The NCAA & Intellectual Property: The State of Play on NIL Reform

What is NIL, and how did we get here?

Defining NIL

NIL (Name/Image/Likeness) is shorthand for a student-athlete’s intellectual property rights (their name, image, and likeness).

A Brief History of How We Got Here

It is important to put the current conversation about NIL reform in context. The NCAA was founded after a White House meeting in which Teddy Roosevelt met Ivy League football coaches and administrators to push them into adopting rules to make football safer. (There had been a rash of student deaths and injuries playing the unregulated new game.) The newly minted organization, which became the NCAA in 1910, was founded on three major principles: mandatory football helmets, adopting Harvard’s rules rather than Yale’s (including the invention of the forward pass), and a strict ban on recruiting or offering any financial compensation to student-athletes. It is important to note the NCAA did not develop enforcement mechanisms until the 1950s. These enforcement mechanisms were adopted alongside the recognition that schools COULD provide “athletically related financial aid” known as athletic scholarships.

Fast forward to 2009 when a former UCLA basketball player, Ed O’Bannon, sued the NCAA (along with EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company) for using his likeness in a video game without credit or permission. It was clear that the NCAA’s legal position in this case was exceptionally weak and that continuing to monetize student-athlete’s intellectual property without compensation was becoming untenable. In fact, EA Sports and CLC settled the lawsuit and paid out $40 million to be distributed to the student-athletes whose likenesses had been used without permission, but the NCAA took the case to trial and lost; this established a legal precedent that it could not monetize student-athlete’s intellectual property without consent, providing a roadmap for more class action lawsuits based on antitrust law. The NCAA has lost several subsequent challenges and is currently enjoined from enforcing bylaws limiting NIL payments and on transfer limitations.

NIL reform has also been adopted by individual states. Many states passed legislation to mandate students at the college (and in many states the high school level) be able to freely profit from their intellectual property (see Figures 1 and 2).

The State of Play Today

What has developed is a three-tiered NIL system. The top tier impacts students who develop significant commercial value and can monetize that value individually.

The most broadly influential tier on the college side is made up of NIL “collectives.” These collectives are independent entities that come together to support athletics at a specific college. They offer prospective students compensation as an inducement to attend and/or to remain at the school and are responsible for the majority of NIL value right now.

There is also a low-value/exploitative tier of NIL. This tier includes companies that purchase intellectual property for minimal payments, barter, or just the promise of possible payment. Their business model involves small-scale investment, inducing students to give up their intellectual property without understanding its value.

Advising Students

In this environment, it is very important for students who DO monetize their NIL rights in high school to make sure their contracts sunset prior to their enrollment in college so they have maximum ability to negotiate with the college collectives. Once the collective deal (and athletic scholarship) is secured, THEN the student can monetize their rights with additional deals. It is also critical to have all contracts reviewed by a competent and knowledgeable intellectual property attorney. Most schools with significant NIL collectives can make these experts available to their students at minimal/no cost.

For students who are NOT looking at NIL deals based on their athletic profile or social media influence, there is a significant space for entrepreneurship and creativity to build value. Advisors should be encouraging students to explore this space even for athletes who are not attracting elite offers!

I believe that IECs should advocate for colleges to support and enhance the value of their student’s intellectual property. This would push more students into top-tier business agreements and generate more value for everyone. It is critical that colleges develop workable rules for the second tier “collectives.” An unregulated arms race is inevitably going to exploit some students; making sure that the benefits are spread more widely and in a way that is congruent with the college’s educational mission is broadly good policy that could gain support across stakeholders. Finally, it is in everyone’s interest to protect student-athletes from exploitation by the lowest tier of actors in the NIL space. All these issues require legislative action and lobbying at both the state and federal levels. While I personally feel this is the right approach, there is no shortage of opinions about the best path forward.

Policy Possibilities

The current patchwork of state laws, temporary restraining orders, and legal opinions makes action via the NCAA legislative process problematic. Coming to grips with this new legal and commercial landscape will require all the stakeholders involved in intercollegiate athletics to collaborate in developing a new framework that can be adopted as federal legislation and executive branch regulation. From the NCAA’s perspective, the best-case scenario is legislation that provides the NCAA an exemption from antitrust law. But it could also mean federal legislation setting a framework for the compensation of student-athletes and/or empowering the NCAA to enforce member adopted legislation within certain defined parameters. NCAA member schools and executive leadership, especially among the College Football Playoff schools has an outsized influence to set the tone of this debate and needs to engage with this process in a strategic way with a unified agenda. This agenda has not been communicated either by college presidents or the NCAA executive staff, and we have not seen a clear process involving all stakeholders yet outlined.

