A gender inclusivity and anti-racism training—for students and by students—is building a stronger sense of belonging and community at West Virginia University.
Throughout the 2020-21 academic year, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences students have led a training initiative through WVU’s LGBTQ+ Center to raise awareness of the intersections of race, color, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We are extremely thankful to the nearly 100 groups and classrooms who invited our LGBTQ+ ambassadors to talk about anti-racism and gender-inclusivity,” said Ellen Rodrigues, LGBTQ+ Center interim director. “We received outpouring support and messages of appreciation on how this discussion gave participants a new perspective about their majors and about life.”
The training covers the history of racism and systemic discrimination; LGBTQ+ history and lessons from the civil rights movement; complexity of identity based on race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity; strategies for developing a cross-racial dialogue; and resources for intervening in bias, harassment and discrimination.
Eberly College students and alumni Myya Helm ( international studies and political science), Iahnna Henry (BA Communication Studies, ’20) and Daniel Gallegos ( multidisciplinary studies) teamed up with Chris Cunningham ( management information systems) and Unique Beaver ( sport management) to develop each section using critical research and scholarly resources.
The first section, developed by Henry and Helm, discusses the history of racism in America and how that became deeply embedded in all of our social, political and economic institutions.
The second section, developed by Cunningham, highlights transgender Black and Latine pioneers who have contributed to both racial and LGBTQ+ equality.
“One of my favorite parts of giving the training is talking about the history of the civil rights movement and why it continues to be important today,” Gallegos said. “Talking about the shocking events in our history as a country really brings it all into perspective.”
The third, written by Helm, debunks widely accepted ideas about race and allows non-white people to reflect on how they may have contributed or subscribed to racist systems, laws and policies.
“My section is meant to teach others about intersectional anti-racism, colorblindness, white privilege, white fragility and more,” Helm said. “In a society that privileges white people and whiteness, racist ideas are considered normal. I believe it is important to interrogate this behavior and combat it on every level, including throughout our campus community.”
The fourth, developed by Beaver, encourages others to discuss race and ensures that it’s not treated as a taboo topic.
Finally, the last section, written by Gallegos, offers a hypothetical scenario to teach others about bystander intervention and help them intervene if they’re ever in such a situation.
The students presented the training at the Big 12 Conference LGBTQIA and Allies virtual summit in February 2021.
“At the Center, we’re constantly working on ways to get the message out about LGBTQ+ rights and how to integrate it into the community. Since the Center was closed during COVID-19, we wanted to focus our efforts online with interested faculty, students and staff,” Gallegos said. “Our goals were to instruct people on modern theory surrounding race, inequality and bias and how it has affected us, currently affects us and how it will continue to affect us unless we decide as individuals to step up and be anti-racist.”
All of the students work as peer ambassadors for the LGBTQ+ Center.
“A lot of our ‘clients’ are professors from classes where younger students are getting adjusted to college life and may not understand what anti-racism is,” Gallegos said. “We want to make a good first impression by presenting our inclusivity policies and helping new students learn that being a Mountaineer means that we look out for each other.”
The training was offered throughout the 2020-21 academic year. For additional trainings and other resources, visit the Center’s website.
“This work is very important because if we don’t educate and bring awareness, who will?” said Henry, a master of business administration student from Charleston graduating this May. “While this training is not the end-all-be-all of anti-racism, it will at least bring self-awareness to give individuals the confidence to know where to start regarding furthering their education on these topics.”