Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Programs and Services
Lisa “Lee” Forest (@lrforest), Director – Bridgewater State University
Why did you choose this area within student affairs?
As far back as I can remember, I focused my energies on helping the underdog, literally. As a kid, I would peruse the neighborhood looking for stray or lost animals to unite/reunite with families. So, it’s not a huge leap for me to work in this field — advocating for LGBT students – because they are often overlooked, ostracized, or actively removed from their communities/homes/organizations.
Additionally, education is one of the best institutionalized mechanisms our society has for disrupting the status quo, questioning and analyzing standards/norms, and prepare individuals to advocate on behalf of themselves or others. It is a “power equalizer” to a certain extent, creating avenues toward equity and inclusion that previously weren’t available.
Therefore, to do advocacy within one of society’s greatest social justice mechanisms is not only efficient, but is likely to be effective.
What do you love about your job?
I love so many things about my job but the 2 big things are: I love being able to foster and witness in students their growth towards greater self-confidence, self-acceptance, and empowerment; and secondly, I love being able to learn about the realities and experiences of other people and direct my efforts towards greater social justice.
What are some challenges you face within your position?
The root of all my challengers is society’s lack of accurate information about GLBT individuals. Education is the cure to that, but education exists within the macrocosm of our society and is therefore not immune to its effects.
Again, I’ll name just 2 of the big challenges: One has to do with the struggles our GLBT students face. They can become quite compromised at times (academically, financially, professionally, psychologically, socially, spiritually, physically) because of the mistreatment they endure from family, friends, teachers, governments, religious institutions, etc. This is not to say that all people, teachers, governments, religions, etc mistreat GLBT people, and not all GLBT students respond similarly, but I do see a theme of self-doubt, shame, fear, and anticipatory rejection in these students that compounds the challenges of every day life.
The 2nd challenge is with education decision-makers about the needs of GLBT students. Some decision-makers hold conscious or unconscious bias about GLBT issues, so in order for me to secure their collaboration or support, I oftentimes have to take several steps back to first address their biases in a way that is politically sustainable and effective in academia before I even get to talk about making positive changes.
What advice do you have for someone starting off in your area of student affairs, or student affairs in general?
If you don’t have a passion for this work, if advocacy for social justice isn’t “in your blood,” so to speak, you will burn out on this work. However, if you have passion, then despite setbacks, you will always get back up again, because, well, the alternative of staying down is far more painful to us advocates because that is resigning ourselves to discrimination.
What are things that someone outside of your functional area in student affairs needs to know about your work?
Please understand that GLBT students face additional challenges so be mindful to not attribute the times they mess up to them not trying hard enough, being committed enough, etc. Most of the time it’s because they are each day asked to do more with less.
Do more because there is only so much mental, emotional, and physical energy a person has, and they must spend some of that energy each day dedicated to their safety/belonging/acceptance. Then what is left over energy can go towards reaching the goals you or I or even they themselves have for them. So, they are doing more than non-minority students because they have more challenges to face. And they’re doing it with less support from family, friends, and institutions, as well as less energy of their own.
I’m not making excuses nor enabling substandard results. I have high expectations of them and believe they will meet them. I also know that the time it takes them, the setbacks, and the confusion they experience is inherent in the process. I hope you will be aware of this, too.