ACPA & NASPA Annual Conferences: A 30-Year Retrospective on LGBTQ Presentations

ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness began from a collaborative idea at the 1983 convention. More than 30 years later, SCLGBTA is thriving in its commitment to mobilize members of ACPA – College Student Educators International to build community, empower advocacy, and advance knowledge with people of all genders and sexualities. This Developments series celebrates 30 years of LGBTQ issues and identities in student affairs from three perspectives: administration, research, and association. Each essay explores the history and current status of LGBTQ individuals in higher education, providing insights into current and future advocacy.

The inclusion of LGBTQ persons in higher education practices, policies, and support is arguably at its strongest in the history of student affairs.  The influence is undoubtedly indebted to the work of practitioners and scholars who provide an oftentimes-unpopular voice for historically marginalized communities on our college campuses (Marine, 2011).  ACPA – College Student Educators International and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education are the leading associations that advance the student affairs profession. ACPA’s (2013) mission states that the association supports student learning and development through the generation and dissemination of new knowledge. As described in the 2011-2014 NASPA Strategic Plan (2013), the aim of the association is to support excellence in practice and change the landscape of higher education.

As the two leading associations for student affairs professionals, ACPA and NASPA are in great positions to set standards of practice for LGBTQ scholars and leaders in higher education.  ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness (SCLGBTA) has been officially recognized since 2002. Similarly, NASPA’s GLBT Issues Knowledge Community (GLBTKC) has officially supported LGBTQ scholarship and practitioners since 2006 (Marine, 2011).  The inclusion of LGBTQ identities and research has been a part of these organizations since the 1980s, but as a community of student affairs practitioners and scholars we have not yet identified the growth of these trends over the last 30 years.


The purpose of this study is to examine the trends over the past 30 years for LGBTQ presentations at ACPA and NASPA annual international conferences. The following questions guide our study:

  1. What is the total number of LGBTQ programs that ACPA and NASPA have included in their annual international conferences? What is the percentage of LGBTQ programs for the total program?
  2. Within LGBTQ programs, what percentage are presentations, social, or other types?
  3. Within LGBTQ presentations, what percentages did structural units sponsor? To what extent do structural units within ACPA and NASPA promote or inhibit LGBTQ presentations?

As our conception of LGBTQ identities are becoming more complex we must ensure we are responding with inclusive programs and research to support the LGBTQ communities on our campuses and in the field.  Our findings provide a direction for practitioners and scholars to continue to advance LGBTQ scholarship and programs at future ACPA and NASPA conferences.


Data for this study come from annual international conference program books for ACPA and NASPA from 1984-2013. NASPA and ACPA hosted joint conferences in 1987, 1997, and 2007, of which program books were shared. Program books were mailed from the National Student Affairs Archives at Bowling Green State University.

Upon receiving all program books, we selected programs of all types (presentation, social, other) related to LGBTQ identities and issues. We determined a program involved LGBTQ themes if the abstract and/or title included any of the following words: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, sexuality, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, trans*, sexual minority, gender minority, and LGBTQ (in any order). All LGBTQ programs were entered into a shared database where we recorded the association, year, program type, program number, sponsorship, title, abstract, author(s), and author(s) institution(s). We also tracked the total number of programs for each conference.

Our ability to identify LGBTQ-related programs was limited to examining only the program titles and abstracts. It is possible that other programs may have included LGBTQ themes but were not identifiable from the program books.


We first determined the total number of LGBTQ programs that ACPA and NASPA have included in their annual conferences. From these numbers, we calculated the percentage of LGBTQ programs for the total program offering. Figure 1 represents the total number of LGBTQ programs at ACPA and NASPA since 1984. Figure 2 offers the percentage of LGBTQ programs from the total program offerings at both ACPA and NASPA. Throughout 1984-2013, there were a total of 200 LGBTQ-related programs at NASPA. This total represents 2.38% of the total 8,420 programs. Within ACPA, there have been 567 LGBTQ-related programs since 1984. Of the 16,994 total programs, this represents 3.34% of the offerings. Combining both conferences, the total number of LGBTQ-related programs from 1984-2013 was 818, representing 2.98% of all 27,410 programs (including ACPA/NASPA joint conferences in 1987, 1997, and 2007).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Total Number of LGBTQ Programs

Figure 2

Figure 2. Percentage of LGBTQ Programs

We classified all LGBTQ offerings in three broad groupings: presentations, social, or other. Presentations included traditional presentations and workshops, papers, roundtables, posters, extended length programs, pre-conference presentations and workshops, idea breaks, suite programs, symposia, institutes, and panels. Social programs included events, meal outings, cabaret, choir, and receptions. We placed all other programs into a third category (e.g., meetings, facilities, drop-in center, and registration). Figure 3 presents the total percentage of LGBTQ programs by type. Across all LGBTQ programs, there were 590 presentations (72.13%), 60 social (7.33%), and 168 other types (20.54%).

