Campus Climate Perceptions and Residential Living Among Queer and Trans Students: An Exploration Using Structural Equation Modeling
The authors sought to examine how queer and trans students’ residential living relates to perceptions of campus climate. Using Hurtado and colleagues’ (2012) Multicontextual Model for Diverse Learning Environments, we utilized structural equation modeling to examine queer and trans students’ perceptions of campus climate as mediated by institutional and organizational dimensions of diverse learning environments. Our findings reveal a positive indirect relationship between campus climate perceptions and living on campus, through the number of queer and trans students and faculty/staff students knew. These findings demonstrate the importance of compositional diversity and representation of queer and trans students and faculty/staff and students in creating positive learning environments for queer and trans students.
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The existence of residential life is built on gendered living conditions that erase the identities of queer and trans students, making living on campus an issue of not only having a place to live but also having a place to exist within higher education. The binary roots of residential life creates hostile structures and environments for queer and trans students living on campus through discrimination and isolation (Fanucce & Taub, 2010; Kortegast, 2017; Vacarro, 2012). To support queer and trans students in college, student affairs practitioners have worked to provide affirming spaces and raise awareness about heterosexist and transphobic practices, policies, and ways of being (Dessel et al., 2013; Renn, 2007). Though campus-wide efforts have increased, queer and trans students continue to be discriminated against and isolated and withdraw from their peers, faculty, and queer and trans positive initiatives and organizations (Evans et al., 2017; Pryor, 2015). Queer and trans students continue to face marginalization in the spaces that intend to support them, because institutions of higher education uphold heterosexist and heterogendered structures, policies, and programs (Pryor, 2018), especially in [End Page 32] residential life (Kortegast, 2017). Though queer and trans students continue to have negative perceptions of residence hall climate, centered around feeling excluded from the binary environments found in most traditional residence halls (Pryor, 2017; Pryor et al., 2016), there is limited research into how living on campus affects their perception of overall campus climate. This study examines the relationship between living on campus and campus climate for queer and trans students.
For this report, we chose to use the terms “queer” and “trans” despite the terms “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” and “transgender” (often denoted in the acronym LGBT) being more widely used in higher education literature. We use the terms “queer” and “trans” to represent the fluidity within sexual and gender identities across marginalized sexual and gender identities, respectively. We chose to use “alumnx” as both plural and singular designations to represent graduates across the spectrum of gender identities and to not reinforce gender as a binary construct.
To contextualize queer and trans campus climate and its relationship to residential life, we provide a literature review that outlines scholarly foundations. We first summarize the Multicontextual Model for Diverse Learning Environments (MMDLE) (Hurtado et al., 2012) to conceptualize how students learn and develop from their perception of campus climate. We then outline how climate relates to queer and trans students’ college experience. Last, we expand on how residence hall climate impacts the experiences of queer and trans students living on or off campus.
Conceptualizing Campus Climate through MMDLE
Campus climate shapes how students, staff, faculty, and affiliates of the institution see, feel, and act toward diversity and inclusion of marginalized social identities (Rankin, 2005). Attitudes, behaviors, and standards manifest through programs, messages, symbols, core beliefs, feelings, and attitudes, which influence the existence or erasure of an inclusive and safe environment. Studies show students’ perceptions of campus climate impact a variety of student outcomes, including academic achievement, the transition to college, and retention (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Rankin et al., 2016; Reason et al., 2006). For queer and trans students in particular, campus climate negatively affects their academic experiences (Garvey et al., 2018c), health and wellbeing (Woodford et al., 2012), and identity development (Tetreaul et al., 2013). [End Page 33]
The conceptual framework guiding this study is the Multicontextual Model for Diverse Learning Environments (MMDLE) (Hurtado et al., 2012), a framework used to understand how campus climate influences learning and development for students. The model centers student social identities and the dynamics within their spheres of interactions, including both curricular and co-curricular experiences, which interact and influence the overall campus climate. MMDLE understands campus climate as a multidimensional concept made up of institutional-level (historical legacy, organizational structure, and compositional diversity) and individual-level (psychological perceptions and behavioral experiences) dimensions. Hurtado and colleagues’ MMDLE was originally created to measure campus climate as it relates to race, using power and privilege to examine how different dimensions of the institution are influenced by and contribute to campus climate. While most studies that have used the MMDLE as a framework have focused on race (Cuellar, 2016; Hurtado et al., 2012; Nguyen et al., 2017), more recently the MMDLE has been used to understand how institutional-level and individual-level dimensions impact queer and trans students’ perceptions of campus climate as they relate to their identity salience (Hughes & Hurtado, 2018).
