• Sat. May 14th, 2022

Support group offers safe haven for LGBTQ students – The Reflector

ByJulie J. Helfer

Feb 23, 2022
Graphic by Olivia Cameron

Indianapolis University’s Student Counseling Center offers a variety of groups and workshop services for students, according to the university’s website. One such group is the Rainbow Pack, a drop-in support group for LGBTQ students. According to Alyssa Alonso, the group’s facilitator and liaison for diversity and inclusion, the group had been running for several semesters before she took over.

The idea for the Rainbow Pack was born out of the identification that people who are in the minority for sexual orientation or gender identity have different life and campus experiences, Alonso said. The group addresses these differences and provides support, she said.

“The support group is really about connecting individuals to other people who identify themselves within this community, addressing some of their mental health issues, as well as exploring different topics and how their experiences on campus and throughout their lives are affected by their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Alonso said.

One of the challenges an LGBTQ student may face on campus is deciding whether to attend a class, whether it happens in public during class attendance or privately through homework, said Michael Poulakis, assistant professor in the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences. They also have to decide how to respond when they hear derogatory or negative comments about the LGBTQ community, he said, and these issues can lead to anxiety, depression and loneliness.

“For many of them [LGBTQ students], the university gives them a safe space to talk about these issues,” Poulakis said. “You don’t know what’s going on back home, you don’t know if they have a safe space to talk, to have a sense of community.”

Students having a space where they feel comfortable enough to be themselves is a benefit Alonso has seen result from the group. She said she also saw an establishment of community through the consistency in which people attend and open up to the group.

“Personally, and from what I’ve observed, people continuing to participate in the group really indicates that they’re getting some benefit from it,” Alonso said. “It always amazes me how willing people are to be vulnerable and really lean in to talk about certain issues, which can be very difficult and challenging for them.”

Alonso said she usually starts a session by asking everyone to share their highs and lows from the week before moving on to discussing specific needs. Issues that have already been discussed in the group include heteronormativity, gender roles, the coming out process and the intersection between religion and gender or sexual orientation, Alonso said.

It’s going to be uncomfortable and scary the first time you attend a session, Alonso said, but anyone planning to attend a Rainbow Pack reunion should consider their mental health needs. She said she encourages people looking for support from both a professional and members of their community to attend. If they are concerned about how the group will look, they can contact the counseling center and speak with Alonso about their concerns, she said.

“Meeting new people, especially when you identify specifically with one of these marginalized groups, can be uncomfortable and scary,” Alonso said. “The group is specifically created to be an assertive and safe space where we protect privacy. So even if the person is not out, or only partially, it would still be a safe space for them.

Going to a support group allows people to release the negativity they’ve been holding themselves in, Poulakis said. As long as there is privacy, it’s one of the best ways for someone to process their identity and the feelings associated with it, he said. Poulakis said he believed the more they talked about it, the better it got.

“I think when you go to a process group, when you go to a support group, you find people who are there in your corner and they accept you and love you for who you are,” Poulakis said. “No judgements, no assumptions. I think for me that’s the biggest weapon, it’s the biggest thing you can do to protect yourself and enjoy your undergraduate or graduate life.

People who identify with a minority sexual orientation or gender identity have historically been stigmatized by our culture, Alonso said. Rainbow Pack is important because it meets the needs of LGBTQ students, she said.

“Rainbow Pack is an essential part of our campus because it allows individuals to be seen, and their mental health care to be supported in a way that is positive and specific to them,” Alonso said.

The Rainbow Pack meets Wednesdays from 1 to 1:50 p.m. at the Student Advisory Center, according to the UIndy website.