Bullying of LGBT students leading to dropouts

European study sounds the alarm over how mistreatment can harm retention

February 19, 2015

Clear evidence that many LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students drop out of courses due to bullying means the issue should be a major concern for universities, quite apart from their duty of care.

That was among the points raised in a series of presentations at the Society for Research into Higher Education last week on the overt and hidden challenges faced by LGBT students in the UK.

All the presentations were linked to an ongoing research project, “From Freshers’ Week to Finals: using LGBT student perspectives of higher education to inform research and practice”, being carried out by Sheffield Hallam University with support from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO), the National Union of Students, the SRHE and others.

Eleanor Formby, a senior research fellow at Sheffield Hallam, presented results from a cross-European survey she had carried out for IGLYO. While it seemed to be true that “LGBT students overall…had a positive view of higher education”, 6 per cent of her sample “had ‘dropped out’ of university as a result of their experiences” and 19 per cent felt that “their ability to gain employment had been affected by prior experiences of bullying or discrimination”.

Yet even bullying could have a positive impact, with one respondent reporting an incident that led him or her “to retaliate with an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude, causing me to aim higher”.

It remained clear, however, that “LGBT experiences may directly impact upon retention rates”. That alone, in Ms Formby’s view, made the issue “reason for university concern…aside from the obvious well-being and rights-based arguments”.

Michael Keenan, lecturer in sociology at Nottingham Trent University, also reported on the results of an online questionnaire and follow-up focus groups he had used to examine the ways that universities can be seen as both “a site of diversity” and “a site of bullying, discrimination and sidelining – focussing on heterosexist and macho cultures”.

While almost 89 per cent of his respondents described their fellow students as generally “accepting”, this concealed worrying cases of LGBT students being treated as “exotic”, “erotic” or “other”.

Meanwhile, Vicky Gunn, head of learning and teaching at Glasgow School of Art, said that she was keen to look at “opportunities for agency as well as alienation” in the experience of LGBT students, noting how their “attempts to make meaning in a different way” could lead to the kind of “radical and subversive questioning” essential for original thinking in any academic discipline.

matthew.reisz@tesglobal.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Microlight pilot flies with flock of cranes

Reports of UK-based researchers already thinking of moving overseas after Brexit vote

Portrait montage of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

From Donald Trump to Brexit, John Morgan considers the challenges of a new international political climate