Figure 3

Figure 3. Total Percentage of LGBTQ Programs by Type

To examine the extent with which structural units within ACPA and NASPA promote or inhibit LGBTQ presentations, we determined the percentage of LGBTQ presentations that were sponsored by LGBTQ structural units (e.g., ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness, NASPA’s GLBT Issues Knowledge Community), other structural units (e.g., ACPA’s Standing Committees and Commissions, NASPA’s Knowledge Communities), and those not sponsored. From 1984-2013, 236 LGBTQ presentations (40%) were sponsored by LGBTQ structural units. For the remaining LGBTQ presentations, 52 (8.81%) were sponsored by other structural units, and 302 (51.19%) were not sponsored.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Total Percentage of LGBQT Presentations by Sponsorship


Results from the analyses help to examine the national landscape of ACPA and NASPA in regards to LGBTQ-focused programs. Findings are organized by our research questions and discussed below.

Figure 1 displays the total number of LGBTQ programs from 1984 – 2013. When compared to the independent ACPA and NASPA conferences, there were substantially fewer LGBTQ programs during the joint conferences, particularly during 2007. In recent years, ACPA has increasingly supported a greater number of programs about LGBTQ people. As ACPA serves a large volume of higher education practitioners, the increase in LGBTQ programming may be attributed to a recent focus on LGBTQ people by higher education administrators (Marine, 2011). Findings must be taken with caution because it is not known how many LGBTQ program proposals were submitted in recent years compared to all conference proposals.

ACPA and NASPA programs reflected societal trends of some LGBTQ inclusion in the 1990s (Renn, 2010; Tierney & Dilley, 1998), witnessing a slight decrease in the beginning of the 21st century. This increase in programming in the 1990s may also be attributed to queer theory (Jagose, 1997) as a new theoretical lens to examine LGBTQ student experiences. More attention to services for LGBTQ students may have also created an increase in LGBTQ programs. In the mid- and late-1990s, Ronni Sanlo created the first Lavender Graduation, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) developed its first LGBT program standards, and the Consortium of LGBT Resource Professionals in Higher Education was founded in 1997. Figure 2 demonstrates that despite ACPA having more total programs than NASPA, both conferences have similar proportions of LGBTQ programs.

Figure 3 outlines the breakdown of LGBTQ programs by type. Given the total number of programs, the amount of presentations overwhelmingly outnumbered social and other program types. These findings illustrate both ACPA and NASPA’s commitment to educational and research-driven support for the LGBTQ community. Social events for the LGBTQ community were not included in early ACPA and NASPA conferences. Inclusion of these events in later years demonstrates the importance of building community among members who identify as LGBTQ.

ACPA’s SCLGBTA and NASPA’s GLBTKC both provide avenues for supporting LGBTQ scholarship-based practice and community among student affairs professionals. Identity- and function-based entities (e.g., Standing Committees, Knowledge Communities, Commissions) have the opportunity to sponsor presentations during the annual conferences. Figure 4 outlines the proportion of LGBTQ presentations sponsored by either SCLGBTA or GLBTKC. Sponsorship by other entities within the last decade is virtually none.

As evidence by Figure 4, LGBTQ presentation sponsorship has decreased dramatically over the last six years. We suggest two possibilities for this trend: (1) the LGBTQ community established a foundation where formal sponsorship and support is no longer needed, or (2) the focus of the LGBTQ sponsorship is narrow and many presentations do not fall under these categories. In the first possibility, it indicates the LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted and there is no longer need to specifically sponsor or support these presentations. Possibility two presents concerns; if sponsored LGBTQ presentations are declining because topics are too narrowly focused, then scholarship and advocacy for LGBTQ students is at risk of becoming isolated and detached from other topics in higher education. Although program sponsorship implies support and promotion for LGBTQ individuals, lack of sponsorship does not necessarily mean inhibiting or lack of support. As such, these findings should be taken with that consideration.


