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Queer People of Color in Higher Education

reviewed by Andrés Castro Samayoa - October 19, 2018

coverTitle: Queer People of Color in Higher Education
Author(s): Joshua Moon Johnson & Gabriel Javier (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681238810, Pages: 228, Year: 2017
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In September 2017, Spelman College, a Historically Black College in Atlanta, GA, issued a public statement affirming its identity as “a Historically Black College whose mission is to serve high-achieving Black women,” and that starting in Fall 2018, it would “consider for admission women students including students who consistently live and self-identify as women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth” (Campbell, 2017). The decision was the result of months of discussions organized by Spelman’s Transgender Policy Task Force, which included current students, alumnae, faculty, staff, and trustees. In recognizing the importance of trans* women’s pursuit of welcoming collegiate environments within HBCUs, Spelman’s update to its admissions policies serves as a timely reminder of the value in advancing institutional policies that explicitly affirm the experiences of students seeking collegiate contexts where their multiple identities are recognized and supported.

In the spirit of advancing scholarship that offers administrators the tools to cultivate these welcoming environments, Joshua Moon Johnson and Gabriel Javier’s Queer People of Color in Higher Education serves as a timely contribution to the growing body of work centering the experiences of those whose multiple identities along vectors of ethnoracial, gender, and sexual differences are often rendered invisible in scholarly undertakings.

Curating the contributions of 18 authors across 12 separate chapters, Johnson and Javier offer a volume that gives readers a wide survey of topics affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) collegians of color. From students’ leadership development as highlighted in Annemarie Vaccaro and Ryan A. Miller’s chapter to the specific tensions of multiple identities faced by international LGBTQ+ students in the chapter authored by Hoa N. Nguyen, Ashish Agrawal, and Erika L. Grafsky, this collection offers an eclectic overview of contemporary aspects of queer students of color’s lives that researchers and practitioners must continue to center in their scholarship and practice. The editors’ intent, as expressed in their introduction to the volume, is to offer readers opportunities to contextualize the challenges that LGBTQ+ students of color face within diversity work in higher education institutions; provide insights into specific identity development patterns within queer people of color (QPOC) communities; describe the needs of LGBTQ+ people of color; explore intersectionality and move it from theory to practice; discuss the specific challenges of queer communities across the spectrum of gender identity and expressions; and provide a list of foundational and emerging resources (pp. 3-4). Indeed, the editors are right to point out that all of these various goals are individually addressed across the chapters, and also rightly acknowledge that no one collection can serve as a definitive volume to capture the complexities of the embodied experiences and institutional challenges faced by queer students of color.

Importantly, not all of the entries in this collection focus on students’ experiences. Vaccaro and Miller’s chapter offers a pointed reminder for faculty by noting how the six students in their phenomenological study felt that “it was their duty to create family-like counterspaces on campus” for others with their shared identities as queer students of color (p. 207). The authors accurately point out that the work of cultivating welcoming spaces “must not fall squarely on the shoulders of students. Faculty and staff should work to institutionalize counterspaces for queer people of color.” Indeed, another chapter in this collection authored by Danielle Aguilar and Joshua Moon Johnson explicitly focuses on the critical role that queer faculty and staff of color play within their institutions. Yet, their findings further illustrate that inhospitable collegiate environments affect students, faculty, and staff alike. By drawing attention to the sense of fatigue resulting from experiencing a “double burden” and consistent microaggressions articulated by a cohort of 18 campus professionals and faculty in their study (p. 64), Aguilar and Johnson remind us that the collaborative effort to improve environments for queer people of color on campuses is critically necessary to ensure the wellbeing of all community members.

The editors were careful to curate chapters that drew attention to specific communities within the broader umbrella of LGBTQ+ individuals of color, noting that they “also aimed to have research focusing on Asian American queer students, South Asian queer students, multiracial queer students, and Native American queer students” (p. 4). Yet, they go on to say that “there is still a drastic lack of research looking into the experiences of specific populations within [queer students of color]” (p. 4). Thus, this volume works well in conjunction with other scholarship that does offer insights into the communities that are not highlighted in this particular collection (see, for example: Chan, 2017; King, 2011; Wilson & Laing, 2018).

Given the various phenomenological approaches highlighted across multiple chapters, this collection offers a valuable scholarly contribution, centering queer students’ voices and novel use of qualitative methodologies. T. J. Jourian’s chapter, in particular, articulates how “reflections of trans*masculine students of color divulge incredible insight into how the collusion of multiple systems of oppression come to shape their experiences and identities at the intersection of their marginalized and privileged identities” (p. 138). In drawing attention to students’ resources to contest, transform, and integrate multiple discourses of masculinity, Jourian offers a nuanced and complex depiction of trans*masculine students’ pathways and thresholds to articulate their masculinities for themselves and others. Jourian’s chapter is a particularly helpful resource to demonstrate how scholarship focused on work alongside students can honor the nuance with which students share their experiences with researchers.

Readers will not be surprised to find that many of the findings across the studies in Queer People of Color in Higher Education often depict the insidious and multiplicative effects of heterosexism, racism, and transphobia. Thus, I would have invited more chapters that also celebrate QPOC’s ability to thrive in collegiate environments beyond their resilience. This is the hope that many of us hold for the future of our collegiate environments, and contributions like this one curated by Johnson and Javier can steer us in that direction.




Chan, J. (2017). “Am I masculine enough?”: Queer Filipino college men and masculinity. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 54(1), 82–94.


Campbell, M. (2017, September 17). President’s letter to the community. Retrieved from: https://www.spelman.edu/about-us/office-of-the-president/letters-to-the-community/2017/09/05/spelman-admissions-and-enrollment-policy-update


King, A. R. (2011). Environmental influences on the development of female college students who identify as multiracial/biracial-bisexual/pansexual. Journal of College Student Development, 52(4), 440–455.


Wilson, A. & Laing, M. (2018). Queering indigenous education. In L. T. Smith, E. Tuck, & K. W. Yang (Eds.), Indigenous and decolonizing studies in education (pp. 131–145). New York, NY: Routledge.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 19, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22535, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 5:49:55 PM

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About the Author
  • Andrés Castro Samayoa
    Boston College
    E-mail Author
    ANDRÉS CASTRO SAMAYOA’s work aims to improve the experiences of students of color from under-resourced communities at colleges and universities with a specific focus on Minority Serving Institutions. His expertise includes the social history of large-scale datasets in post-secondary education; educational researchers' use of data to explore issues of diversity; and the institutionalization of services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender students. His work has been published in Teachers College Record, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, American Educational Research Journal, Educational Sciences, and he is the co-editor of Educational Challenges at Minority Serving Institutions (Routledge, 2017) and Contemporary Issues in Higher Education (Routledge, forthcoming)
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