The SoACE Conference Moment That Woke Me Up

During the final day of the SoACE Conference in Fort Lauderdale, I remember feeling tired and ready to relax. As a member of the conference committee, I had numerous duties and responsibilities, and frankly had hit my wall. As I reviewed the last set of sessions for the day, I seriously considered heading to my room to catch-up on sleep.  As I took one last look at the session offerings, I noticed that my neighboring colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts Careers Services Office were presenting “Rainbow Road: Paving the Way for LBGTQIA+ Student Success.” As an openly gay man for my entire professional career in career services, I mistakenly thought I knew this topic well.  Despite my fatigue and misplaced confidence of knowledge on this topic, I decided to attend and see if I could learn something new.

By the second slide of their presentation, I realized there was so much I did not know and how I missed the opportunity to push for professional education on this topic in my own office.  My biggest takeaways were:

  • The importance of personal pronouns and the number of pronouns I did not know.
  • Many individuals are not fully aware that sexual orientation and gender identity are separate terms, and separate challenges, with different meanings.
  • Published advice on “dressing for success” on career services department websites and social media platforms may inadvertently exclude students that do not identify exclusively as a male or female.
  • The fact many of our colleagues, despite their careful and helpful intentions, are still struggling to assist students that identify as LBGTQIA+ through the job and internship search process. Many staff in non-urban and non-diverse cities may struggle because they have limited access to resources on assisting students that identify as LBGTQIA+.
  • Many assume that LBGTQIA+ individuals are protected by federal law from workplace discrimination because of recent Supreme Court decisions and executive orders by the previous presidential administration.  When in fact, these actions only prohibited discrimination for these populations at federal government agencies and businesses that contract with the federal government.
  • For most attendees, this session was not nearly long enough to address all of the content in their prepared presentation slides nor to adequately respond to the number of follow-up questions that were asked.

As I walked out of that session, I realized we all have knowledge on a number of issues related to diversity that we need not keep to ourselves.  If you have valuable insight and knowledge in any area of diversity, I strongly encourage you to submit a proposal to present at the 2017 Conference, author a blog, or join a Diversity & Inclusion Committee.  As members of a diverse and supportive community such as SoACE, we have a great opportunity to share our differing perspectives and learn from each other so we are better equipped to guide our students.  


Andrew Harper is the Manager of Employer Relations in Career and Professional Development at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.  Andrew serves as programs chair for the 2017 SoACE Conference and represents Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas on the Cooperative Education & Internship Association (CEIA) Board of Directors.  He also previously served as president of the Texas Cooperative Education & Internship Association (TxCEIA). You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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