Paving the Way for LGBTQIA2S+ Student Success: Highlights from the 2024 CSU Student Success Symposium

By Larissa M. Mercado López

After months of planning, the CSU Student Success Network (Network) hosted the CSU LGBTQIA2S+ Student Success Symposium from March 7-8, 2024, in Sacramento, CA. Over 130XXX staff, students, and faculty from all 23 campuses across the CSU and Chancellor’s Office, as well as faculty and staff from the California Community College system, joined together to make connections across roles and learn how to improve equitable success for LGBTQIA2S+ students in the CSU. Unlike the more traditional annual conference, the Symposium sought to facilitate action-oriented conversations and community-building with the goal of launching Communities of Practice (ComPs) that will work across the system to explore, understand, and propose action that advances equity related to LGBTQIA2S+ student success. The ComPs will meet monthly as a group and will attend three Network-facilitated webinars during the Fall 2024 semester to share their learning, workshop ideas, and learn about strategies for effecting change on campuses. The experience will end with presentations where participants will share their progress and accomplishments.

LGBTQIA2S+ CSU Student Success Symposium Director Larissa Mercado López

For the first time ever, a Network event was primarily composed of students, at 43% of all attendees, reflecting the degree to which LGBTQIA2S+ student success work is supported by students. The symposium featured presentations on topics from basic needs to data collection, as well as a keynote on Queer student servingness in Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and created ample opportunities for dialogue around priority issues and action. Inspired by conversations at the 2022 CSU Student Success Network Conference, where students and staff detailed the challenges experienced by both LGBTQIA2S+ students and Pride/gender centers, the Network decided to shift away from the conventional annual conference to bring together practitioners, educators, and students to identify shared challenges and recognize the potential to work together across the system towards action.

“The problem we are facing – it is not a political one. People have politicized our communities and our rights, but that doesn’t make it political – this is a human rights issue, and if another CSU person tells you that, folx, plan your response. Plan your response, because I’m ready and I encourage you to be ready. We cannot allow them to use these tactics to delay, delay, avoid. I am very proud to work at a CSU, but we have a lot of work to do, and there needs to be some significant changes.” – Vinnie Pompei, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, San Diego State University

The sessions throughout the symposium highlighted the work of Network members who were already engaged in serving LGBTQIA2S+ students, including those who authored memos on research related to serving and deepening understanding of LGBTQIA2S+ students. To amplify expertise across the system, Mercado-Lopez and the organizing committee developed and distributed a call for authors to write memos centering research on LGBTQIA2S+ students in the CSU. The three memos discussed LGBTQIA2S+ student basic needs (Michael Pratt, Chico State), the status and role of gender centers in the CSU for supporting equitable student success (Jessica Nare and Kay Wong, San Diego State), and the need for a QuantCrit methodological approach to SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) demographic data to enhance equitable, social justice-centered data collection practices (Kailey Jo Palmer, CSU East Bay). An additional session explored the intersectionality of LGBTQIA2S+ identity and neurodivergency, discussing what CSUs can do inside and outside the classroom to better support LGBTQIA2S+ neurodivergent students (Vanessa Zepeda, CSU Bakersfield). These sessions generated questions and commentary on the state of recognition and support for intersectional identities, access to adequate training, and the importance of allies for sharing the responsibility of creating gender affirming campuses that support equitable outcomes for LGBTQIA2S+ student degree completion and well being.

A keynote and several plenaries connected attendees with researchers and advocates heavily engaged in LGBTQIA2S+ student support, education, and research. Dr. Ángel de Jesus González’s (Fresno State) keynote, “A Rainbow Bridge: Queering HSIs para todes!,” brought together methodologies from women of color feminism and critical higher education studies to advocate for the inclusion of Queer-Trans (QT) Latinx/a/e/o students in structures of servingness at HSIs. Institutional researcher and longtime Network facilitator Michael Le’s (Cal Poly Humboldt) engaging plenary “Navigating the SOGI Demographic Data Quagmire,” laid out the histories and legal landscapes surrounding gender, sexuality, and gender expression data collection, calling on attendees to think critically about data collection practices on their campuses. The faculty plenary, “Queer Pedagogies: Teaching LGBTQIA2S+ Students and Content in the CSU,” included faculty from across the disciplines–Nathian Rodriguez, San Diego State; Tyler Argüello, Sacramento State; Joanna Núñez, Sacramento State; and Robert D. Jiles, Chico State–who reflected on the challenges and opportunities teaching queer studies and LGBTQIA2S+ students across disciplines, highlighting the importance of classrooms as gender affirming spaces. As expected, the student plenary was deeply powerful. Student leaders Jacqueline Leaño (CSU Fullerton), Maya Thurmond (Fresno State), and Yumi Aguilar (Cal Poly SLO), shared their experiences as queer students of color navigating their degree journeys in the CSU, calling for campuses to meaningfully invest in programming and resources that reflected their intersectional identities. They attributed the spaces where their identities are affirmed as being crucial to their resilience and well being. 

Ending days one and two were tabletop conversations, where attendees identified priority issues that they were experiencing on their campuses or that emerged as priorities throughout the first day. Conversations eventually converged around five priority themes: gender affirming care, supporting disabled/neurodivergent LGBTQIA2S+ students, improving SOGI data collection, creating gender centers, and improving LGBTQIA2S+ student basic needs. On day 2, attendees reconvened for more tabletop conversations around the five themes, working through questions such as: 

  • Reflect on your role: What are your constraints? Your opportunities? What do you think is within your realm of possibility to do?
  • How would collaborating across the system help you better understand your issue or work toward change?
  • What information or resources do you need to better understand your issue or propose change?

As groups shared out, it was clear that attendees were excited about the possibility of working collectively across the system to advance action around these themes, emphasizing the potential for sharing knowledge and resources in support of shared goals.

Symposium evaluation data reflected the energy throughout the symposium. While the responses were overwhelmingly positive across all areas, it was particularly exciting to see that over 95% of respondents indicated that the symposium was useful for 1) creating a sense of shared responsibility around advancing equitable LGBTQIA2S+ student success efforts and 2) identifying actionable recommendations toward LGBTQIA2S+ servingness for campuses. Attendees also expressed a desire to continue their engagement with the Network, through attending additional Network activities, presenting, or becoming a resource partner, reflecting the success of the symposium in expanding the Network and helping to raise the visibility of the Network as a resource for the system.