Johanna deLeyer-Tiarks sits at her desk, pen in hand and taking notes while talking with a colleague. There is a lamp and a laptop computer on her desk.
Johanna deLeyer-Tiarks, PhD, is an assistant professor in the School Psychology program whose research centers on interventions to promote social-emotional, behavioral and academic success.

A new theoretical framework outlines best practices school psychologists can use to help LGBTQ+ youth prepare for college

Transitioning from high school to college is difficult for many adolescents, but those who belong to the LGBTQ+ community struggle more than most, resulting in disproportionately poor academic, behavioral, social and emotional outcomes. Yet, according to Johanna deLeyer-Tiarks, PhD, assistant professor of school psychology in the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology, no scholar has ever developed a theoretical framework to help correct the disparities faced by LGBTQ+ youth who are navigating the high school to college transition. As a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, Dr. deLeyer-Tiarks began evaluating the literature surrounding LGBTQ+ youth in the context of school psychology, her specialty, and noticed a startling omission. “People had been applying isolated solutions to the problem, but those were just Band-Aids,” she said. “There was no unified theory that considered all the specific challenges this population faces.” In collaboration with fellow student Hao-Jan Luh, PhD, now an assistant professor at Rowan University, Dr. deLeyer-Tiarks decided she needed to fill the gap.

Since 2017, the pair have worked to create a framework that school psychologists can use to set LGBTQ+ youth up for success in college. They invited Frances Mandracchia, MA ’22, an Adelphi graduate student at the time, to present “Framework for Evaluating LGBTQ Students’ High School to College Transition” at the annual meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. deLeyer-Tiarks had previously worked with Mandracchia on the Adelphi Pride Committee. “His promise as an emerging scholar,” she said, made him the ideal candidate to serve as the face of the project on a national level.

The framework relies on the integration of three theories: first, minority stress theory, which posits that LGBTQ+ people experience distinct stressors as a result of their minority identity; second, social capital theory, which asserts that social connections, such as support from family and a robust friend group, are necessary to function effectively in society; and third, college readiness, a composite of different behavioral variables that acknowledges the importance of motivation for students adjusting to college (a cognitive trait often lacking among LGBTQ+ youth). From there, Drs. deLeyer-Tiarks and Luh identified four areas—peer, family, school and individual characteristics—that school psychologists can target to design and implement culturally informed best practices.

The next step, Dr. deLeyer-Tiarks reports, is to put their framework to the test. “Before we run trainings or publish in practitioner-oriented materials, we want to be completely sure these interventions and assessments do what they’re supposed to do,” she said. “But it’s clear that LGBTQ+ students are much less well prepared for college than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts, and we want to do something about that.”

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