In the absence of clear leadership from the NCAA, we have a variety of efforts at influencing policy coming from different actors. There is a highly publicized effort to unionize student-athletes with the idea that the NCAA would come to a collective bargaining agreement with some kind of NCAA Players Association. But this approach has several serious problems, including serial failure in court. Just this week, a highly publicized effort to re-classify student-athletes at Dartmouth as “employees” featuring the Dartmouth basketball team was challenged by the university and is currently under review by the NLRB. There are also a variety of lobbying efforts at the state level, but no state action solves the problem of a national organization needing national policy to provide clarity to its members.

Dave Morris, MEd, IECA (WA), College Athletic Advisor, can be reached at [email protected].

IECA Returns to Capitol Hill for Our Second Annual DC Advocacy Day

On March 4-5, 2024, 15 IECA members descended on Capitol Hill for the second annual IECA DC Advocacy Day. We held 33 meetings with elected officials and their legislative aides from the US House of Representatives and Senate, introducing (or re-introducing) IECA to offices representing California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Vermont. The event kicked off with a meeting with Bernie Sander’s (VT) office, who is the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).

DC Advocacy Chair Steven Mercer commented, “It was a great opportunity to learn more about the Understanding the True Cost of College Act and the College Transparency Act. Not many people get a chance to do this, as it’s rare for committee staff to meet with constituents. However, IECA has a close relationship with this committee since [CEO] Mark Sklarow was recently invited to give congressional testimony. This has allowed us to continue building close relationships with policymakers in Washington DC, which ultimately benefits the students, families we work with, and members of IECA.”

Whitney Bruce, Vice Chair of the Government Relations Committee, continued, “Our conversations in legislators’ offices were powerful and affirming. While we went there to advocate for issues that matter to us as we serve our clients, the power of the legislation we were discussing is in its benefit to those students and families who don’t have the benefit of our expertise.”

The purpose of Advocacy Day is to advocate for issues important to our profession and the students and families with whom we work. The issues we addressed this year included the following.

Introduction of IECA

We introduced IECA as the premier association within our profession, requiring our members to adhere to the highest standards of expertise and ethical integrity. We encouraged the offices to look to us for our expertise in education and adolescent development, and to partner with us in the development of legislation and policymaking to support and protect students and families in their educational journey.

Transparency in Higher Education

Understanding the True Cost of College Act. This act requires standard terminology and a universal format to assist students and their families, colleges and universities, and secondary school and postsecondary counselors to make informed decisions about the real cost of college and reverse the trend of taking on staggering student debt. Financial aid transparency is a step toward greater access and opportunity for all students.

College Transparency Act. This bipartisan bill ensures greater transparency regarding student outcomes at postsecondary institutions, providing information for evaluating which school to attend. The current system is overly burdensome; the new system will give students a clear understanding of their return on investment. The data will include information on student outcomes, including enrollment, graduation rates, and post-college earnings across colleges and majors.

We thanked those senators and congressmen who have already co-sponsored these bills and asked for support from those who have not done so.

Adolescent Mental Health

Given the adolescent mental health crisis, IECA supports legislation to address the following:

  • Increasing the availability of mental health support for adolescents within and beyond school
  • Providing critical oversight and standards for residential therapeutic schools and programs
  • Ensuring parity of mental and physical health coverage by insurers

While there is currently no legislation facing Congress on these issues, we positioned ourselves as experts and asked for a “seat at the table” in the development of future legislation. We were joined by Kyle Matous, our new lobbyist from Advocacy Associates. As a previous Chief of Staff on the Hill, and most recently as the Director of Government Relations for Bono’s ONE Campaign, Matous is incredibly well-connected. Until our return next March, he will be our “boots on the ground” presence. He acknowledged that while we may not see any quick movement on the two transparency bills given the current state of Congress, the consistent emphasis on our issues is the best way to ensure change in the future.

