This study appears courtesy of Dean E. Mundy at the University of Oregon. For the full study, please visit Journal of Public Interest Communications.

Dean E. Mundy, an assistant professor of public relations at the University of Oregon, recently published Identity, Visibility & Measurement: How University LGBTQ Centers Engage and Advocate for Today’s LGBTQ Student.

The study conducted in-depth interviews with LGTBQ center directors at 11 major public universities in 10 U.S. states, including the six largest universities in their states and three largest in the nation. It emphasized the advocacy of today’s LGBTQ students with the following:

“They must advocate for the needs of the LGBTQ student—those who are out, those who are still negotiating their identity, and those who choose to remain invisible.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. The identity of today’s students is much more complex.
  2. The key for university LGBTQ centers’ work to be effective is finding the appropriate balance between visibility and privacy.
  3. In the data-driven context, effectively counting and measuring have important benefits.

The identity of today’s students is much more complex.

The complexity of intersectional identities has revealed the needs of shifting the language that university LGBTQ centers use and changing the way that they operate.

Findings:

  • Participants received more requests for information regarding gender identity rather than sexuality.
  • Participants have found an increase in those students who now prefer to be referred to as “they” rather than “he” or “she”.
  • Renaming those programs “Gender and Sexuality,” or the less frequently used SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression), has been a growing trend.
  • Participants constantly mentioned that the most important message to convey was, “Regardless of how you identify, we’re here for you.”

The key for university LGBTQ centers’ work to be effective is finding the appropriate balance between visibility and privacy.

Such tricky visibility balance applies to not only the physical presence of centers, but also their online presence.

Findings:

  • University LGBTQ centers are increasingly given spaces in more visible locations, which could either lead those who are more confident with their identity to a greater willingness to walk in or present a hurdle to those who are still negotiating and want to remain invisible.
  • Choosing channels of communication varies, depending on the communication need.
  • The purely peer-driven and confidential conversation, which can be provided by the hidden or closed Facebook groups, could offer a crucial lifeline of support.
  • Participants found that Facebook is much more effective than email.

In the data-driven context, effectively counting and measuring have important benefits.

Navigating how to advocate for resources can be tricky in today’s data-driven world. Tracking the LGBTQ communities on campus helps secure more institutional resources and contributes to a supportive, safe and inclusive campus culture.

Findings:

  • The LGBTQ identity is a moving target that often comes of age when students are in college as the college setting is a formative space for identity development, which makes it hard to quantify.
  • Participants have different opinions on whether it’s proper to ask sexuality and gender-related questions on college applications since there’s no way to guarantee that the responses are valid.
  • The way that universities ask the question can show prospective students the degree to which universities are committed to LGBTQ inclusivity and support.
  • Determining how to convey resources needs to the administration and measuring the LGBTQ community are still evolving processes.

Conclusion:

  • Taking intersectionality into consideration, on-campus LGBTQ centers must collaborate with student organizations across the university.
  • Students should be involved in and help lead the program development.
  • Education for centers themselves and university administrations is even more important.

To read the full study, please visit: Identity, Visibility & Measurement: How University LGBTQ Centers Engage and Advocate for Today’s LGBTQ Student.

Wanchen Wang is a third-year public relations student at the University of Florida. She’s a member of the IPR Street Team. 

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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