The upcoming overhaul of the freshman-advising system will significantly improve the quality of the previously decentralized counseling resources available to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer freshmen, according to administrators and students familiar with the program’s development.
The planned changes — which will take effect in fall 2009 — will combine the roles of ethnic counselors and freshman counselors and introduce “peer mentors” who will serve LGBTQ freshmen, as well as several other groups on campus, such as international and disabled students. But implementing the new program could prove difficult, administrators said.
The hardest part of instituting a program that caters to LGBTQ students is identifying them before they come to campus, said Maria Trumpler, special advisor to the deans for LGBTQ issues. Many LGBTQ students may not seek out advising on their own, making it difficult to gauge the number of peer mentors the University needs, she said.
“We’ll probably choose a number and decide each year: ‘Was that enough or not enough?’ ” Trumpler said.
But any number of peer mentors is better than none, Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque said. Administrators and several current students agreed that the University needed to expand the current advising program to focus on LGBTQ issues, he said.
“We want our systems of support to reflect current needs, and we know that there are many factors beyond race and ethnicity that can make a student’s adjustment to Yale difficult,” Levesque said in an e-mail to the News.
In addition to introducing the new peer mentors, administrators will significantly expand the amount of training they offer freshman counselors this year. Last spring, Trumpler said, she was able to speak with the incoming freshman counselors for about 10 minutes. But this year, she said, freshman counselors will attend workshops as part of their training, including panels that will discuss issues on which they may have to counsel their freshmen.
Several freshman counselors interviewed said they welcome the changes, arguing that current training does not adequately address LGBTQ issues.
“I think that the existing training has shortcomings in that it had not been really revised enough since it was implemented,” said Andrew Dowe ’08, a Berkeley College freshman counselor who self identifies as queer.
The reforms represent a significant improvement to Yale’s advising resources, Dowe said, but he cautioned that the new program will be a success only “as long as the dialogue remains open.” Administrators will continue consulting with students to develop the program before it is implemented, Trumpler said.
One self-identified gay freshman counselor who requested to remain anonymous said the new peer-mentor program will increase the accessibility of LGBTQ counseling resources.
“The way it is now, those resources are there, but they’re more removed from the actual student body,” the counselor said.
An existing volunteer support system similar to what the peer mentors will offer, known as Queer Peers, has been flagging recently, Trumpler said. The peer-mentor program will represent an improvement over queer peers because participating mentors will be paid, she said.
Benjamin Gonzalez ’09, student coordinator of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale and a leader of Queer Peers from 2005 to 2006, said Queer Peers tends to wait for students to come to them, and he praised the active approach of the soon-to-be-implemented peer-mentor program.
“I’m hoping that the peer mentors will be able to take on a lot of the Queer Peers job, which [requires] understanding of LGBTQ issues not just with tolerance but also with warmth, understanding and compassion,” he said.
Several underclassman members of Yale’s LGBTQ community have established campus organizations in an effort to compensate for the lack of advising specifically targeting LGBTQ freshmen. Alejandro Bustillos ’11, the creator of “Not-So-Straight Freshmen” — which has 20 to 25 members and facilitates fellowship among LGBTQ students at Yale — said the group receives some financial support from the Co-Op for snacks at the weekly meetings in Bustillos’ common room.
“[The group] helps freshmen become familiar with other freshmen on campus who they can see as a resource, ally or someone they can reach out to,” he said.
Bustillos said the group fulfills the role of an ethnic counselor for LGBTQ students. He called the creation of the peer-mentor program “perfect,” noting that the increased advising can only make LGBTQ students feel more comfortable at Yale.