Campus Climate Perceptions of Queer and Trans Students through MMDLE
The MMDLE is composed of many components that address ecological contexts, curricular and co-curricular processes, institutional-level and individual-level dimensions, and desired learning outcomes that influence campus climate. At the institutional level, support for queer and trans students has increased over time through queer and trans affirming services, resources, and spaces, especially LGBTQ centers (Marine & Nicolazzo, 2014; Westbrook, 2009). Though there are mixed results on the impact of LGBTQ identity centers on queer and trans students’ perception of campus climate (Oliveira, 2017; Rankin et al., 2013; Tetreault et al., 2013), LGBTQ centers have an indirect influence on queer and trans students perception of campus climate by cultivating community (Renn, 2010). Queer and trans students who have a sense of community develop a sense of purpose and confidence in who they are, which contributes to their identity development and in turn their campus climate perceptions (Nicolazzo et al., 2017; Tetreault et al., 2013).
In the individual-level behavioral and psychological-level dimensions, queer and trans students who had more positive perceptions of campus climate felt like they could be more out, and those who were more out spoke up about bias incidents and reported harassment (Tetreault et al., 2013). Having a positive climate allows queer and trans students to feel like they can be out and act against heterosexist and transphobic practices and policies (Garve, Mobley et al., 2018; Tetreault, 2013). On the other hand, queer [End Page 34] and trans students who had negative perceptions of campus climate were less out and faced heterosexist and transphobic microaggressions from their everyday interactions with faculty, staff, and peers (Tetreault et al., 2013). Queer and trans students who perceived that being out was not acceptable also considered the place they lived to not be a safe or supportive space to be out (Fanucce & Taub, 2010; Kortegast, 2017; Vacarro, 2012).
Residential life shapes the experiences of queer and trans students at both institutional-level and individual-level dimensions. At the institutional level, residential life practices such as gender specific floors and roommate selection render queer and trans student’s identities invisible (Bilodeau, 2009). Research has also found a lack of awareness amongst campus administrators in addressing problems raised by trans students (Pryor et al., 2016). At the individual level, queer and trans students often feel the need to mask their identities within the space they are supposed to call home in order to avoid hostility or discrimination (Pryor et al., 2016). Queer and trans students who were faced with discrimination and isolation within residential life often moved off campus (Kortegast, 2017), where they faced more social isolation and less access to campus resources (Mayhew et al., 2016). Specifically, trans students suffer heterogendered housing practices and policies that force them to either live by themselves or leave campus (Biledeau, 2009; Garvey et al., 2018b; Pryor et al., 2016). Living on campus is not only a residential life issue; there are structures in place which do not allow queer and trans students to exist within higher education. The binary environment maintained through bathrooms, Greek Life, and athletics/recreation programs does not allow queer and trans students to exist by perpetuating gender norms. The binary structure of residential life, especially, continues to perpetuate hostile structures and environments for queer and trans students who try to live on campus.
The MMDLE and the literature reviewed situate this study by helping to operationalize the campus environment in terms of the interactions and experiences of queer and trans students in the larger campus and within residential life. We specifically look at how the institutional-level factors impact the psychological level, representing campus climate perceptions of queer and trans students. Our study seeks to add to the current literature, by gaining additional insight into factors that create welcoming environments for queer and trans students.
The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between living on campus and campus climate perceptions for queer and trans students. The following two questions guided our study: [End Page 35]
1. Do differences exist between students who primarily live on campus and off campus in accessing queer and trans student resources?
2. Does more access to campus resources, as a result of primarily living on campus, have a significant impact on queer and trans student perceptions of campus climate?
As a collective of authors in this manuscript we represent queer and straight sexual identities, as well as cisgender woman, cisgender man, and nonbinary transgender identities, in addition to White and APIDA (Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American) racial identities. Our approach to our work in this scholarship is informed by our social identities and relationship to residential life, thus we chose to include a positionality statement. Though only some of us currently work within residential life, we see living on campus not only as a housing issue but an existential issue for queer and trans students within higher education. We provide our social identities and relationship to the residential life to acknowledge the oppression and privilege which informs our analysis.
Data Source and Sample
The data for this study come from The National LGBTQ Alumnx Survey (Garvey, 2016), which in total included responses from 3,174 usable cases representing all 50 states and the Carnegie institution classification. The dataset included only individuals who graduated from an accredited nonprofit college or university and who identify as queer and trans or another non-normative sexual or gender identity. The data collection for The National LGBTQ Alumnx Survey utilized various methods building on previously implemented sampling procedures from national LGBTQ studies (Rankin, Blumenfeld, Weber, & Frazer, 2010), including snowball sampling through higher education institutions outreach, social media, and traditional media. These methods are more effective and commonly used when sampling-related information, such as sexual and/or gender identity, are lacking (Faugier & Sargeant, 1997).
