Freshmen have the opportunity to learn about LGBTQ + identification from the upper classes through a new peer mentoring program.
The peer-to-peer mentoring program, co-launched last year by the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CSGD) and Blue Devils United (BDU), connects LGBTQ + people in identifying freshmen and upper classes to facilitate the transition to university life. .
The LGBTQ + mentoring program aims to help the early years overcome the challenge of identifying with a socially marginalized group. The program may provide academic resources, but also aims to help first-year LGBTQ + students navigate identity struggles.
Mentees and mentors register for the program through Student Affairs website. Potential mentors are trained and matched with a first year mentee. Incoming students who join the program in the fall semester are expected to participate for at least one year, while those joining the program in the spring are expected to be active for one semester.
To match mentor-mentee pairs, program administrators use a register system that includes questions such as “Would you like your mentor to share similar identities or similar interests?” according to Grace O’Connor, EDR president 2020-2021.
The CSGD and EDR initially conceived the idea of a peer mentoring program independently and decided to work together on this effort, O’Connor said, adding that “working together on this project has brought even more the two organizations ”.
Ellen Mines, Trinity ’21 and former CSGD staff member, is from Kansas, which she described as “not very tolerant or liberal.” Duke’s culture of inclusiveness and openness on campus allowed him to begin to explore his identity, she said.
“It was cool but it was also a little scary because I had never done anything like this before. The goal of this program is therefore to give the early years someone to talk to and who has had the same experience, ”said Mines.
For O’Connor, getting to know older queer people and seeing how they got around with Duke was very important when she was in first grade.
“Being queer at Duke, navigating there with other intersectional identities can be overwhelming, especially in the South. It’s hard enough without having any marginalized identity, ”she said.
Mentorship programs offer a unique resource for the early years.
“You have a person who basically functions as a friend who has had the same experiences as you before and who is there to listen to you,” Mines said.
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She pointed out that this program is entirely student-run, which can be less intimidating than other campus resources. “Sometimes students just want to talk to a peer; they don’t necessarily want to confide in someone they see as having some sort of power differential.
While CSGD has an Alumni Mentorship Program, which connects queer alumni with students, the Peer Mentorship Program helps new students “understand what kind of communities currently exist on campus” by connecting with undergraduates “who weren’t in first grade and understand what that experience was like,” Mines said.
The inaugural year of the program had 15 pairs and around 30 upper-class mentors.
One goal for the future is to help publicize the program, Mines noted. To achieve this, the CSGD plans to include information about this program in future Orientation Week materials, including training for first-year advisory counselors and resident assistants.
The pandemic was one of the biggest setbacks in starting the program, with Duke’s COVID-19 guidelines significantly limiting in-person interactions on campus.
“Due to Zoom’s fatigue and just the madness of life during COVID, we were unable to have large group meetings or discussions,” O’Connor added.
Next year, program administrators hope to improve the participants’ experience by having physical space for activities and gatherings.
“The CSGD is so important, having this physical space of full acceptance, because it can seem strange or uncomfortable to have identity-related discussions in certain spaces,” said O’Connor.
“It was difficult for the first few years to find a community this year. At the same time, I think this program has hopefully been helpful in overcoming that, ”Mines said.