By Claudia Villeda
Last October, a chapel service with an openly gay speaker created controversy on campus, leading to a discussion among students on how LGBTQ+ students are welcomed on campus.
Several students who identify as LGBTQ+ took to social media to express their concerns about not feeling safe or welcomed. Amidst the discourse that took place, the counseling center was one of the first places LGBTQ+ students were directed to go for support.
“We are here for everyone. We are a resource and support for you no matter where you are in life currently. Our hope is to be a true haven where students can process life – where they have been, where they are now, and where they are hoping to go/be in the future,” said Miller Folk, interim director of counseling center, in an e-mail.
REAP (Religious Exemption Accountability Project), a youth leadership empowerment organization who promotes equality for LGBT+ students, conducted a 2021 survey with about 3,000 students who attend Christian colleges with anti-LGBTQ+ policies. REAP found that “more than 1 in 10 students self-identify as a sexual minority.” They also found that sexual minority students are more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to a heterosexual student.
Most of the Christian colleges and universities where students were surveyed are part of the CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), which Trevecca is a member of.
According to Folk the counseling center does not track how many LGBTQ+ students they treat. The Trevecca counseling center follows the guidelines of the American Counseling Association and Marriage and Family Association, meaning they take an individualized approach with each patient.
“LGBTQIA+ folks do not all come in with the same ‘issues,’ there are themes that we see but again those themes are different depending on the person and life they have experienced,” said Folk. “We at the center do not have a cookie cutter approach when interacting with those that enter our doors. We tend to see that there are a lot of layers to what makes us feel other or unwelcomed, and we explore those different elements during our sessions together.”
Folk and the counseling center found students coming into their session bringing up the chapel service and their concerns about it unprompted.
“I was really proud that that was a posture…like a home or a place that we’ve already created where students and clients can come in and bring those parts, even without being prompted,” said Folk.
Folk and Jonathon Roy, assistant director of counseling center, said the counseling center is already a safe space for students.
“I would just check in with my [counselors] and be like, ‘Hey, you might be hearing this,’ and some of them are like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve already started to hear this.’ We were able to kind of get a heart and pulse of like, ‘Okay, this is where students are feeling and it’s hard right now.’ Some were curious and talked it through, and others didn’t need that prompting, they just came in and were like, ‘I need to talk about this,’ said Roy.
The counseling center prioritizes meeting students where they are. Folk recognizes that LGBT+ students have different “filters” impacting their lives compared to heterosexual students.
A first step is identifying the filters that are impacting their life.
“How do they impact our life? How are these stressors, internal and external, showing up and impacting? How do we want to navigate and work with them? Is it something that we can work around or is it something we have to learn to work with? It’s just kind of unique to each student,” said Folk.
The counseling center does see themes of anxiety and depression in the LGBTQ+ students they work with.
“We’re hoping to give each student the tools that they need to work with what’s in front of them,” said Folk.
Since the chapel service discussions, the counseling center continues to function similarly as before. An LGBTQ+ student follows the same process as all other students.
“In the first initial sessions the counselor gathers the student’s background history and what they are hoping to accomplish in their counseling work. Through that process the counselor and student will together create goals for counseling to be used to inform how their time/work is spent throughout the therapeutic relationship,” said Folk.
There are no support groups exclusively for LGBTQ+ students, but Folk says the counseling center is working on creating more groups to serve more students.
Ohana is a new group started by a local church for students who feel like outsiders in the Trevecca community. Ohana is affiliated with Trevecca Community Church and not associated with the counseling center.
“Sometimes we do refer out to outside organizations that are local that can provide support in ways that the center is just not structured to be able to do,” said Roy.
The counseling center offers walk-in hours Monday through Friday at 3 p.m. Appointment can be scheduled at www.tnu4u.trevecca.edu.
“We care to know their stories and to meet them where they are, regardless of how they feel about it, or how they believe others feel about it. We want to be here to meet them right where they are. That is our hope, that is our heart to provide unconditional acceptance,” said Folk.