For the purpose of this study, we included only those alumnx respondents who graduated in 2004 or later and who reported either primarily living on campus or off campus while attending college. We chose to limit our sample to more recent graduates, since the sociohistorical context has shifted in recent decades. We selected 2004 for the cutoff point in our analysis, as that year was the peak of the same-sex marriage debate (Garvey et al., 2017), bringing sexual and gender identity into the national conversation. The distribution of graduation years in our sample is provided in Appendix A.
We chose to omit those who reported living in fraternity/sorority housing or were homeless, due to the low number of responses in each of these [End Page 36] options in the data. In addition, since the focus of our research questions on understanding campus climate, both fraternity/sorority life and student homelessness would have introduced extraneous environmental factors into our study that could have distorted the interpretability of our results. Within our sample, 820 (53%) respondents reported living on campus and 704 (46%) reported living off campus, giving us a total sample of 1538 respondents who met the criteria for our study. Over half (55%, n = 815) of respondents identified as cisgender men, 35% (n = 522) as cisgender women, 7 % (n=103) as gender queer or gender variant, and 1% (n = 14) as trans. The sample population consisted of the following sexual identities: 69% (n = 967) lesbian, gay, or bisexual; 28% (n = 391) queer, pansexual, or fluid; and 3% (n = 49) another sexual identity (i.e., heterosexual, asexual, questioning). Our sample consisted primarily of White students (73%) and represented a diverse range of gender and sexual identities. Descriptive statistics regarding gender identity and sexual identity by living environment are provided in Table 1.
All of the measured variables used to represent construct in the MMDLE (Hurtado et al., 2012) were based on questions from The National LGBTQ Alumnx Survey. In our study we utilized five items from the survey measures were used to operationalize campus climate (α = 0.83), which is described by Renn & Patton (2010, p. 248) as “the overall ethos or atmosphere of a college campus mediated by the extent individuals feel a sense of safety, belonging, engagement within the environment, and value as a member of a community.” We employed measures from the survey assessing how welcoming an institution was for queer and trans people when respondents were undergraduate students at their institution (Garvey, 2016). These measures speak directly to the psychological level of the MMDLE model, as they capture individuals perceived safety in being “out” on campus. The campus climate construct includes five Likert-type items, and we standardized scores so that low scores on the queer and trans undergraduate campus climate factor indicated negative perceptions of campus climate and high scores indicate positive campus climate perceptions.
Our exogeneous, or independent, variable was students’ primary living environment, based on respondents’ self-reporting of their living arrangement as students. Respondents to the survey were asked to identify where they primarily lived while attending college (campus housing, fraternity/sorority, noncampus housing, or homeless); those who lived in more than one type of housing were asked to identify where they lived the longest. To operationalize the behavioral element of the MMDLE, we constructed our endogenous variables using nine measures related to the frequency with which students accessed resources and experiences on campus, measured on a five-point Likert scale (1 = Never; 2 = Rarely, 3 = Sometimes, 4 = Regularly; [End Page 37]
5 = All the time). Queer and trans student services (M = 2.22, SD = 1.15) included three items to measure visiting a queer and trans student services office, participating in an event/program hosted by queer and trans student services, and participating in a queer-and trans-focused workshop or training. We measured queer and trans co-curricular involvements (M = 2.53, SD = 1.30), using two items: attending a queer and trans student organization meeting/event and participating in a queer and trans political/social awareness event. Queer and trans supports (M = 1.58, SD = 0.95) included two items: attending a queer and trans support/counseling group meeting and participating in a queer and trans mentor program. Finally, queer and trans academic experiences (M = 2.14, SD = 1.19) included two items related to taking a queer-and trans-related academic course and attending a queer-and trans-related educational lecture or program.
In addition, we operationalized presence and comfort students felt with the queer and trans community by examining the number of openly out faculty/staff and student respondents knew as undergraduate students. We chose these variables to explore this dimension of the MMDLE model as the number of openly out faculty/staff and students known can serve as a proxy for both presence of and connection to the queer and trans community. [End Page 38] These questions utilized quasi-continuous response options from the survey (1 = none; 2 = 1–2; 3 = 3–5; 4 = 6–8, 5 = 9–11; 6 = 12 or more) and were recoded to represent the midpoint of each range (1 = 0, 2 = 1.5, 3 = 4, 4 = 7, 5 = 10, 6 = 13). Based on this recoding, respondents knew an average of 3.22 (SD = 3.22) queer and trans faculty/staff and 9.86 (SD = 3.22) students. The composite variables for accessing campus resources, along with the number of queer and trans faculty/staff and students that queer and trans students knew created the moderator variables of our model. A summary of these variables including items, definitions, operationalizations, means, and standard deviations can be found in Appendix B.
