Positionality is a concept that plays an integral part in an individual’s day-to-day life. Misawa (2010) defines this concept as, “the power inherent in an individual’s immediate respective social positions. This concept is founded on the assertion that any person’s identity is not fixed but depends on their position in constantly shifting relationship networks. This position can easily be analyzed or shifted. This concept posits that in the view of society, every individual has a race, a class, or gender. Although these qualities play a great role in establishing our identity in public, they are not fixed qualities. Instead, they are relational qualities that are hence complex. To be precise, the concept of positionality posits that our summed-up identities are mere reflections of socially established positions and our relationships. Given this automatic characterization, an individual’s access to certain essential services could be hampered or enhanced just as a result of their social identity. Among these essential services is education.
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Given that positionality is an automatic categorization, minority groups in contemporary society have to face the unavoidable reality of being marginalized and discriminated against. Without a doubt, sexual orientation is a significant element that determines our social identity. Although the topic assumed a low profile some decades ago, the 1960s witnessed a louder and more aggressive approach towards this subject. The Stonewall riots opened the eyes of the public over the issue of sexual orientation. Although the issue has witnessed several policy changes leading to tolerance, there still exist some instances of discrimination and marginalization the world over.
In contemporary American society, the LGBT society had to endure great instances of discrimination in terms of service provision. The society that viewed them from a somehow unwelcome perspective had subjected this minority to poor quality services for essential services. In the education sector, the LGBT minorities were identified as one of the most disadvantaged groups. The established identity within the institutions of higher learning barely recognized the special needs of this group. As a result, the pedagogical policies and other institutional resources never had provisions that would assist this group of students to access good quality education like other members of the society. However, contemporary society has embarked on serious efforts to ensure that the LGBT minorities are accessing fair treatment in higher institutions of learning. Physical facilities and policy changes that aim at promoting the lives of this minority are witnessed throughout American schools.
Given the unique needs of this subculture, this paper has, as its main objective, the need to show that in contemporary American society, the LGBT minority has witnessed increased attention. It aims to highlight that the field of higher education has taken notice of the needs of this particular population and has responded, especially within the past fifteen years. Expanded services on universities across the United States include establishing GLBT offices that focus on student services for this subculture. In this literature review, the author will explore what has been said about GLBT students and what their needs have been established as, whether all these needs are being addressed at universities currently, knowledge for universities who are looking to further assist these students, and what questions remained unanswered about this population of students.
There is no doubt that that the lives of America’s GLBT population have improved drastically over the past twenty years (Cook, 2002). Although there is still much to be addressed, the higher education concern on LGBT minorities has been evidenced in the increase in the number of centers that address their issues. Travers (2006) points out that the number of LGBT staffed centers in college campuses around the United States of America was only fifteen in 1992. The number doubled up to thirty in 1996 before an incident where a young boy was killed by the mob because of his sexual orientation in 1998. This triggered a series of activism by LGBT organizations. By the year 2006, more than 100 such centers had been established throughout America. Although the trigger of this substantial improvement could have been riots and other violence associated with failure to recognize the needs of these students, recent research shows that the contemporary development of staffed LGBT centers is founded on the effectiveness of such centers in the academic performance of a college. The increase in the awareness of LGBT issues crops from frequently exposed GLBT issues and people in the media, which has led to greater acceptance of different sexual orientations (Cook, 2002; Tinto, 1975).
However, the challenges faced by GLBT students are still extremely disheartening. According to Brown, Clarke, Gortmaker, and Robinson-Keilig (2004) “Reviews of published campus climate studies for GLBT students universally indicate that these students experience discrimination, harassment, and fear and that the campus climate for them is chilly at best.” (p.8). Research shows that almost all LGBT college students have heard or directly experienced offensive anti-LGBT commentary (94-98%), creating feelings of hostility in their educational communities (Horne, Rice & Israel, 2004). Davis (2006) on the other hand points out that the disparities of health between straight and gays vary greatly. The LGBT minority is faced by far much more health challenges as compared to straight people. For instance, he argues that people involved in same-sex relationships stand a double chance of contemplating suicide as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. In addition, he points out that women involved in same-sex relationships stand a chance of developing generalized anxiety disorder three times more than heterosexuals. It is three times easier for men engaged in the same sex to abuse drugs as compared to heterosexual men. These are just among the health challenges that LBGTs face that require special treatment. Sadly, very few institutions have tried to put up centers that have services that meet all these special needs.
