An LGBTQ+ student’s experience being in a ‘straight’ major

By Lindsey Mulrooney

I can count the number of LGBTQIA+ (I standing for intersex and A standing for asexual) business majors I know on one hand. If you were to ask me to name only the business students who are comfortably out on campus, the number would drop significantly. To be honest, that number might actually be zero — including myself. I am an active member of the LGBTQIA+ community on campus. It’s a running joke in our meetings that I am one of the “rare” business majors, but it’s true. I have only met a few other business majors who identify as part of the community, and even fewer who actively engage with LGBTQIA+ programming and organizations on campus. While it’s funny to mock how “straight” my major is, after years of feeling isolated from my peers within the university, I’ve started to wonder why so many of us feel this way. 

I came out to my family as bisexual in my senior year of high school, but my freshman year at Rider was the first time I was publicly out. While I proudly joined Spectrum, attended the LGBTQIA+ Dessert Welcome Reception and signed up for Spectrum Mentoring, I still remained hesitant to share any details about my sexuality within an academic setting. There is something about the business environment that makes me silence the proud voice I’ve cultivated for myself over many difficult years. 

I want to be clear that I have never faced outright discrimination, harassment or bullying related to my sexuality from any of my peers or faculty and staff within the college of business. I am proud to be a student of the Norm Brodsky College of Business, and the college has provided more opportunities than I could have ever anticipated. I am also an advocate for Rider as a generally welcoming and supportive university for LGBTQIA+ students. 

However, there is a sense of discomfort that seems to surround the topic of queerness within the college of business. The LGBTQIA+ students I know often express to me that they do not feel comfortable discussing their sexuality with their fellow business majors, faculty or in the classroom. Even my heterosexual friends who consider themselves allies awkwardly avoid the topic of conversation, often citing fears of offending others. Sometimes, when I’ve discussed this feeling with other students, I have gotten a response similar to “Well, is your sexuality really relevant to business or your major?” I suppose, from an outside perspective, it may not seem to be. But our identities are inextricably tied to the way we relate to the world and, therefore, our majors and careers.

The apparent tendency to shy away from these topics, in my opinion, is a dangerous one. A 2018 international research report commissioned by Vodafone from research firm Out Now found that 41% of 18-25-year-olds went “back into the closet” when they started their first job. Additionally, 58% of young LGBT+ people reported that they are not out about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work because they worry they will face discrimination from managers and colleagues. I did the very same thing this past summer. At my internship, I specifically avoided the topic of my sexuality in the workplace out of fear of discrimination or embarrassment. At orientation, when my colleagues and I were sharing what we had done over the weekend, I lied about my weekend and omitted that I attended my first Pride in Asbury Park. 

The question is not whether LGBTQIA+ students studying business feel isolated. The answer to that question is a resounding yes, proven by every queer business student I’ve met within my time at Rider. The real question is: how can we address this isolation and support these students, and why exactly is it important?

Colleges are the pipeline to our careers, especially in business. Creating an environment in which LGBTQIA+ students are empowered and secure in their identities and recognizing how they relate to the workplace is essential, as is educating students both inside and outside of the community on how these identities and issues interrelate with their areas of study and future experiences within the business industry. 

According to the 2018 report from Vodafone and Out Now, 83% of LGBTQIA+ employees said that clear and visible signs from managers that they take LGBTQIA+ inclusion seriously are important in helping them to feel comfortable being out or open at work. Also, 83% of these employees would prefer to work for an employer that has visible LGBTQIA+ leaders, friends, allies and supporters.

As of right now, there is only one name on the Rider SafeZone Allies list whose primary role is centered within the Norm Brodsky College of Business — Patricia Adams. While there are some SafeZone stickers among the offices in Sweigart Hall, they are few and far between. In my personal experience, though limited to my major and particular academic pathway, few professors or students are open supporters, resources and allies to our LGBTQIA+ students.

A good place to start would be creating more significant visibility among our faculty and staff within the college of business who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or are allies, incorporating education and programming demonstrating a commitment to education on LGBTQIA+ issues and resources for LGBTQIA+ students, greater inclusion of LGBTQIA+ students and topics within the classroom when relevant and significant work to shift the culture toward empowerment and support of LGBTQIA+ students in business. 

While this could start within the Norm Brodsky College of Business, it also includes professors, faculty, staff and students like me. Changing the culture of a university is difficult and takes time. Our individual choices and actions are much more significant than we realize. 

I know that in my college experience, the out, proud and accepting students and faculty are the ones who have empowered me to be comfortable with my identity and aware of its role in my academic and professional life. Being a queer business major can be isolating, but it shouldn’t have to be — and it’s something we can change.

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