To check multicollinearity, we confirmed that correlations between each of the independent variables did not exceed 0.7 (Appendix C). Two variables had a correlation score of 0.743 (LGBTQINV and LGBTQSER). Given the distinct conceptual and practical importance of these two variables, we chose to keep both in the structural model.
To examine differences in the perceptions of campus climate between LGBTQ students primarily living on campus and off campus, we conducted a two-step analysis using structural equation modeling. We began with confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to examine the fit indices for Garvey’s (2016) Campus Climate for LGBTQ Students factor, followed by structural equation modeling (SEM) to examine the direct relationships between primarily living on campus and perceptions of campus climate for LGBTQ students and indirect relationships through LGBTQ resource use. These methods were chosen because CFA provides a test of the reliability of the observed variables and SEM examines the interrelations among latent factors and observable variables in a proposed theoretical model (Schreiber, Stage, King, Nora, & Barlow, 2006).
The data analysis was conducted in two phases using MPlus version 8.1, utilizing maximum likelihood estimation with robust standard errors to account for the nesting of participants within undergraduate institutions and full-information maximum likelihood estimation to handle missing data. First, the five variables for the latent variable of perceptions of campus climate for queer and trans students were analyzed using CFA to determine the goodness of fit for the model. Descriptive statistics for the campus climate variables were provided previously in Appendix B.
Our structural model operationalized Hurtado et al.’s (2012) MMDLE through examining the impact of the institutional level variables of on-campus living and campus resources, the behavioral variables of number of faculty/staff and students known, and the impact on the individual psychological variables related to campus climate. We chose to focus on these pieces of the MMDLE due to the vast body of research demonstrating poor campus [End Page 39] climate for queer and trans students (Garvey et al., 2018d; McKinney, 2005; Rankin, Hesp, & Weber, 2013; Tetreault et al., 2013; Woodford et al., 2012). In addition, there has been increased investment in campus resources for queer and trans students (Marine & Nicolazzo, 2014; Westbrook, 2009), with mixed results on whether these resources improve experience of queer and trans students (Oliveira, 2017; Rankin et al., 2013; Tetreault et al., 2013). In our model, we examined campus resources as a mediator variable between students’ primary living environment and perceptions of campus climate, as well as the direct relationship between resource use and campus climate perceptions, as displayed by our hypothesized model in Figure 1.
The results of studies from the sample population collected by The National LGBTQ Alumnx Survey cannot be generalized to all queer and trans alumnx because of the methods used to collect the responses. The sample was collected using a snowballing method, and as such is a convenience sample rather than a random sample, which would have allowed for generalizability. Random sampling of queer and trans alumnx presents a challenge for researchers as there is limited information on the true population of queer and trans alumnx so there is no way to know if a sample is representative of entire queer and trans population. In addition, the fluid and changing nature of individuals’ sexual and gender identities adds to the complexity of sampling queer and trans alumnx. Furthermore, while we use students’ living arrangement in our analysis, this variable only provided information on alumnx primary residence while attending college. The dataset did not provide information on length of time living on or off campus or if respondents moved between the different living arrangements. Finally, our study is limited in our ability to fully measure queer and trans community or compositional diversity of institutions, due to the complexity of queer and trans identities, as well inherent messiness associated with identifying individuals.
Our confirmatory factor analysis demonstrated a goodness-of-fit (χ2 = 1656.970; df = 10; p<.001; RMSEA = .038; SRMR = .004) for the latent variable of campus climate. Factor loadings ranged from .58 to .82. We added correlations between items to account for the positively and negatively worded items within the latent construct. The final measurement model including standardized path coefficients can be found in Figure 2.
The final structural model demonstrated goodness of fit (χ2 =212.75; df = 31; p<.001; CFI = .969; TLI = .933; RMSEA = .062). Even though the chi-square was significant (p=.001), all other measures of goodness of fit provided support for the hypothesized model. For the final model, the R- square [End Page 40]
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for the model was .231 (p<0.001.) We did not conduct any post-hoc modifications due to the good fit of the data to the original model hypothesized. The final model with significant pathways illustrated with solid lines is provided in Figure 3.
Our first research question asked whether there was a direct effect between primarily living on campus and off campus in accessing queer and trans student resources. As seen in Figure 3, living on campus did have a significant relationship on student’s participating in student services (.077), co-curricular involvement (.091), queer and trans academic experience (.058), and knowing more queer and trans faculty/staff (.124) and students (.101). Put in the context of the MMDLE, queer and trans students who primarily lived on campus were more likely to access the institutional-level resources and feel safe enough on campus to connect with other members of the queer and trans community, compared to peers who primarily lived off campus.
