Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2
(July 2003)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good: Contributing to the Practice of Democracy
Tribal Colleges and Universities: Guided by Tribal Values
Commitment to Diversity in Institutional Mission Statements
Valuing Equity: Recognizing the Rights of the LGBT Community
Creating Border Crossings: Dickinson College at Home and Abroad
Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide Trek
The Accountability Side of Diversity
Percent Plans: How Successful Are They?
Campus Life for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People
Multimedia, Books and Conferences
The E Pluribus Unum Project

Campus Life for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People

As higher education institutions have become more aware of the discrimination endured by many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) members of their communities, many institutions have implemented structural and policy changes. Some institutions have established GLBT Resource Centers and GLBT studies programs. Many have revised or created GLBT-inclusive administrative plans, such as domestic partner benefits and non-discrimination policies. How do students, faculty, and staff feel about their experiences on campus? Dr. Sue Rankin, Senior Diversity Planning Analyst at Penn State University, conducted a national campus climate study to ascertain if such initiatives have changed the institutional climate for GLBT individuals.

Research for the study began in October of 2000. Thirty institutions were invited to participate in the study. Twenty institutions agreed, while fourteen ultimately completed the project. A survey was designed to elicit information from respondents about their personal campus experiences as a member of the GLBT community, their perception of the climate for GLBT members of the academic community, and their perceptions of institutional actions, including administrative policies and academic initiatives regarding GLBT issues and concerns on campus. Respondents were also given additional space on the survey to provide personal commentary.

The survey focused on three themes. The themes included (1) lived oppressive experiences, (2) perceptions of GLBT oppression on campus by respondents, and (3) institutional actions including administrative policies and academic initiatives regarding GLBT issues and concerns on campus.

More than 1,600 surveys were returned representing: 1,000 students, 150 faculty and 467 staff/administrators, 326 people of color, 66 people with disabilities, 572 gay people, 458 lesbian people, 334 bisexual people, 68 transgender people, 848 women, 720 men, and 825 “closeted” people.

Lived Oppressive Experiences
More than one-third (36 percent) of GLBT undergraduate students reported experiencing harassment within the past year. In addition, 79 percent of those harassed identified students as the source of harassment. The most common form of harassment was derogatory remarks (89 percent). Disturbingly, twenty percent feared for their physical safety because of their sexual orientation/gender identity, and 51 percent concealed their sexual orientation/gender identity to avoid intimidation.

Perceptions of GLBT Oppression on Campus
Forty-three percent of the respondents rated the overall campus climate as homophobic. In order to avoid discrimination, 36 percent of respondents reported that they would likely conceal their sexual orientation/gender identity. Further, 10 percent of respondents would avoid areas of campus where GLBT persons congregate for fear of being labeled.

Institutional Actions
Respondents held fairly mixed beliefs on institutional commitment to GLBT issues. Forty-one percent of the respondents stated that their college/university was not addressing issues related to sexual orientation/gender identity. Forty-three percent of the participants felt that the curriculum did not represent the contributions of GLBT people. But on the whole respondents attested to a more supportive climate in their immediate work space or classroom. Sixty-four percent agreed that their work site or their classrooms accepted them as GLBT persons.

The fourteen participating institutions agreed to take part in the study so that they could identify challenges and problems confronting their campus communities. The results will be used to identify specific strategies for addressing the problems that confront each campus individually. Generally, broad recommendations were made to provide a starting point for campus leaders. Among key suggestions to improve the campus environment for GLBT students were: recruit and retain GLBT individuals, demonstrate institutional commitment to GLBT issues/concerns, integrate GLBT issues/concerns into the curriculum and pedagogy, and create safe spaces for dialogue and interaction.

Rankin, Susan. 2003. Campus climate for gay, lesbian, and transgender people: A national perspective. New York: The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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