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Behind the Scenes: Promoting Community and Building Confidence among LGBTQIA+ College Students through Playfulness and Story Sharing

Community Womxn in Student Affairs
September 28, 2021

Behind the Scenes: Promoting Community and Building Confidence among LGBTQIA+ College Students through Playfulness and Story Sharing    

Cameron Thomas Whitley, Angela Wismar and Alexander Iffland

As children, we engage in play to explore and synthesize identity. As adults we are told that play is a child’s game even as we continue to explore and take on new identities. Reviewing survey responses from our LGBTQIA+ students we noticed three consistent themes. Students discussed feeling isolated and lacking confidence in their identities, having a desire to make friends, and wanting to have fun, or, as one student noted, “I want to play like children play. I want to try on an apron with a top hat. I want to do this as Dan or Dolly or both and I want to feel that wherever I land I will be okay.”

It is from this student’s quote that the inspiration to introduce “play” programming was drawn. This led us to ask: How do we create innovative programs that are playful, connect students to each other and build confidence?

We began by reviewing the literature on play behavior, programing, and identity formation. Much of this literature resides within discussions of childhood development. All of it points to the importance of play in navigating identity, especially for those from underrepresented groups. We took key elements from this literature to create programming with frequent, consistent times and locations and minimal structured programming.   

What resulted were three student-initiated programs: Beyond the Binary, Lunch and Legos and The Filming Your Identity Project. Beyond the binary was a weekly board game group for trans and non-binary students. A facilitator was present to pose questions and topics for discussion as games were played. Lunch and Legos was also a weekly group open to all LGBTQIA+ students to eat lunch and play with Legos. The Filming Your Identity Project was held at the public broadcasting studio and gave students the opportunity to learn about film production while exploring a part of their identity.

Attendance in all programs steadily increased and students often remarked about the programs as a key place for developing friendships, expressing their identities, and having fun. Beyond reaching the stated goals, these programs also became places for students to problem solve and get support around things like coming out to parents, transitioning, and navigating school and work environments.  

Learn more in this issue of JWG!


In this article we explore the importance of play in promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives especially among LGBTQIA+ college students. We detail three student initiated interventions. Beyond the Binary, which was a social support gaming group for transgender and non-binary students involving game play and conversation. Lunch and LEGOs was an open group for LGBTQIA+ students and allies to eat lunch and have conversation while playing with LEGOs, and the Filming Your Identity Project involved partnering with the local Public Broadcasting Service to engage students in creating videos that showcased their identities. We argue that not only were these programs enjoyable, but they created an opportunity for students to explore new identities in a low-stakes and fun environment, while also building community.

Read more at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/26379112.2021.1949601