Our second research question examined the indirect relationship between living primarily on campus and perceptions of campus climate for queer and trans students through the mediation effects of accessing campus resources and knowing openly out faculty, staff, and students. As seen in Figure 3, it was the behavioral variable of knowing more openly out faculty/staff and students that had a significant positive impact on perceptions of campus climate for students primarily living on campus, compared to their off-campus counterparts. Knowing more out faculty/staff (.037) and students (.026) were both found to have a significant positive impact on perceptions [End Page 42]
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of campus climate. In addition, accessing queer and trans support services had a significant negative impact (–.079) on perceptions of campus climate, but there was no significant relationship between living primarily on campus and access support services. These results highlight the importance of the students feeling safe enough to connect with individuals holding similar identities in creating positive perceptions of campus climate for queer and trans students.
Recent reports show college campuses are making progress in creating more inclusive environments for queer and trans students (Garvey et al., 2017; Rankin et al., 2010); however, many faculty, staff, and students still find themselves at physical, emotional, psychological, academic, and professional risk when heterosexist and transphobic environments remain the campus standard (Nicolazzo, 2017; Pryor, 2017; Rankin et al., 2010). Residential life is an area where heterosexist and transphobic environments still exist, as housing policies and practices still rely on heterosexual and cisgender standards, such as same-sex roommate requirements, gender-specific floors (i.e., all women’s floor) and/or restrooms (Garvey et al., 2017; Biledeau, 2009; Pryor et al., 2016); heteronormative, cisnormative, queerphobic, and transphobic policies alienate queer and trans students from the place they are supposed to call home. Most institutions address restrictive housing options by providing queer and trans students with apartment-style or single rooms, which can be isolating and further differentiates queer and trans students from their peers (Pryor et al., 2016).
Despite these pervasive norms, our results demonstrate benefits exist for queer and trans students living on campus, compared to students living off campus. One of our key findings is that queer and trans students who primarily lived on campus were able to connect with more queer and trans faculty/staff and queer and trans students. In turn, students who knew more queer and trans faculty/staff and students had more positive perceptions of campus. Thus, living primarily on campus indirectly influences queer and trans students’ perception of campus climate through their connections with queer and trans faculty/staff and students. Our model also demonstrated the importance of living on campus with connecting queer and trans students to campus resources, such as student services, co-curricular involvement, and academic opportunities. These findings are consistent with previous research on the impact of on-campus living on students’ overall engagement with campus resources and members of the campus community (Mayhew et al., 2016). While the effects size found in our analysis were relatively small (Cohen, 1988), they point to an important area of inquiry in understanding how relationships on campus for queer and trans students impacts students’ [End Page 44] perceptions of campus climate. Examining our results through the Hurtado and colleagues’ (2012) MMDLE, we consider the implications for how campuses can create more inclusive environments for queer and trans students at both the institutional and individual levels.
At the institutional level of Hurtado and colleagues’ (2012) model, the relationship between positive perceptions of campus climate and knowing faculty/staff and students who share their identity demonstrates the importance of queer and trans faculty/staff and students being present, both on campus and within residential life, for this student population (Garvey et al., 2017; Evans & Broido, 1999). Our findings continue to support the importance of having representation within faculty/staff and student populations, as it implies an overall supportive environment for queer and trans students. In addition, more queer and trans faculty/staff and students could assist in further developing a sense of community and connecting students with campus resources and other high-impact practices through those relationships (Garvey et al., 2018a).
Our results also highlight the importance of institutions creating more welcoming and supportive environments where faculty/staff feel comfortable being out, when seeking to improve perceptions of campus climate among queer and trans students. The presence of a visible and supportive queer and trans community provides a safe environment for individuals to be out, which in turn allows for greater opportunities for connection among queer and trans folx. Yet, current research demonstrates campuses are often unsupportive, with queer and trans faculty experiencing oppression and hostility from peers and students, as well as professional consequences leading to attrition (Bilimoria & Stewart, 2009). As Renn (2010) highlighted, research regarding the experiences of queer and trans staff and executive leadership on college campuses is fairly limited. However, based on research on students and faculty experiences it is reasonable to assume staff experience similar challenges in higher education. A recent study by Garvey and Rankin (2018) found one-third of all queer and trans faculty had given serious consideration to leaving their institutions, attributing this consideration to unsupportive campus climate. The same study found faculty who were more out and who knew more queer and trans faculty/staff were less likely to leave the institution (Garvey & Rankin, 2018). Prior research regarding queer and trans faculty attrition is more troubling when combined with our research and the importance of relationships between faculty/staff and queer and trans students in relation to campus climate.
