ERIC Identifier: ED447841
Publication Date: 2000-03-00
Author: Leider, Steven
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Sexual Minorities on Community College Campuses. ERIC Digest.
Participants in the ongoing dialogue surrounding multiculturalism and
inclusiveness on community college campuses are beginning to incorporate the
topic of sexual minorities - lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT)
students - in the debate. This digest provides a review of current literature on
the topic. Notably absent in the literature is research specific to community
colleges; however, several publications have begun to address the topic of LGBT
OBSTACLES IN STUDYING LGBT STUDENTS
A number of problems
complicate the study of the LGBT student population. First, since there are no
data available on the number of LGBT students in American higher education, it
is impossible to determine the size or prevalence of the LGBT student population
on community college campuses. Current numbers are grounded in sociological
studies dating back more than 50 years. Second, an obstacle to be understood
when studying LGBT students is the identification of a population that, due to
social stigma, may not wish to be identified. Any study of sexual minorities
relies on self-reporting because, by definition, the "coming out" process is a
form of self-selection; those who do not come out are never included in research
efforts. Finally, this research is being conducted across a disparate set of
disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, political science, law, and
education, making comparisons difficult.
One reason for the paucity of study may be fear that faculty, staff, and
administrators who wish to study LGBT students may be perceived as gay (Leider,
1999). Often, such perceptions are more than just a damper on an academic
career; they can lead to the end of that career. According to Sanlo (1999), the
mere perception of faculty or staff as gay may result in termination of
employment in some states.
One area of concern to both researchers and the
higher education community is anti-gay violence and harassment. Research in this
area is complicated by the fact that many LGBT student victims fail to report
crimes of this nature to campus or legal authorities (Downey & Stage, 1999).
One researcher's response to this problem has been to study the perpetrators of
anti-gay violence and harassment instead of their victims (Franklin, 1998).
Anti-gay sentiment toward LGBT students by their fellow students is a subject
well represented in the educational literature on four-year institutions
(Reinhardt, 1997). Findings from the only study to examine anti-gay violence and
harassment on community college campuses (Franklin, 1998) indicate that the
problem is more widespread than previously thought. Franklin's anonymous survey,
conducted at six San Francisco Bay-area community colleges, indicated that of
the 484 respondents, 24 percent had engaged in verbal harassment of individuals
perceived to be gay or lesbian. Another 10 percent admitted to committing
physical violence or threats of violence against presumed gay men or lesbians.
In other words, more than 1 in 3 community college students had engaged in hate
speech or hate crimes on the six campuses studied.
Student development is another concern.
It is well documented that college students undergo significant measurable
change in factual knowledge, cognitive abilities, values, attitudes, and
psychosocial development (Chickering and Reisser, 1993). In addition to these
changes, LGBT students often undergo an additional and unique sexual identity
process. A series of discrete steps in the process of identity formation are
discernible. Cass's (1979) six-stage Theory of Homosexual Identity Formation
informs much of the present work in the field. Present day researchers theorize
five stages (Sanlo, 1998) while others identify four (Evans, Forney, and
Guido-DiBrito, 1998). Regardless of the number of stages posited, it is now
common to see students arriving at community colleges and four-year institutions
already in some stage of this developmental process and seeking the services of
student affairs professionals (Sanlo, 1998).
There are added challenges for those students whose identities are
complicated by multiple group membership or rejection of sexual labels. Students
of color who also happen to be sexual minorities are frequently confronted with
the problem of identifying with one or the other group. In their racial group
they may be subject to homophobic bigotry, while in their sexual identity group
they may have to deal with racism and prejudice (Wall, 1991). There are those
students, too, who engage in same-sex behavior but do not identify as gay,
lesbian, or bisexual, who reject sexual labels altogether but who nevertheless
experience confusion regarding their feelings and behaviors (Green, 1998). As
LGBT students undergo the process of sexual identity formation in largely
hostile community college environments, they may fail to persist to graduation
or they may exhibit other problems, thereby necessitating intervention by the
institution (Sanlo, 1998).
