A Series of Fortunate Events: Library Collaborations that Help LGBTQ Young Adults Transition to College Life

Co-presented by university librarian Amanda Melilli, head of the Curriculum Materials Library at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Las Vegas (Clark County) high school English teacher and department chair for English in Clark County Ashley Nebe, this session focused on their collaborative relationship, designed to support and encourage LGBTQIA teens both in their high school years and during the transition to college. We also heard from authors Ann Bausum, Susan Kuklin, David Levithan, and Mariko Tamaki on their thoughts for supporting LGBTQIA youth during the transition from high school to university.



Nebe spoke (inspirationally!) about the incredible growth of the GSA chapter at her high school, and the work that they have done to partner with other LGBTQIA-serving organizations and allies in the community, including Melilli’s library. The high school group now runs a student Talent Showcase in an open-air setting at the high school that has become a large event with strong participation numbers from students (with the larger community invited). They participate in the community-wide Pride Parade each year, which gives them a chance to make personal connections with college-age LGBTQIA students and faculty before arriving on the university campus themselves. Some key take-aways:

The research is clear: students need to feel safe in order to succeed. Any student who feels physically or emotionally threatened as part of their school experience faces much steeper odds for academic success. GPAs drop, self-esteem suffers, and motivation to continue plummets without inclusive, safe, welcoming, supportive environments and relationships, with peers and faculty and staff. Check out the National School Climate Survey for more details.

So how to help create a supportive environment to set students up for ongoing success? Be explicit about your support; think about how students will actually know that you are an ally in their educational experience. Make resources and indicators clearly visible (SafeSpace stickers, buttons – Mellili mentioned specifically that making buttons has been one of the most cost-effective and fun activities she’s done with students – displays, brochures from outside organizations, etc.). Bring your support into spheres beyond those exclusively designated as LGBTQIA-focused, for example: asking everyone to offer their preferred pronouns, or (great tip from David Levithan, provide nametags that allow the user to designate their preferred pronouns), for any meeting you lead, such as a book club. Work to ensure that LGBTQIA resources, organizations, and groups are represented at larger school functions (general resource fairs, club days, etc.). Provide training for staff and faculty to increase students’ access to (and awareness of the presence of) supportive adults. Work to include language in your collection development policy that protects students’ rights to access accurate information, and be especially careful of the word “appropriate.” Developing and maintaining an age-appropriate collection means ensuring younger readers have access to materials which show all types of people and families.

Each of the authors spoke thoughtfully about the vulnerability and also the excitement of transitioning from high school to college (while also acknowledging that, LGBTQIA or not, no one there had made that transition super recently, so for current student experiences we also need to look to current students).

Mellili maintains an awesome-looking LibGuide for LGBTQIA students and all educators.

I work in a high school, and a lot of my students head to a fairly short list of universities; I was inspired by this panel to reach out to some of the librarians at those institutions to see what sort of relationship we could forge to help ease that transition, and to do a better job of making visible the resources that exist beyond our campus for students who may feel marginalized on-campus, or who are looking for a larger LGBTQIA community of than our campus provides.

— Carly Pansulla