At the individual behavioral level, our results reinforce the importance of formal and informal relationships between students and faculty/staff (Garvey & Inkelas, 2012), as well as between student peers (Tetreault, 2013), in creating positive perceptions of campus climate. Knowing queer and trans faculty/staff has the potential to provide more opportunities for mentorship, which [End Page 45] has shown to be important for students from underrepresented populations (Dodson et al., 2009; Girves et al., 2005; Hayes, 2006). In addition, Nicolazzo and colleagues (2017) highlighted the importance of counterpublics, defined as “a locus from which marginalized populations can regroup and recognize increased political agency” (p. 314), in contributing to the queer and trans students’ success in college. Specifically, they found peer groups, rather than professional services, to be integral in student success. In other words, connecting with peers can provide community from which queer and trans students feel empowered, more so than just having higher education professional tasked with this responsibility. Living on campus may also facilitate queer and trans kinship, whereby students actively choose to support and care for one another, forming familial type relationships (Nicolazzo et al., 2017).
Although there was no significant relationship between students’ accessing campus resources such as co-curricular involvement, engagement with academic resources, and other campus services and supports when it came to feelings about campus climate, it should be noted we looked at these resources through the narrow scope of our study regarding the relationship between where students lived and perceptions of campus climate. There exists mixed results from research regarding the impact of co-curricular involvement, engagement with academic resources, and other campus services and supports among queer and trans students (Garvey et al., 2017; Garvey et al., 2018c; Nicolazzo, 2017). However, utilization and engagement with these resources are associated with other positive outcomes for students from marginalized populations such as academic achievement, the transition to college, and retention (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Rankin et al., 2016; Reason et al., 2006). Our results demonstrate that queer and trans students primarily living on campus are more likely to access these resources, which could in turn lead to other positive outcomes besides perceptions of campus climate.
In our results, we found a negative relationship between accessing support services, such as counseling services, and perceptions of campus climate among queer and trans students. In other words, queer and trans students using support services were more likely to have a negative perception of campus climate than students who did not access these services. There are several potential explanations for this result. First, students experiencing hostile campus climates may be more likely to access these support services, meaning they already have a negative perception of campus climate. Second, students accessing support services may become more aware of the heterosexist and heterogendered systems on campus, resulting in poorer perceptions of campus climate. Finally, these results may also suggest that these services are not well equipped to deal with students from marginalized identities, especially around gender identity (McKinney, 2004). However, the scope of our study does not allow for further conclusions to be drawn. [End Page 46]
Our results also suggest consideration regarding the experiences of students living off campus who we found were less likely to access queer and trans student resources and know fewer queer and trans faculty/staff and students. Many queer and trans students choose to live off campus due to the lack of inclusive housing policies (Kortegast, 2017). This form of housing discrimination may lead to queer and trans students to feel more isolated from campus queer and trans communities (Mayhew et al., 2016; Pryor et al., 2016), which in turn could lead to poorer perceptions of campus climate. Our results warrant further examination of institutional practices and resources for off campus queer and trans students as previous research has demonstrated the negative outcomes associated with negative campus climate perceptions such as the impact on student’s identity development (Tetreault et al., 2013), academic achievement (Garvey et al., 2018c), and persistence to graduation (Blumenfeld et al., 2016; Goodrich, 2012).
Understanding the relationship between living on campus and campus climate for queer and trans students is important for institutions to combat the heterosexist and transphobic roots of higher education (Dessel et al., 2013; Renn, 2007). Based on the results from our study, we make recommendations for ways institutions can improve campus climate for queer and trans students, allowing for a more welcoming, safe, and supportive campus environment. Specifically, we provide recommendations for improving campus climate perceptions at both the behavioral/psychological and institutional level of Hurtado and colleagues’ (2012) MMDLE for queer and trans students.
At the institutional level of Hurtado and colleagues’ (2012) MMDLE, the representation of queer and trans faculty and staff within residential life warrant consideration, as our findings demonstrate the importance of knowing queer and trans students and faculty/staff. Increased representation within residential life staff could show overall institutional support and acceptance of queer and trans identities, leading students to feel more accepted in the spaces they live. The increased representation of queer and trans identities in residence life could, in turn, lead to students feeling more comfortable being out in their living environment. Students who feel more comfortable on campus are also more likely to use queer and trans resources that expand their social community, and positively affect their experience (Garvey & Rankin, 2015). To accomplish this increased representation, institutions should start by examining their recruiting practices in an effort to attract and hire more queer and trans faculty and staff. However, hiring additional queer and trans faculty/staff is only one step in the process, institutions must also focus on retaining queer and trans faculty/staff through creating safe [End Page 47] and supportive environments. Findings from Bilimoria and Stewart (2009) highlight that queer and trans faculty experience oppression and hostility from peers and students, suggesting that institutions need to conduct regular assessments of perceptions of campus climate and take corrective action to create more safe and welcoming environments for queer and trans faculty and staff. Specifically, more research on campus climate perceptions of queer and trans faculty and staff could provide a better understanding of what supports, services, and environments lead to retention.
