The LGBTQ Mentors Program provides a unique resource for MSU students, offering one-on-one support and creating a safe space for both mentors and mentees. The program launched during fall 2015 under the initiative of former Queer Straight Alliance President Alex Paterson and the Diversity Awareness Office. “It’s a really important resource that this campus didn’t have at the time,” said Ryan Erickson, who is running the mentoring program this year. He added that while there were existing resources for LGBTQ students, they could always use more. “Although [students] might find a lot of social events through QSA or something like that, they might need some one-on-one time and someone to help guide them and navigate MSU as an LGBTQ individual.”
Erickson served as a mentor last year. He is the Graduate Assistant for Student Support in the Diversity Awareness Office and is working toward his master’s degree in the Department of Adult and Higher Education. He plans to work in university administration.
Last year, close to 30 people were involved in the LGBTQ Mentoring Program. “We typically have more mentors than we need, which is absolutely preferred over not having enough,” Erickson said. Individuals, preferably LGBTQ individuals, who are faculty members, graduate students, upperclassmen or otherwise involved at the university are eligible to be mentors. Erickson explained that they must have “a desire to make a difference for someone else, while hopefully having that mentee make a difference for them as well.”
Mentors receive training to help them build positive relationships with their mentees. This year, the training will take place during October. According to Erickson, it is a way to be sure that all mentors are on the same page and to “make sure they know about resources they can access in case a question is asked from their mentee and they don’t have the qualifications to fulfill that request.”
While mentors might meet and interact with each other at training or other events, the program is anonymous for mentees. This is a way for students who are not publicly out to comfortably utilize the program. “Students can feel safe using this program as a resource so they don’t have to move faster than they’re comfortable with,” Erickson said. The lists of mentors aned mentees are not public; mentors only know who their own mentee is. This year, Erickson plans to organize events for participants who want to get to know other mentors and mentees, but they will be optional.
Mentees are hand-matched with mentors by Erickson based on their responses to a questionnaire, asking what will help to pair them with a mentor and what part of the LGBTQ community they are involved with, among other questions. “Some mentees might prefer certain qualities in a mentor, and I want to make sure that I am, to the best of my ability, fulfilling those requests for people,” Erickson said. “Maybe it’s not just about being LGBT. Maybe it’s about being an LGBT student, on this campus specifically or in Bozeman specifically … Maybe we want to match them up with someone who intersects in a similar way they do. Maybe their ability status differs from some of the other requests that we have, so we want to make sure they’re matched with a mentor who can fulfil those needs as well and can help them navigate MSU as an LGBTQ disabled student.”
Erickson explained that each mentor-mentee relationship is unique. “Just as long as they’re staying within appropriate guidelines and getting the most out of it that they can, there are not too many constraints as long as it’s a healthy relationship,” he said. This can be both as support or as an academic resource, depending on the needs of the student. Whatever the case, the program aims to be beneficial for both mentors and mentees. “The people who have participated so far have found in whatever way something positive from this program,” Erickson said.
On Oct. 11, the Diversity Awareness Office will host an event for Coming Out Day, which will feature an info fair for organizations to educate students about their LGBTQ resources as well as an interactive six-by-six foot chalk mural. The mural will be set up in a color-by-number format with a theme related to Coming Out Day. Erickson is currently accepting submissions for a mural design through Sept. 30 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get involved with the LGBTQ Mentors Program, students can go to montana.edu/diversity. Applications for both mentors and mentees can accessed by clicking on the LGBTQ Mentors tab on the banner.