“I got to meet the same staffer from Senator John Cornyn’s office that I met last year; she remembered my name, my title within IECA, and my business/location. We discussed the two bills and the adolescent mental health issues in much depth and how IECA can be involved in future legislation or hearings. It was like American Democracy 101 with my senator’s office. We positioned ourselves as the expert in the field of educational consulting, advocating for the students and families we serve, as well as the interest of those who do not have access to our services.” —Ibrahim Firat, President, IECA

Actions You Can Take

As an IECA member, you may ask, “What can I do?” We encourage you to write to your elected representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the Understanding the True Cost of College Act (H.R. 1198, S. 528) and the College Transparency Act (H.R. 2957, S. 1349), both of which are bipartisan and bicameral. And according to Mark Sklarow, “Next year, we will have new tools built into our website that will facilitate direct communication between IECA members and their elected representatives.”

A huge thank you to Steven Mercer, Chair of the DC Advocacy Day Committee, and committee members Cheryl Chamberlain and Jeana Kawamura, for planning this event, which was filled with great conversation with congressional staff about our important work as champions for our students and their families.

By Linda Daley, 2023-2024 Chair, IECA Government Relations Committee

IECA Urges Colleges to Adjust Deadlines Due to FAFSA Delays

The US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office released an update this week announcing that the earliest the Department will begin transmitting FAFSA applicant information to schools and state agencies is the first half of March.

We are deeply concerned by the impact this further delay will have on students and families who are depending on financial aid offers in order to pursue their higher education goals. This disruption to the typical enrollment timeline is certain to create increased anxiety for all students depending on some sort of financial aid, especially low-income students navigating this already stressful and complex process.

We appreciate that some colleges and universities are already delaying their May 1 decision deadlines and urge that all follow suit in order to allow adequate time for students to weigh their offers.

IECA will continue to bring our members the latest information on changes to the FAFSA rollout, and how students and families will be impacted. Members can access our recorded webinar on the new FAFSA, join and follow discussions on the Member Network, and bring their questions to upcoming monthly member roundtables. We encourage you to continue to stay informed and patient during this challenging process, and to advise your client-families to do the same.

In early March, IECA leadership will meet with legislators on Capitol Hill for our second annual advocacy event. We will advocate for greater clarity in the financial aid award process through the standardization of college financial aid offers proposed in the Understanding the True Cost of College Act. We will also urge legislators to consider the challenges faced by students and families imposed by the new FAFSA rollout.

We will continue to advocate for the independent educational consulting profession and the best interests of our members, students, and families.

IECA Advocates for Standardizing College Financial Aid Offers

IECA supports standardizing college financial aid offers. The Understanding the True Cost of College Act introduced by Young Kim (R-CA) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) requires standard terminology and offer formats to assist colleges and universities, students and their families, secondary school and postsecondary counselors, and nonprofit consumer groups. IECA believes that financial aid transparency is a step toward greater access and opportunity for all students. We back legislation that provides financial aid clarity.

The call to standardize financial aid offers is not new. Mark Kantrowitz wrote about this topic in a 2007 article in Inside Higher Ed. In 2012 and 2013, a group of bipartisan senators introduced legislation to standardize student aid offers. Those senators included Tom Harkin, Marco Rubio, and Charles Grassley. Senator Grassley introduced Understanding the True Cost of College Act in 2019 with Tina Smith (D-MN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA).

There are other bills and a recently created task force to study the issue. IECA would like to see all higher education institutions use the same template so that students can easily compare offers. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in early December 2022, after studying a sample of offers from 176 colleges and universities, that most were not using the recommended template from the Department of Education. The GAO recommends that Congress pass legislation that would include best practices for colleges regarding financial aid offers. Young Kim’s office has said that her legislation will be reintroduced this spring.

IECA believes it is time to require standardization. To join this effort, contact your representatives and let them know that financial aid transparency is an important issue to our college-going community and it is time to move forward by reintroducing and approving the True Cost of College Act.

Five Ways IECA Changed in 2022, and One Way It Didn’t

Those who work for any nonprofit—a school, a church group, or a membership society like IECA—know that change in such organizations can come slowly. Nonprofits are notoriously averse to alienating supporters and members, seek to develop consensus, and are more often than not pushed to change rather than embracing it.

Yet I know that when we look back on the history of IECA (which we’ll do soon as we close in on our 50th anniversary), we will see 2022 as a transformative year, one in which the association changed in substantial and fundamental ways.