Harley, Nowak, Gassaway, and Savage (2002) paint another gloomy picture of challenges faced by the LGBT minority. In their discussion, they highlight the point of multiple identities. Being an LGBT while at the same time possessing some form of disability is a great challenge to several college students. Inadequate knowledge on the needs of these students hence plays a role in this. Most of the practitioners do not identify the diversity of LGBT students. They regard them as one group without identifying some specific differences that would lead to variability in challenges. For instance, race or disability on the LGBT member can greatly change society’s view of him. This means that there are likely to be differences in needs of the LGBTs that have other differences like gender and race. Being that the student affairs profession is committed to advancing student development through tolerance and acceptance of differences, this issue must be addressed within the field to create the best environments possible for these students.
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GLBT established needs come from research that has been done on the subject. The most commonly expressed need is a positive/healthy homosexual identity, with particular importance being coming out at GLBT publicly (Dilley, 2005). The political and psychological ramifications of coming out lead many GLBT students to keep their true identity secret or in denial, making them an “invisible minority” in some cases (Jones, 2006). Patrick Dilley defines a healthy homosexual identity as being composed of three elements, senses, experiences, and sensibilities (Dilley, 2005). “Senses” relates to how the individual perceives themselves, “experiences” relates to how they behave, and “sensibilities” to the values and contexts of their senses and experiences (Dilley, 2005). Dilley explains the six identities as the relation to the concept of social change, and they are homosexual, gay, queer, closeted, “normal”, and parallel. Homosexual refers to acknowledging feelings/attractions but not necessarily telling others and keeping it private; gay referring to publicly acknowledging/announcing feelings or attractions and being publically socialized with other non-heterosexuals; queer referring to being very publicly open about sexuality and being in opposition to “straight” culture; closeted referring to recognizing the feelings and acknowledging the meanings but not telling many people or anyone at all; normal as identifying as heterosexual and participating in homosexual activity has no effect on identity (cognitive and emotional dissonance); and parallel as identifying and behaving as “straight” in everyday situations and contexts but identifying and behaving as homosexual in those particular situations and contexts, keeping the two worlds separate (Dilley, 2005; Smith, 1998).
The campus environment greatly affects non-heterosexual identity. Cognitive and emotional dissonance is not ideal or considered mentally healthy. The campus environment and university should encourage GLBT students to have a healthy identity related to their sexuality, avoiding dissonance. The best way to be able to foster healthy sexual identities is for there to be an increased understanding of why these different identities happen and encourage students to explore themselves and understand their sexuality. It is important for all GLBT students to feel safe with their identity on their college campus to have healthy self-esteem and to avoid dissonance.
There is also research supporting evidence that shows that involvement on-campus supports identity development in students, about many specific elements of identity, including sexual orientation (Renn & Bilodeau, 2005). Therefore, a need for GLBT students that administrators should address is that of ensuring that identity-based leadership experiences so that these students are assisted with developing a healthy GLBT identity.
Whether or not these needs are being met across colleges and universities in the United States is an interesting topic to explore. With regards to forming a healthy GLBT identity and supportive campus environment, the route some universities have chosen to take is establishing a professionally-staffed office just for GLBT students. The distressing fact is that relatively few university-supported offices have been established (Ritchie & Banning, 2001). The absence of these offices is surprising given the often hostile and harassing campus environment encountered by GLBT students and also given the developmental challenges GLBT students experience during their time in college (Ritchie & Banning, 2001).
There is also a lack of specialized training for student affairs professionals and faculty at universities in teaching GLBT issues. Statistics show that often faculty and administration fail to intervene in combating things like derogatory comments, which contribute to supporting a campus environment that has a negative attitude toward GLBT students (Cook, 2002).
