US universities ‘need better data’ on abuse of LGBT students

Institutions appear unaware of severity of problem due to paucity of survey data and lack of on-campus advisory efforts, UCLA researchers find

May 16, 2022
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LGBTQ college students in the US are routinely suffering harassment and assault, yet their institutions often don’t collect the data needed to reveal the size of the problem, a nationwide analysis has found.

Nearly 33 per cent of LGBTQ students at four-year institutions describe enduring some kind of bullying or abuse in college, according a survey by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. The rate is nearly 19 per cent among other students, the scientists found.

The data were assembled by the Williams Institute, a research centre at the UCLA School of Law that focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.

US colleges and universities do appear genuinely concerned about their LGBTQ students, but many of them are letting the problem persist by failing to learn the details of what is happening, said Kerith Conron, research director at the Williams Institute.

“Higher ed institutions in general do care about safety, they do care about climate, I think they care about their reputations,” Ms Conron said. Some of them, however, appear “not aware of how frequently these events are occurring in environments like theirs,” she said.

There are some existing surveys of student well-being in the US tied to gender orientation, but it’s not clear how many institutions participate in them, and not enough of them take care to ensure that responses are confidential, Ms Conron said.

For its assessment of the situation, the Williams Institute conducted its survey among 629 people aged 18 to 40 who have attended a four-year college and 193 who have attended graduate school. It carried out the work in collaboration with the Point Foundation, the largest LGBTQ scholarship fund in the US.

Even if institutional leaders don’t engage in such formalised data collection activities, Ms Conron said, they could be learning about the situation on their campus by forming an advisory group of LGBTQ students and staff and administrators who could provide insights into the challenges that exist around them.

“You don’t need to have big data-gathering systems, to at least start the dialogue – to figure out what’s working, and where changes are needed,” she said.

The Williams Institute data also found that 33 per cent of LGBTQ students chose a college at a location that allowed them to get away from their families – more than twice the proportion of non-LGBTQ students.

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