1. Government Affairs

After years of avoiding any involvement in legislation and keeping a low profile even after being pulled into some state efforts to regulate or register IECs, in 2022 IECA wholeheartedly embraced our role in two ways: 1) We demanded that IECs be treated fairly and as valued small businesspeople; and 2) We became a valued source for state and federal agencies as they examined laws effecting adolescents and education. This past year IECA and its legislative counsel/lobbyists weighed in, with some success on several issues. We took positions designed to support members and their clients and responded with enthusiasm when a U.S. Senate Committee sought IECA’s advice on legislation being considered that impacted teens.

As one IECA member told me in a group Zoom meeting, “I have come to realize that unlike any other group, IECA has my back.”

2. Innovating How We Provide Education

For most of IECA’s history, member educational opportunities were conducted in person: conferences, Summer Training Institute, retreats, campus tours, and symposia were all held in person. COVID, of course, required us to reassess and within weeks we transitioned to online learning. Now we have the opportunity to reexamine the delivery models for our educational offerings. We are exploring what type of learning works best virtually and what works best in person so we can innovate all of our educational programming. Look for changes to conferences that reflect these changes, including advanced Harkness-style, small group sessions for advanced topics, more small-group discussions, new and improved networking, and more expansive tours.

3. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The IECA Board of Directors has fully embraced the idea that IECA needs to examine our processes, requirements, leadership, and programming to ensure that all are welcome, all who are qualified can find pathways to volunteerism and leadership, and all can participate. Diversity this year was a central focus. Are we ensuring that planned events don’t conflict with religious and cultural holidays? Are we ensuring that those with disabilities, including hearing and vision impairment, can access IECA information online? Do our conferences consider the needs of those who are neurodiverse? Do we ensure that membership is available to those who have a non-traditional background? There is much to be done, but recognizing these needs is an important start.

4. Growth of the Two Gs: Global and Graduate School

The growth in members with clients looking to study outside of their home nation, as well as those with clients looking into graduate and professional education, exploded in 2022. This offered IECA a critical challenge. I have often said that IECA should never ask folks to join if we are unable to meet their needs. Our Graduate and Global members presented us with such a challenge in 2022. As an association, we have embraced both and have re-committed to making both sub-specialties an essential piece of who we are. We launched study groups, affinity groups, and roundtables; we increased the number of educational sessions offered at conferences; we held our first global gathering in 2022 and will follow up with a university symposium in Italy early in the new year. Graduate school advising is growing quickly, and many members have offered to volunteer, present, and host; our processes are working overtime to keep up, and we are committed to doing so.

5. Embracing Our New Role

On the day I arrived at IECA, 28 years ago, I was told that IECA was the “gold standard” in the profession. Since that day, I embraced the concept and have told our board on numerous occasions that “protecting IECA’s reputational value” was as important as protecting our financial viability. But something changed this past year. It happened when government agencies and other educational associations reached out to us for support or guidance. It happened when hundreds of members in other associations joined IECA, either because of our legislative work or because of our diverse options of educational programming. It happened when members embraced the value of having experts in adolescent behavior, since increased numbers of “typical” adolescents were dealing with mental health challenges. It happened when we conducted a survey of volunteers and discovered that over 300 members are volunteering in significant ways. And it was cemented when we realized that all the above led us to a point when our membership includes 150% more IECs than any other organization in the US or the world. In 2022, our role as the leader of the profession was not simply an adage, it became reality and as a result our responsibility to the profession and to the public has grown.

6. One Way We Have NOT Changed

Despite these changes, IECA has fundamentally remained the same. Our expectations that potential members must demonstrate they are at the top of their profession remains, just as we stress ethics and excellence in our trainings. Our standards remain the highest in the field. We take ethical violations seriously. We remain committed to the concept that all IECs are colleagues, not competitors. And most critically, we continue to hold fast to the rule that IECA members work, always, in the best interest of their clients.

IECA Advocates for Religious Tolerance and Inclusion

IECA advocates for religious tolerance and inclusion and condemn all forms of antisemitism, extremism, hate, and bigotry. We believe no one should feel attacked or marginalized because of their religious beliefs, and that every student, family, and colleague should be treated with kindness, acceptance, and respect.

Disturbingly, antisemitism remains a persistent and serious problem in the US and globally. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that attacks on Jewish people and sites in the US were committed at record high levels in 2021, including hundreds at colleges and universities. We at IECA are deeply troubled by this intolerance and offer our support and empathy to our Jewish students, families, members, and affiliated professionals.

IECA is committed to helping families of all backgrounds have access to skilled and ethical academic or therapeutic guidance and to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. We welcome all individuals, regardless of age, citizenship status, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, learning differences, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Our work to promote equity, fairness, and inclusion must be constant.

