Reflections on My Journey: When Work Becomes Passion

When I was growing up, the idea of going to college seemed almost impossible. I was the first person in my family to go to college, to graduate with a 4-year degree, and eventually to pursue graduate school. My first job after graduation was working with troubled youth in the social work system. This work experience made me realize that I wanted to create change by helping youth and adults. Over the next few years, I continued working in nonprofits trying to find my purpose. It wasn’t until I started my Master of Public Administration program at CSU Bakersfield, that I discovered my love for research and creating change in the LGBTQ+ community. My thesis research highlighted how I could make an impact on marginalized students’ college experiences by raising LGBTQ+ visibility, improving programming, and encouraging greater inclusive education to the campus community. It was in seeing change that I realized I wanted to pursue my Ph.D. in order to continue to make a meaningful impact in people’s lives, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.  

LGBTQ+ students face greater disparities, marginalization, and discrimination than the general heterosexual student body. These can lead to higher rates of mental health distress, feelings of exclusion, and homophobia. For LGBTQ+ folks with intersectional identities (race, gender, ability, socio-economic status, immigrant status), these experiences are increased. I believe that everyone has the right to education, but beyond that, it should be in a place that is safe and inclusive. To create a safe and inclusive space, we must challenge the current dominant narrative on who belongs. What is “normal”, and how and by whom is that decided?

There are some clear parallels between my research and the work Think College does. Fundamentally, both are striving for greater inclusion for underserved populations. By examining ways to serve one underserved group, we find lessons in how to approach others. I am inspired as I consider how the work of Think College can be applied to the LGBTQ+ college student community. In their work to create programs to support students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I see strategies that would also support LGBTQ+ college students.

It is easy to find ourselves in these siloed arenas when we are working in community-specific areas. My challenge to myself—and you all— is to take a moment to think about how our work relates to other marginalized communities. If the students you or I are working with find a barrier to success, how might others hit this barrier? When we are working towards equality, equity, and inclusion, we need to start thinking beyond our own boundaries. This is beyond a glorified ideology— it adds power and justification to advocacy. A past experience of mine illustrates this power. At a university in California, I worked with the LGBTQ+ student group to advocate for campus community space for them to gather, but met with little success until we joined with other minority student groups to advocate for all these groups.  It was then that administration listened. Partnership among departments, services, or groups will lead to impactful change at our colleges and universities. A truly inclusive space is one where everyone is supported and belongs.  This quote captures this concept perfectly for me:

“Inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures which exist in our societies; It is about transforming those systems and structures to make it better for everyone. Inclusion is about creating a better world for everyone.”

Advocating for LGBTQ Students with Disabilities: A Guide for Educators, Parents/Guardians on Supporting LGBTQ Students with an IEP or 504 Plan

GLAAD LGBTQ Resource List:

Consortium of Higher Education LGBTQ Resource Professionals:

Resources on LGBTQ students with Disabilities:

Post Author: Matthew L. McClellan is a doctoral candidate with the School of Global Inclusion and Social Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Before coming to Boston, he completed his BS in Human Development and Family Studies and his master’s in Public Administration (MPA). Matthew has worked as a research assistant with Think College and the National Coordinating Center since 2018. Matthew comes with multiple years’ experience working in various nonprofit areas including social work, health care, and higher education. He is an LGBTQ+ advocate. Professionally, he has worked with campus administration to create and facilitate greater inclusive LGBTQ+ programing. His dissertation will look at the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ college student finding and using supports amid the global pandemic.