a world that can be cruel, unforgiving, and irrational?
The answers to these questions are all very complicated, dependent on the experience of each individual student, and another reason why more research needs to be conducted on this topic.
Moriarty (2011) tells us that most generational research has been conducted on Americans by William Strauss and Neil Howe (Howe, N. & Strauss, W. 2000; 2003). Howe and Strauss (2000; 2003) report that Millennials are most different than any other generation in living memory. They tell us that Millennials are “more numerous, more affluent, better educated, and more ethically diverse…they are beginning to manifest a wide array of positive social habits that older Americans no longer associate with youth, including a new focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty, and good conduct” (2000, p. 4). Knowing this, it is no wonder these students are special.
Millennials are asking student affairs professionals to be engaged, valued, and connected to their own learning. They need innovative, flexible, team-oriented and hands-on learning environments that embrace technology and are structured by established systems that are safe and promote equality. In essence, they are demanding to be connected with the purpose and mission of their institution (Emeagwali, 2011). LGBTQ Millennial strengths are vast, but their determination to succeed and their ability to adapt makes them far superior to any previous generation. This, coupled along with their constant request to operate in teams provides structure, support, and a commitment to challenge the process and create a world where equality is the premise for our societal structure.
– Cultural Limitations of LGBTQ Millennial Identity Development -
Fukuyama and Ferguson (2000) paint us a picture, which highly suggests that Eurocentric bias is evident, and much more research is needed to in order to be able to generalize sexual identity development to LGBTQ students, students of minority statuses, and especially those that fall into the Millennial Generation.
Cintron (2000) and Morales (1989) tell us that Latinos identify, more often as bisexual, than as gay or lesbian. W. Williams (1996) and A. Wilson (1993) suggest that in Native American Cultures, “two-spirit persons” are accepted and valued, and are not belittled or segregated against. Rather, they are highly respected members of their culture. In Asian cultures, sexual identity has no part in their family structure, except for procreation. Same-sex attraction is allowed to be expressed, but only if the person’s prescribed role within the family in not interrupted (Chan, 1995).
The Integration of two central identities can make the process of identity formation extremely complex for people of color, more so than for white individuals (Jones & Hill, 1996; Wall & Washington, 1991). Savage (2002, p. 525) quotes that “LGBT college students with disabilities have been relegated to a status of invisibility” and that “persons with disability have been desexualized” (p. 527). The cultural context of privilege and oppression as well as social group affiliations contribute significantly to the LGB identity development says Fukuyama and Ferguson (2000).
Social class plays a significant role in identity formulation (Valocchi, 1999), yet the “intersection of multiple social identities (e.g. gender, ability status, social class, spiritual identity, race and ethnicity, and sexual identity) is critical in one’s overall identity construction” (Evans et al., 2010, p. 312). Identifying as LGBT or Q can result in isolation, violence, and the suppression of one’s identity and sometimes can lead to harassment (Beemyn, 2005; Bilodeau, 2005, 2009; Biloudeau & Renn, 2005; McKinney, 2005; Pusch, 2005), which is a very scary reality to face for anyone who may identify or think about identifying as LGBTQ. As professionals, we must create a culture free of this harassment.
More research needs to be conducted, not solely on LGBTQ Millennial College students’ identity development, but on all LGBTQ cultures and the ethnicities of individuals that make up this extremely diverse membership of students, adults, and children.
- Limitations of research -
Not much research has been done on the LGBTQ Millennial college student. Patton, Kortegast, and Javier (2011) state that due to the limitations of any identity development model, the development of new and emerging theories (such as Queer Theory) have not “gained traction within student affairs (p. 176). Patton et al. also tell us that most LGBTQ theories are reluctant to provide the ‘full picture’. The theories “fail to consider the intersection of LGBTQ identities with racial and ethnic identities” (p. 176). In addition, a lack of singularity amongst models results in an inability to generalize theories to the entire LGBTQ population. Language used to name LGBTQ identities are new and vastly changing in order to keep pace with the Millennial student. Patton et al. (2011) proclaim that “a diverse array of representations filtered through the media” (p. 180) empowers LGBTQ students to “use their agency to define who they are”. The naming of one’s own reality and deciding which community to belong to or identify with is a lot more difficult than the simple labels students acquire as they identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, or Questioning (Patton et al., 2011).
Most of the early work on sexual identity development targeted gay men and white populations, resulting in a total lack of generalizability to women, bisexuals, transgendered people, and people of color (Evans et al., 2010). Evans et al. (2010) suggest that Feminist theories argue that the developmental process is much more “contextually determined” for women than for men, and that Bisexual identity development theories tend to form a “’foreclosed identity” or a “transitional stage” (p. 311) between heterosexual and LGB identification, and as a result, this has “recently been legitimized as a separate sexual identity” (p. 312) altogether.
Failure to differentiate between personal identity development and the development of an identity as a member of the LGBTQ community is a major deficit in theories of sexual identity and Millennial student development. Bilodeau and Renn (2005, p. 27) along with Patton et al. (2011, p. 176) infer that the models of Cass (1979, 1984), D’Auguelli (1994), McCarn and Fassinger (1996) “can no longer succinctly explain the wealth of diversity among LGBTQ people’s developmental experiences. Because of the intricate nature of identity and the fluidity of identity development, prescriptive identity development, in particular stage models, are not adequate to describe all non-heterosexual identity processes”.
– Application to Student Affairs Practice -
Student Affairs Professionals should take an approach that addresses campus policies, specifically one that provides a provision of campus support services and resources specifically for LGBT students. Programming for heterosexual as well as LGBTQ students is a major need and the inclusion of content about LGBT topics in curriculum is imperative. A supportive faculty and staff who are willing to act as advocates and role models help to create this inclusive culture, and active intervention to address homophobic acts are critical to reach a supportive climate (D’Augelli, 1996; Evans & D’Augelli, 1996). Patton et al. (2011) suggest that student affairs practitioners need to be able to define identity terms for LGBTQ students with an understanding that “each person has the agency and right to define him- or herself for him-or herself” (p. 178). Residence life offices should strive to provide services for LGBTQ students through themed, special interest, or gender-neutral housing. This provides these students with more freedom of expression, more comfort, and a safe place to live. Naturally, not all LGBTQ Millennial students will want to live in such housing, but the important aspect here is that they have an option. With the addition of specific programming targeted to students to live in residence halls to make them more aware of their peers needs and experiences, many college are paving the way for an all-inclusive climate. Bridgewater State University and the GLBTA Pride Center has recently established new procedures which allow all students, if they desire, to use a first name different than their legal name on certain university records.
It is up to student affairs professionals, campus administrators, parents, faculty, and peer groups to be inclusive, supportive, warm and welcoming, and able to relate to the LGBTQ millennial student in a variety of ways. The challenges they face are extreme compared to a traditional college millennial.
College administrators must create a climate that will promote their learning and the development of their identities, if not, we have failed them. We must unite as a collective group and pledge that we will create and support a campus climate that will allow all of our students a safe and comfortable place to live, learn, grown, engage, and develop. It is our duty to serve the needs of all our students, no matter what or who they identify as.
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