Navigating conflict over Thanksgiving Break


GVL / Meghan Landgren

Emma Armijo, Staff Writer

Thanksgiving break is nearly upon Grand Valley State University students, and many are returning home to connect with their friends and family. Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday meant for gathering with the people they care about most. However, politics coming up around the dinner table are a cause of worry for many families. For some GVSU communities, going home for Thanksgiving can create difficult or uncomfortable situations when political differences arise. 

Marla Wick, director of the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center at GVSU, said these occurrences are actually quite common. People with different world views and experiences coming together often produces some kind of conflict or difference of opinion, so a situation where a student and their family have different points of view happens frequently.

Wick said that these conflicts of interest aren’t mutually exclusive to those in the LGBTQ community, politics around the table at Thanksgiving is something that generally most people will experience. 

“We always hear about the dinner conversations between people of different political and ideological orientations in addition to just the inevitable clashes of personality that can pop up in any group,” Wick said. “For many LGBTQIA+ college students, especially in their first year, this holiday can be the first time when they are back with communities and families-of-origin after spending a few months away, and that can be stressful for many reasons.” 

Wick said students must remember to take care of themselves and their mental health as it is very important in times of adversity, and can be helpful to practice if things get political. Wick advises staying connected with supportive friends and family as a strategy to try to get through the frustrating situations that might arise. 

“It’s important to practice excellent self-care, to set and maintain boundaries as much as possible, and to stay connected with affirming communities and resources,” Wick said. 

GVSU strives to foster an accepting and supportive community where students feel comfortable to express themselves; be that through their gender or sexual identity, political or religious beliefs or by celebrating their culture. For some students, returning home for Thanksgiving means returning to a community that isn’t supportive.

GVSU senior Allison Riley said going home for Thanksgiving means hiding their real feelings and orientation because some of their family doesn’t know or accept their identity.

“There are some hard conversations for me because I’m not out to half of my family so they don’t use the right pronouns, so I essentially have to go back in the closet,” Riley said. “I know this is the norm for a lot of LGBT college students who feel freer to be themselves at college.”

Riley said one point of conflict is the double standard around bringing significant others to holiday events for people in the LGBTQ community. 

“I also know of people whose straight siblings are more encouraged to bring their partners to family Thanksgivings, but when they bring their partners it’s awkward or their parents refer to them as their ‘friend’ instead of their girlfriend, boyfriend or partner,” Riley said.

GVSU offers events for students who don’t feel they have a supportive or safe environment to go home to over the holiday weekend. To learn more about Thanksgiving events on campus, visit the GVSU website under the “Events” tab.

The Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, and The University Counseling Center offer support to any and all students at GVSU, should they want it.