THE NEEDS OF LGBT STUDENTS
Many LGBT issues are common to
community college campuses and four-year institutions. One is the "commuter
campus syndrome." This syndrome, in which students attend classes but don't
become involved in campus life, contributes to students' inability to establish
relationships with LGBT peers or create a sense of LGBT community on campus
(Sanlo, 1998). LGBT students living off campus with parents are especially
affected, as are those working full- or part-time while attending college. Both
situations adversely affect students' ability to become involved in campus-based
A lack of institutional support services and inadequate opportunities to
interact with other LGBT students, faculty, and staff, may also play a
significant role in sexual minority students' failure to persist. Finally,
administrative barriers to the formation of LGBT student groups may interfere
with these students' abilities to form contacts and friendships. Typical of
these is the practice of some institutions of printing the home telephone
numbers of LGBT student group leaders in campus publications. For those students
who may not be "out" to family or friends, this is a violation of their privacy.
Making this information public may also leave these students vulnerable to
anti-gay telephone harassment as well (Sanlo, 1998).
Few studies concerning LGBT students on
community college campuses are being conducted. While we know little about these
students, we do know that they are being subjected to harassment and hate crimes
by their peers. Recent changes in state and federal law seem to indicate that
failure by community college administrators to protect these students may lead
to legal action against administrators and institutions. While a legal
discussion is beyond the scope of this digest, it is clear that LGBT community
college students have a set of needs that are clamoring for attention.
Two resources have become available to those
working with LGBT students at post-secondary educational institutions. Edited by
Ronni Sanlo in 1998, Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender
College Students: A Handbook for Faculty and Administrators is a practitioner's
handbook that compiles together forty essays written by researchers and
practitioners, who cover a broad range of topics pertinent to LGBT college
Improving campus life for LGBT students should begin with an assessment of
the current state of campus efforts. Nan Ottenritter (1998) has created an
"Institutional Assessment of Sexual Minority Status Checklist" containing twelve
assessment areas by which institution's leaders may judge whether it is meeting
its LGBT students' needs.
Cass, V. C. (1979). "Homosexual identity
formation: A theoretical model." Journal of Homosexuality, 4: 219-235.
Chickering, A.W.; Reisser, L. (1993) Education and identity. Second Edition.
San Francisco: Jossey Bass. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series.
(ED 423 498)
Downey, J. P., & Stage, F. K. (1999, January-February)." Hate crimes and
violence on college and university campuses." Journal of College Student
Development, 40 (1):3-9.
Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., & Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998). " Gay, lesbian,
and bisexual development." Student development in college: Theory, research, and
practice. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Franklin, K. (1998, August 16). Psychosocial motivations of hate crimes
perpetrators: Implications for educational intervention. Paper presented at the
106th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association at San
Francisco, CA. (ED 423 939).
Green, B. C. (1998, September) "Thinking about students who do not identify
as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but..." Journal of American College Health, 47
Leider, S. (1999). Sexual minorities on community college campuses. (ED 427
Ottenritter, Nan. (1998, April). "The courage to care: Addressing sexual
minority issues on campus." Removing Vestiges, 1: 13-20. (JC 990 698) Reinhardt,
B. (1997, August). "Examining correlates of homophobia in heterosexual college
students." Paper presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American
Psychological Association at Chicago, IL. (ED 412 445)
Sanlo, R. L. (Ed.). (1998). Working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender college students: A handbook for faculty and administrators.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. (ED 427 802)
Sanlo, R. L. (1999). Unheard voices : The effects of silence on lesbian and
gay educators. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.
Wall , V. A., & Washington, J. "Understanding gay and lesbian students of
color." Beyond tolerance: Gays, lesbians and bisexuals on campus. American
Association for Counseling and Development, Alexandria, VA. 1991.