Institutions should also consider embedding more resources and programs, designed to engage queer and trans students and faculty/staff with one another, directly within residence halls. While most campuses have queer and trans resource centers, they are typically separate from residential communities. Further integrating these resources within residence halls has the potential to provide additional opportunities for relationship building, as well as a more supportive living environment for queer and trans students. Programs such as faculty-in-residence, specifically geared toward integrating queer and trans faculty into residential communities, could be considered as faculty are typically less integrated into living spaces than staff. Instilling policies that engage queer and trans residential faculty/staff members who understand marginalized communities and relate to feelings of isolation and hostility would positively impact queer and trans students within these living communities (Kortegast, 2017).
Looking at the behavioral level of Hurtado and colleagues’ (2012) MMDLE, residential programs designed to provide connections and mentorship, specifically for queer and trans students, could provide additional opportunities for connection with peers and faculty/staff. Previous research by Dodson and colleagues (2009) demonstrated the benefits of creating mentorship programs within college campuses, especially for students who have historically been underrepresented or marginalized. Mentors specific to queer and trans students could provide additional opportunities to build peer relationships, which could also provide introductions to campus resources such as queer and trans student services, co-curricular involvement opportunities, support services, and academic services. These mentors could also serve as a liaison between students and the institutional administration, to provide additional context to the experiences of queer and trans students on campus.
In considering the above recommendations, it is important to highlight the importance of avoiding the tokenization of queer and trans faculty/staff and students. While our findings indicate the importance of these relationships for students, the responsibility for supporting students from marginalized identities often falls disproportionately on those faculty/staff and students who share that identity. Institutions need to not only look at [End Page 48] policies and programs to increase representation and support of queer and trans faculty/staff and students but look at ways in which cisgender and heterosexual members of the campus community can engage in supporting queer and trans students. To change campus climate for queer and trans students, heterosexual and cisgender faculty and staff must work to support and affirm these students, not just those on campus who share this identity.
Regarding avenues for future research, further scholarship focused on understanding the experiences of queer and trans students’ experiences living both on and off campus could build off of the findings from our study. In considering the experience of students living off campus, taking a qualitative approach could provide more insight into off-campus communities, allowing for a better understanding of how to support queer and trans students in these living environments. Examining local communities and the environments of off-campus housing could provide additional understanding of climate perception by understanding how surrounding communities impact students’ experiences. In addition, deeper examination of the influence of living environments, such as length of time students live on campus, experiences in fraternity/sorority life, and housing insecurity could build upon our research to develop a better understanding of the role of living environments on queer and trans students perceptions of campus climate.
It could also be beneficial to understand how campus climate perception for queer and trans students differ across geographical locations, whether the institution is public or private, as well as if it is a religiously affiliated institution. Learning more about the institution’s location, environment, and the local community is essential as these factors impact both the individual level and institutional level dimensions that shape campus climate perceptions from Hurtado and colleagues’ MMDLE (2012). In addition, a more intersectional approach exploring how race and queer trans identities interreact to impact perceptions of campus climate could further illuminate students’ perceptions of campus climate as the experiences of queer and trans students of color are often overlooked.
Within our study, we found a positive correlation between queer and trans students’ campus climate perceptions and knowing more queer and trans faculty/staff, but additional research is needed to further understand the nuances of our findings. In our study, faculty and staff were treated as one variable but further research could examine queer and trans students’ relationships with these two populations separately, to see if differences exist between creating relationships with faculty versus staff. Research providing a more in-depth understanding of how these relationships develop and impact students’ experience could also broaden our understanding of how they shape perceptions of campus climate. Overall, continued scholarship focusing specifically on queer and trans students’ experiences and climate [End Page 49] perception, will only help illuminate ways in which institutions can improve campus environments to provide more positive and welcoming experiences for queer and trans students.
