By Brian Goins
On April 5 through 7, Middle Tennessee State University will provide an opportunity for all to have their voice heard during their annual LGBT+ College Conference.
The conference, said Dr. William Langston, a psychology professor at MTSU, was created by MT Lambda Association to examine issues surrounding retention and graduation rates for LGBT+ youth. The legislature’s funding formula for higher education in the state is to reward retention and graduation rates, he said.
MT Lambda Association, the oldest LGBT+ higher education student organization in the state of Tennessee, has a mission to provide a safe and secure environment for everyone in the LGBT+ community at MTSU. Langston, who has been advisor of MT Lambda off and on since 2002, said they had already been noticing that LGBT+ students faced stressors that many other students don’t face.
“As you pile up a little bit here and a little bit there, it impacts the retention and graduation rates,” he said.
Early on, he said, someone made the point to him that ‘What’s the point in making (a student’s) university or college experience better if they go into the real world and the experience is not so good?’
The conference addresses how to better students’ campus experience as well as how to improve contact and issues between students and real-world employers — the latter of which they’ve expanded upon this year.
“Recruiters — when they come to campus and want to hire students — report all kinds of difficulties in working with us to getting the students that they want and for the campus to make them welcome in various ways,” he said. “Students report that nobody ever wants them.”
The goal, he said, is to have the different groups talk directly to each other about what the challenges are and to try to develop some strategies to remove some of those obstacles.
“If universities are saying ‘We think we’re doing as much as we can,’ and employers are saying ‘We don’t think you’re doing anything,’ and students are saying ‘Neither one of you are getting it right’ … everybody get together so we can talk about it and realign,” he said.
Dollar General will lead the corporate side of the discussion, but there will be several other employers in the room. The corporate outreach person from MTSU will lead the academic side, and Langston said he hoped to get leaders from other campus staffs to participate as well.
“Student leaders will talk from the students’ perspectives about why outreach isn’t reaching them. And what they see as the problem,” he said.
There’s plenty more up for conversation at the three-day conference.
This year’s program speakers will explore how key facets of identity – gender, race, culture, ethnicity, age, social class, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression – play a significant role in how we experience the world.
Saturday’s keynote speaker is Georgiann Davis, assistant professor of Sociology at University of Nevada — Las Vegas. She will speak on the impact of being intersex on a variety of factors.
“We’ve asked for an academic perspective on what intersex is and what ways it may affect people,” Langston said, adding that there will be personal perspectives as to what campuses can do to make improvements for students.
“The goal is to talk about all the identities under LGBT+,” he said.
Other opportunities will be a tour of Nissan facilities for students, including a pitch to their internship program at their national headquarters. Entertainment will be a part of the conference, too, including an open mic night for students to perform whatever they want — from stand-up comedy to slam poetry to musical performances.
“We’re trying to give them the full experience in the time that they’re here,” he said.
The most important thing, though, is to bring your voice and experience to help influence the conversation.
“If you have something to contribute to these conversations, we’d love for you to participate,” he said, adding that it is free for students to attend and only costs other participants for admission to the awards dinner.
“If we don’t have your voice, we can’t have the input that you could provide.”
GO TO IT
What: MTSU and MT Lambda present LGBT+ Conference
When: April 5 through 7
Where: in James Union building, MTSU campus
For ticket information, visit www.mtsu.edu/mtlambda.