We urge our members and colleagues to recognize and respond to instances of antisemitism, bigotry, and hate. Here are resources to help you take action today:

As leaders in education, we have an opportunity to model leadership that is focused on unity, support, and action. We must do our part to build a more tolerant, inclusive, and socially just society.

IECA Presents to US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

On October 19, 2022, IECA members Bar Clarke,  Karen Mabie, Heidi Molbak, and Jesse Quam joined CEO Mark Sklarow in presenting to the senior staff of the Senate Committee that oversees a wide area of legislative responsibility. The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) requested IECA’s input as it explores adolescents and mental health, with a particular focus on health and safety of teens in therapeutic residential programs. Staff leaders representing Senator Patty Murray (WA) and IECA’s legislative counsel, Craig Saperstein of Pillsbury Law, also participated in the meeting.

At the outset, IECA had the chance to explain the Association’s work, our criteria for membership, and earning designations in therapeutic placements. IECA’s Principles of Good Practice, our Standards of Excellence and training new independent educational consultants (IECs) through our Summer Training Institute were all explored by the Committee staff. They seemed particularly interested in our prohibition against accepting kickbacks or expensive gifts as well as the role IECs play beyond student placement including after-care, family dynamics, and communication with parties during treatment periods.

In response to questions about campus visits, IECA members noted that being able to visit a campus and speak with students was incredibly valuable, and that the online Member Network allows IECA members to find trusted colleagues who may have a recent experience with a program. Mark Sklarow cautioned that while IECA members can visit programs, these are planned and controlled, and that state government and credentialing organization hold greater authority in evaluative visits which can be unscheduled and more invasive.

The Senate Committee staffers seemed interested to learn that IECs are, at times, brought on to assist a school district in finding residential care when local options have been exhausted. Likewise, referrals from psychologists and other professionals were discussed.

Bringing up the “horror stories” at programs that surfaced in the news recently, the IECA team offered several insights. They noted that many of these stories relate to instances more than two decades old, which was followed by a period of dramatic change and improvement in program staff training, new policies to safeguard children, and the like. Additionally, we noted that many of the stories specifically relate to publicly financed programs, not those privately held. Even so, the IECA team was clear that IECA supports new legislation that can assure the safety and care of teens, including extensive staff training on therapeutic holds and isolation, record-keeping, improved communication between teens and parents, and recognition of client rights.

IECA also addressed the work of some unaffiliated consultants who act as program recruiters or agents, accepting kickbacks (while masquerading as IECs), and indicated that such actions hurt the professional reputation of legitimate IECs. IECA endorsed mental health parity and expressed concern that those who go too far to attack all therapeutic schools and programs run the risk of stigmatizing adolescents seeking mental health care.

IECA and our Therapeutic and Government Relations Committees anticipate providing additional input to the Senate Committee in the new legislative year.

Establishing an Inclusive Practice, Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Students

Note: This blog uses terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers. It Gets Better Project offers a helpful glossary.

Happy Pride Month, IECA!

In June, the month of the historic Stonewall Uprising of 1969, we celebrate with Pride the global LGBTQIA+ community and the Black and Brown trans foremothers of the gay rights movement, people who fought for equality and justice in the face of violence and harassment for being their authentic selves.

Pride Month is about celebration, but it is also about advocacy and activism. As IECs, we are in a prime position to be allies and advocates for our LGBTQIA+ students.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ People

The first thing we can do to support our LGBTQIA+ students and families is to ensure that we support our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and people in our everyday lives. Learning how individual schools, colleges, and therapeutic programs serve LGBTQIA+ students is important, but that information will land flat if our consulting practices and professional associations don’t operate inclusively to begin with.

Let’s start by recognizing the falsehoods and societal norms we’ve internalized and re-educate ourselves so we can be effective allies.

Misinformation and false assumptions cause harm to LGBTQIA+ people. Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that does not align with cisnormative, heteronormative standards is not someone’s lifestyle choice or political statement. It is the true, lived experience of a human being.

Being raised with recent social norms can result in anti-LGBTQIA+ bias and internalized homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism—even for people within the LGBTQIA+ community. These norms lead us to expect that people are heterosexual and identify with the gender they were assigned at birth unless we’re told otherwise, unless the person “comes out.” These assumptions are unconscious until we make an effort to examine and counteract them by seeking education.

