Journal Club #7: S. J. Ellis, Diversity and inclusivity at university: a survey of the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) students in the UK, Higher Education, 2009, 57, 723 – 739.
A recent conversation led me on the trail of looking to see what literature exists on issues around transition from school to college for LGBT students. The answer, briefly, is very little. Most studies on LGBT issues in college are based in the US, and most of these appear to be relate to staff rather than students. One paper that came close is this one, examining campus climate in 42 UK universities by surveying students.
The entire topic is fraught with difficulties. As the paper states, it is difficult to determine if there is under-representation (or if there is a greater dropout rates) of LGBT students as we don’t have any population information; either of each year’s class (or indeed of the population as a whole). Therefore, it is difficult to state if there is a problem at all. However, given there is data at second level, regarding greater levels of truancy, early exit and underachievement at second level, it seems a logical statement that there is at the very least cause for monitoring third level, although LGBT students are not typically included under the “widening participation” umbrella. In addition, college is often the first time students are not living at home, and are free from constraints of second level and parents.
The study sampled 291 self-selected LGBT students, mostly undergraduate, from 42 HE institutions in the UK. The survey consisted 25 questions covering four themes: actual harassment, perceptions of campus climate, campus climate and outness, and LGBT inclusiveness.
About 1/4 of students surveyed had experienced actual harassment, consisting of derogatory remarks, threats of violence or verbal abuse, pressure to conceal, and a small number of actual physical assault. This was mostly perpetrated by other students, with a very small number of academic staff (4.4%) and other staff involved. Some particularly unpleasant scenarios are reported, perpetrated by members of religious groups/societies. In another case involving staff, presenters at an LGBT stand were asked not to make the stand “too overt”. Remarks in this category were most frequent with other people, followed by friends, followed by academic staff.
Perception of Campus Climate
Just under 2 in 5 students surveyed considered that they thought anti-LGBT issues existed to some extent on campus, although only a small amount felt that an LGBT person was likely to be harassed on campus. Male respondents were significantly more likely to think this, suggesting that most harassment is directed to this group.
Campus Climate and Outness
4 out of 5 students agreed that they felt comfortable being out on campus, although half conceal their sexual identity to certain groups to avoid the threat of harassment. 2 in 5 avoid revealing to an academic staff member or tutor for fear of negative consequences.
Opinion was evenly split as to whether universities addressed campus issues relating to inclusiveness. Less than 1 in 5 agreed that LGBT issues were adequately dealt with in the curriculum.
Summary and discussion
Overall the study is reasonably positive, with data suggesting that homophobia is not overwhelming, but is prevalent. The question that arises for me is what extent do universities as institutions and in terms of lecturing/tutoring staff be involved in representing LGBT issues in terms of dedicated LGBT support, in terms of curricula, and in terms of creating a more accepting, more mature culture. I do feel that institutions pass the buck somewhat is allowing LGBT societies take up much of the support work needed. In reality, change will only come, and more research on this topic will only emerge, if LGBT students are included in the diversity umbrella, and hence have a link with the funding of institutions.