Reaching out to aid GLBT int’l students

BY LINI GE | MARCH 13, 2009 7:30 AM

Two young men walking down the street on the UI campus with their arms linked will mostly likely be seen as homosexuals. But it is a common behavior elsewhere in the world, including India.

“If you are looking at these through U.S. norms, you definitely can misread what is being said,” said Scott King, the director of the UI Office of International Students and Scholars.

He used the example to explain how culture may affect concepts of sexual identity and orientation during a Thursday workshop addressing issues and concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender international students.

Roughly 25 faculty and staff from different areas on campus attended the workshop, which presented significant issues encountered by international students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and offered suggestions for advising these students and providing them with support and resources.

“International students already face many cultural adjustment issues throughout their experiences at the University of Iowa. Adding to this adjustment are possible issues of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Julie Pollock, an international students and scholars adviser.

“It is important for staff and faculty to know of campus and community resources available to assist international students, should they need advice, support, or advocacy,” she said.

Monica Madura, an academic counselor for the undergraduate program in the communication-studies department, said she volunteered to come to the workshop.

“I work with a lot of students from different background,” she said. “I want to be sure to understand the diversity to assist them the best way I can.”

To assist the international students, it is crucial to understand the challenges they may face when they decide to come out, King said, citing the possibility of being rejected by their own cultural groups.

“You become an outsider within your own culture, and you know you’re not white. It’s like you don’t exist, you don’t know where you belong,” said Christian Roldan Santos, an academic adviser in the UI Academic Advising Center, who identifies himself as gay.

His own life experience actually helps when advising students, said Santos, who is from Puerto Rico.
“I can say, ‘I went through this, too,’ then the student can relate to you and won’t feel so lonely because there is someone else out there,” he said.

Besides discussions and case studies, the attendees were also provided with a list of related resources including campus and community organizations and allies, and health care and wellness providers open to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.

They were encouraged to seek help from those resources when international students raise such issues and also to promote awareness of the resources among international students who may need them.

“We are talking about ways to increase visibility of the center to international students,” said Elizabeth Krause, manager of the UI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center. “Hopefully, in the coming year there will be some special programming.”

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