How your counseling website can be more supportive of LGBTQ students

LGBTQ+ friendliness on counseling center websites remains low, study finds.
By: | December 14, 2021
(AdobeStock)(AdobeStock)

Some college counseling center websites may actually discourage students in the LGBTQ+ community from seeking mental health care and other support, a study released this week has found.

Campus counseling websites tend to be more LGBTQ+-friendly in states with hate crime and employment-nondiscrimination laws, according to a study by Jasmine Mena, an associate professor of psychology at Bucknell University, and student Carolyn Campbell. “Although we might want to see our schools as independent units, these results show that institutions of higher education and state-level policies are actually interconnected,” Mena says. “All institutions of higher education need to be conducting a self assessment and know how they’re presenting themselves to current and future LGBTQ+ students.”

The public school websites the pair studied had significantly more LGBTQ+ friendly content compared to private school. Still, their overall findings found that LGBTQ+ friendliness on counseling center websites remains low and has not improved in recent years.

Mena and Campbell gave school websites a friendliness score based on the following questions:

  • Does the site address LGBTQ+ specific resources in individual counseling, group counseling and couples counseling settings?
  • Are there references to LGBTQ+ peer groups?
  • Do counseling center staff list their preferred pronouns—such as she/her/hers or they/them/theirs—in their biographies?
  • Does the site’s support statement declare a willingness to provide services regardless of a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity?
  • Are counseling center staff trained on LGBTQ+ related concerns and sensitivity?
  • Does the website provide information about how LGBTQ+ students can get help outside of normal working hours?
  • Can students find information about how to get support outside of the university?

Among states with hate crime and discrimination protections, California earned a friendliness score of 5.17 while Massachusetts and New York scored 3.50 and 2.88, respectively. In states without those protections, scores included Ohi0 (1.88), Pennsylvania (1.83 ), and Michigan (1.67).

Along with revising websites, the study could encourage campus leaders to lobby legislators and other policymakers to pass lawmakers that make campuses and the communities safer and more welcoming climates, Mena says. “We’re not neutral bystanders,” she says. “We have a bigger role to play.”