In this study, we focused on the relationship between housing and campus climate perceptions among queer and trans students. Although there was no direct significance of living on campus and campus climate perception, our findings did show an indirect relationship between these two variables through the number of connections students had with queer and trans faculty/staff and students. Our study also found that students who lived on campus had increased participation in student services, co-curricular involvement, queer and trans academic experience, in addition to knowing more queer and trans faculty/staff and students. These findings are significant in helping us better understand the experiences of queer and trans students on campus, especially as it relates to feeling welcome and safe. While our findings point to the importance of representation of queer and trans faculty/staff and students on campus in working towards a more inclusive and welcoming environment, representation alone will not suffice to achieve these goals. Improving campus climate for queer and trans students will require that the entire campus community, from the institutional to the individual level, commit to supporting queer and trans students. [End Page 50]
Amanda Davis Simpfenderfer M. Ed., is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Policy studies program at the University of Vermont, in addition to serving as the Director for Assessment, Data, and Accreditation for the College of Education and Social Services. Her research is focused on the socioeconomic impact of higher education, especially as it relates to promoting equitable outcomes for students. Please send correspondence to Amanda. Simpfenderfer@uvm.edu or The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, Waterman Building, 85 S. Prospect St, Burlington VT, 05408.
Jeane Robles is a recent graduate of the University of Vermont’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program. Jeane is a 2019-2020 Ruth Woo Emerging Leadership Fellowship recipient working with the King County Department of Community and Human Services in Seattle, WA.
Jessica Drummond is the Associate Head Coach for the Women’s Lacrosse team at University of Vermont. In addition to her coaching responsibilities, Jessica is committed to examining issues related to sport and social justice. Jessica is pursuing a masters in the UVM Interdisciplinary Program with a focus on Resilience Oriented Practices in Education and Social Services.
Dr. Jason C. Garvey is the Friedman-Hipps Green and Gold Professor of Education and Program Coordinator for the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program at the University of Vermont. His research examines student success primarily using quantitative methods, with particular attention to uplifting queer and trans collegians.
Rebecca Eunmi Haslam,Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Education Department at Saint Michael’s College the founder of Seed the Way, LLC. Her research is focused on internalized racism among BIPOC children and the equity pedagogies that mitigate its harms. As a consultant, Rebecca works to empower educators and school leaders to create and sustain actively antiracist school systems, policies, curricula, and praxis.
Soren Duveen Dews(he/him/his) is a recent graduate of the University of Vermont’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program. He currently works for the Vermont Talent Search grant as an Outreach Counselor, and his research centers the experiences of queer and trans collegians.
Caroline A. Weaver is a recent graduate of the University of Vermont’s Masters in Education Program. Her Master thesis focused on using non-cognitive traits in admissions essays. She currently works as a Data Analyst for the UVM Admissions Office.
Appendix A. Distribution of Graduation Years
Appendix B. Definitions and Operationalizations for Independent and Outcome Variables
|LIVEUG||Where student primarily lived while attending college||1 = On campus
0 = Off campus
|LGBTQSER||1 = Never/Not available||2.217||1.151|
|LGBTUG01||Visit the LGBT student services office||2 = Rarely 3 = Sometimes
4 = Regularly
5 = All the time
|LGBTUG02||Participate in an event or program hosted by the LGBT student services office|
|LGBTUG07||Participate in an LGBT–focused workshop or training|
|LGBTUG03||Attend an LGBT student organization meeting or event|
|LGBTUG09||Participate in an LGBT political/social awareness event|
|LGBTUG04||Attend an LGBT support/counseling group meeting|
|LGBTUG08||Participate in an LGBT mentor program|
|LGBTUG05||Take an LGBT-related academic course|
|LGBTUG06||Attend an LGBT-related educational lecture or program|
|OUTFAC-STAFF||How many “out” LGBTQ faculty/staff known as an undergraduate student||Quasi-continuous response options recoded into||3.221||3.220|
|OUT-STUDENT||How many “out” LGBTQ students known as an undergraduate student||midpoint of each range (0, 1.5, 4, 7, 10, 13)||9.855||4.285|
|CLIMATE||“The overall ethos or atmosphere of a college campus mediated by the extent individuals feel a sense of safety, belonging, engagement within the environment, and value as a member of a community” (Renn & Patton, 2010, p. 248)||Standardized latent construct||0.000||1.000|
|CLIMATE1||When I was a student, my campus was uninviting for people who were LGBT||1 = Strongly Agree;
2 = Agree;
3 = Neither Agree
|CLIMATE2||I believe my undergraduate alma mater was hostile for people who were LGBT|| nor Disagree;
4 = Disagree;
5 = Strongly Disagree
|CLIMATE3||LGBT students felt safe on my campus when I was a student||3.790||0.990|
|CLIMATE4||I felt open to disclose my LGBT identity on campus without fear of repercussions||3.680||1.240|
|CLIMATE5||I feared for my physical safety because of my LGBT identity0||4.200||0.97|
Appendix C. Correlation Matrix for Independent Variables