Educating Ourselves

LGBTQIA+. Heteronormative. Homophobia. Transgender. Ally. Microaggression. Gay. Queer.

Some of these words may be familiar. Others may not. Make an effort to learn them. Find a buddy to practice with and help you use them. Pronouns and chosen names, in particular, require practice.

Education helps us be informed and effective allies. Don’t rely on an LGBTQIA+ person to define terms or tell you why certain language is hurtful or offensive. Use Google and accept responsibility for your own learning. (You’ll find numerous resources throughout this blog.)

Being an Ally Requires Action

Allies take action even when it’s uncomfortable.

For example: Speak up when you observe microaggressions against an LGBTQIA+ person or group. Correct a speaker who has misgendered someone. Don’t let others use words like “gay” or “queer” in a negative way or tell an LGBTQIA+ person to act or look differently in order to fit in. When you make an inevitable mistake, apologize, correct it, and move on without calling further attention to the blunder.

Be an Ally by Protecting LGBTQIA+ Students

We live in an unjust world where LGBTQIA+ students are not always safe, even at home. If a student comes out to you, respond with appreciation, respect, and affirmation. Listen attentively. Ask if they need any help or resources.

Maintain student confidentiality in conversation, communication, and written notes. It is critically important that we don’t “out” a student to anyone, including their family. Consider specifying in your client agreement that you will maintain student confidentiality except in cases where you are a mandatory reporter or choose to follow such guidelines.

Develop a list of local and online organizations that you can share with students if needed. GLSEN’s When A Student Comes Out to You blog provides helpful advice for education professionals, and their Coming Out blog and handout are excellent resources for students.

Other Actions That Build an Inclusive Practice

  • Create and promote a non-discrimination policy.
    Be sure your policy includes non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Ensure that it applies to all individuals, including students, parents/guardians/caregivers, employees, vendors, and your professional network.
  • Conduct a content audit.
    Are your forms, resources, and photos inclusive of all identities and family structures? Do you use inclusive language in your online content and communication with families?
  • Ask for chosen or preferred name, rather than nickname.
    A nickname can be informal or trivial, whereas a trans student’s chosen name is a vital affirmation of their identity. To be inclusive of trans students, use the term chosen name or preferred name, or simply ask “What would you like me to call you?”
  • Don’t require, or even request, a person’s legal name.
    A trans person’s legal name may be dysphoric for them. Only ask for it when absolutely necessary, such as on applications that will need to match the student’s high school or medical records.
  • Avoid “othering” trans and non-binary people when requesting pronouns.
    When requesting pronouns from clients, provide a blank line where each respondent may fill in their own answer. This is preferable to trying to list all possible pronouns and avoids minimizing the identity of someone who might otherwise have selected “Other.”
  • Don’t make sharing pronouns compulsory.
    A student may feel unsafe sharing their pronouns, especially in a group setting. Likewise, someone who is struggling to determine their true identity after years of hiding it may not be ready to share definitive pronouns. Make sharing an option, not a requirement. Use the person’s name when referring to them until they share their pronouns or you can ask privately.

Safer Spaces Start with Us

Establishing an inclusive practice for LGBTQIA+ students and families requires that we continue to learn and grow. The resulting strength of our personal and professional relationships, and the joy of a well-supported and well-advised student, remind us why the effort is worth it.

By Suzanne Lewis, M.Ed., founder & CEO of Meridian Educational Consulting LLC. As an active Professional member of IECA, she serves on the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee, was a 2021 Summer Training Institute (STI) faculty member, and co-founded the LGBTQIA+ and Allies Affinity Group with Chris Andersson.

Resources for Further Study

Many local and national organizations provide resources and education for you or your constituents:

PFLAG – With over 400 chapters across the country, PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.

GLSEN – Their mission is to ensure that every member of every K-12 school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Provides student programs, advocacy, research, and policy work.

The Trevor Project – The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Also offers resources and education for people working with LGBTQ youth.

  • Read the report from their 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

It Gets Better Project – Their mission is to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. Offers inspiring content and mental health tools.

Campus Pride – The leading organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students. Known for the Campus Pride Index database of LGBTQ-friendly campuses, they offer a myriad of other resources for college students and those building college lists.

The Williams Institute – The leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. Ensures that facts—not stereotypes—inform laws, policies, and judicial decisions that affect the LGBT community.

  • Published a report in May 2022 on the “Experiences of LGBTQ People in Four-Year Colleges and Graduate Programs.”