Findings from this study point to important implications for conference proceedings and student affairs practice. Most centrally is the importance of recognizing the substantial increase of LGBTQ programs at both ACPA and NASPA from 1984 to 2013. Such a large growth demonstrates a central priority for LGBTQ people in student services research and practitioner reflection. Given the focus on intersecting identities in the past decade (Abes, Jones, & McEwen, 2007), student affairs presenters must push themselves to embrace a more complex examination of LGBTQ people in higher education. This complexity should acknowledge not only myriad social identities with which people identify, but also the breadth of functional areas in higher education and student affairs.

Findings from our study demonstrate the need to closely examine the role, functioning, and purpose of LGBTQ-related entity groups within ACPA and NASPA. To what extent do they isolate LGBTQ practice reflections and excuse other entities from not promoting similar work? Should these LGBTQ-related entity groups advocate for more program sponsorship? Moving forward, future publications should more closely examine these LGBTQ programs to determine salient and common themes across student affairs practitioner competencies and functional areas.


Both ACPA and NASPA are the leading associations in advancing scholarship and practice within student affairs. Both associations have a central mission for supporting a changing landscape of higher education that facilitates greater understanding of student development and learning. Findings from this study demonstrated the evolution of LGBTQ identities and experiences over the past 30 years for both ACPA and NASPA. Given these findings, it is evident that the profession of student affairs is embracing LGBTQ people in higher education as an integral facet of college and university contexts.  From here, scholars and practitioners can continue to advance LGBTQ inclusion by assessing policies on their campus and continue to advance discussions at ACPA and NASPA that advance our awareness of LGBTQ campus climate, student development, intersecting identities, and important trends among our LGBTQ communities in higher education.

Discussion Questions

  1. Trends indicate greater acceptance of LGBTQ identities at ACPA and NASPA.  How do these trends compare to LGBTQ inclusion on your campus? What areas need support and what resources are needed to implement LGBTQ inclusive change?
  2. How can you promote continued involvement with LGBTQ practices at ACPA and NASPA among colleagues at your institution?  How can you and your campus administrators foster LGBTQ inclusion on your campus to encourage involvement with LGBTQ education and practice?
  3. How might you utilize ACPA and NASPA to support your endeavors to create inclusive spaces on campus? What resources on your campus would you identify to help create more inclusive LGBTQ spaces?


Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & McEwen, M. K. (2007). Reconceptualizing the model of multiple dimensions of identity: The role of meaning-making capacity in the construction of multiple identities. Journal of College Student Development, 48(1), 1-22.

ACPA: College Student Educators International (2013). Mission. Retrieved from

Jagose, A.R. (1997). Queer theory: An introduction. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Marine, S. B. (2011). Stonewall’s Legacy: Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender students in higher education: AEHE (Vol. 152). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (2013). Strategic plan. Retrieved from

Renn, K. A. (2010). LGBT and queer research in higher education: The state and status of the field. Educational Researcher, 8(2), 132-141.  doi: 10.3102/0013189X10362579

Tierney, W. G., & Dilley, P. (1998). Constructing knowledge: Educational research and Gay and Lesbian studies. In W. Pinar (Ed.), Queer theory in education (pp. 49-71). Princeton, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishing.

About the Authors

Jason C. Garvey is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at The University of Alabama and a Research Associate with Campus Pride’s Q Research Institute for Higher Education. He is the recipient of the 2014 AERA Queer Studies SIG Scholar-Activist Dissertation of the Year Award. Dr. Garvey’s research explores issues related to campus and classroom climate, philanthropy and fundraising for higher education alumni, and LGBTQ individuals.  Prior to his faculty appointment, he worked in student services across a variety of functional areas, including academic advising, LGBTQ student advocacy, undergraduate research, residence life, and assessment. Dr. Garvey currently serves as Director of Education for the Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness and is on the Commission for Professional Preparation Directorate, both within ACPA.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jason C. Garvey.

Jonathan T. Pryor is a doctoral candidate of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri.  He also serves as the Coordinator for LGBTQIA Programs & Services at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where his work focuses on LGBTQ education, outreach, resources, and student development.  Jonathan’s research explores LGBTQ campus climate and student leadership and experiences of LGBTQ students.   

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan T. Pryor.

Shonteria Johnson is a doctoral student in the Higher Education program in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at The University of Alabama. She currently serves as a Doctoral Research Assistant for the Higher Education program.

Please e-mail inquiries to Shonteria Johnson.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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