A unique approach

New course offers support for LBGTQ students

For the first time, Portland State will be offering a class tailored to help LBGT students achieve success in college.

New course offers support for LBGTQ students

For the first time, Portland State will be offering a class tailored to help LBGT students achieve success in college.

The class—titled Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Trans, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally Academic Success­—is designed to offer resources, skills and connections to members of the LBGT community on campus.


Cathlene McGraw, coordinator of the Queer Resource Center at PSU, will teach the class this fall.

“Anybody that is concerned with the political, emotional or psychological welfare of these students can take this course,” McGraw said. “I have noticed that allies of these communities also face unique troubles on campus, and this will create another resource for them.”

Amira Caluya, a social work senior and an employee at the QRC, said her experience as a queer student of color has been good so far, though a little different. She reported some difficulty communicating with others about privilege, power and racial issues.

The new class will definitely be helpful for anyone, but especially for freshman queer students who may not be aware of the resources available to them, Caluya said. She said she would take it if she had room in her schedule.

“I am really grateful for the guidance Cathlene gives me. She is very approachable, knowledgeable and has a firm grasp on what queer students go through trying to navigate the higher education system. I definitely would recommend her to other students who might be thinking of taking a college success class.”

Topics will include study and time management skills and campus resources. Students will be introduced to the peer mentoring program through the QRC in addition to being connected with academic coaches who work with special populations.

Members of the LBGT community face unique stressors that many other groups do not. McGraw said that 16 percent of students who identify as lesbian, bisexual or gay attempt suicide while 50 percent of trans students do. McGraw said that other groups on campus may not face the same sort ofisolation. She added that she has seen studies that estimate the LBGT community makes up anywhere from 10 to 12 percent of any given population.

Another goal of the class is for students to create their own five-year plan, which will include academic and work goals. Help with scholarships will be offered, as well as assistance with finding jobs in queer-friendly work environments.

Field trips in the area are also on the itinerary. There are a number of events of interest to the LBGT community in the fall, including National Coming Out Day and Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Compared to other schools, there is a large population of LBGT students at PSU, though the university does not keep an exact count, McGraw said. The number of people identifying themselves as LBGT on campus does not match graduation numbers, so a class like this is important, she added.

“I have been in my position for two years and have noticed that LBGT students on campus face acute issues around homelessness and interpersonal violence. Family structure and support can unravel while in college,” McGraw said. “There is research out there that supports the idea of students learning in a community.”

Michele Toppe, dean of student life, thinks the class will meet a need that hasn’t yet been filled.

“The class will help develop the kind of confidence and affirmation of identity which we think will make them more successful in the classroom and in careers,” Toppe said.

McGraw has a three-pronged teaching philosophy. First, she strives for a low power-distance classroom where more focus is put on collaboration and sharing.

Second, differences such as race, orientation and class are recognized and the privileges and power that come with each particular demographic are discussed.

Third, McGraw aims for what she calls “unsentimental efficacious love” in relationships between students. This is the kind of love that has to do with regard for basic humanity and that recognizes where oppression may be happening and then strives to eliminate it, McGraw said.

College success courses are offered on campus to help special populations like veterans and queer students who may face particular difficulties in life that hinder graduation goals. These courses go over study and life skills as well as provide resources specific to that population. There are other classes like this offered at PSU, such as a course for returning women taught through the Women’s Resource Center.

Success in these courses is defined as helping students to graduate, realize their next steps or achieve graduation goals elsewhere, according to McGraw.

“I am really proud that we are offering this kind of course designed around helping students be successful,” Toppe said.