Driver (2008) argues that although the service workers within the universities have some knowledge of working with this group of students, the whole campus environment does not favor them. This is as a result of other nonservice fraternity within the university that hence subjects the students to isolation, discrimination, and disregard. The other campus fraternity views these students of sexual minority as people with deviant behavior that could be accepted. Her research further found out heterosexual students in the university found it better and easier working with other forms of diversity than the sexual minority. For instance, most of them preferred working with a person of another gender than another race. However, working with another race was preferred over working with an LGBT. The campus fraternity hence finds it most difficult incorporating the LGBT members in their day-to-day lives as compared to any other form of the minority. Given the special circumstances these students go through, more training sessions should be established for professionals in helping these students with their issues. College administrators, faculty, and counselors need to be aware of GLBT dynamics, issues, and concerns to better serve and help these students.
This form of marginalization and discrimination leads to psychological problems on the part of LGBT members. He points out that students learning within an environment that seems unsupportive and which is characterized by harassment cannot concentrate on their studies or even other co-curricular activities. Consequently, their retention becomes a great challenge to colleges and universities. The alarming statistical fact that emerged from this stud is that of 1000 students involved in her research, about 33% of them had experienced a form of harassment in their lives at some point. In addition, he found out that 31% of them either left college completely or stayed away for more than one semester as a result of this harassment. It was hence ascertained that LGBT members stood a higher chance of dropping out of school especially if their effort to adjust resulted in null. Also, if the environment was isolating and unwelcoming, the students were likely to be faced with stress and either perform poorly in their academic endeavors or drop out altogether.
On his part, Misawa (2003) finds out that sexual minorities, just like all other minorities tend to have difficulties in conforming to the system of education that is generalized knowledge-based on white discourse. As a result, the opinions of minorities are not reflected in the pedagogical approaches or the syllabus of the schools. The knowledge imparted to students is centered on a single group of people. As a result, the generalization of knowledge marginalizes some of the student minorities that tend to have different learning and motivation patterns. This also causes misunderstandings between students and practitioners. Teachers who are concerned about the needs of minorities find it very difficult to work within this system as it fails to acknowledge their primary needs of improving the lives of minorities. These arguments concur with Rankin (2003).
Collecting information on this research was a little bit difficult. This was a result of some few LGBTs who found it inappropriate to reveal their identities. However, I engaged the use of questionnaires that did not call for the identity of the respondent. This allowed some of them to offer information without fear. The research was carried out in a college which would answer the question of this research; identifying the issues of LGBTs in higher education. In other instances where the respondents were openly practicing this, a personal interview was carried out.
The research respondents involved both males and females as the issue of LGBT affects both genders. The respondents included 10 female college students and another 15 male students from the same university. Although this was a small sample, their consistent views could be a clear reflection of what this subpopulation needs.
Most of the respondents were clear on the point that most of the approaches identified by the centers to assist the LGBT minority were poor and failed to capture the real needs. For instance, Anastasia, a young man studying in a small liberal arts university in Florida pointed out that what needs to be done is not coming up with programs and expecting the LGBT members to go them. Instead, he alleges that coming up with a targeting strategy is more important. The targeted population would not go to them and hence they would be forced to go to them through targeting. Athletics, for instance, would play a good role in targeting this subculture.
The issue of tolerance also cropped up severally. What the LGBTs need is for the other students to work with them as they would work with any other student. This, Anastasia says, can only be achieved if heterosexuals are given knowledge of awareness. He asserts that most LGBTs are normal people who do not have anything beyond the ordinary. However, most of the students arriving in the college tend to have a bad picture of this subpopulation as created by the media. Considering that some of them would be meeting a gay person for the first time, it becomes a matter of awe. He says, “The biggest issue there is awareness. So many people are just unaware.” Anastasia shows that the best approach to this is creating awareness through orientation processes. This would assist the members of the student body who have only had a chance of understanding the LGBTs only through the biased media to have a clearer and picture through interactive activities.
Asked whether the same form of discrimination happens at all levels, Gina, a lesbian from another college in South Florida also feels that the problem is not better at any level as compared to the other. The issue of discrimination starts from the administration down to the students. However, student service workers tend to have some form of comprehension. As compared to other members of the campus fraternity, student service workers have shown understanding and have tried to ensure that the lives of these sexual minorities are good and comfortable at all levels.
The issue of academic performance and LGBT inclination brought about different responses. Anastasia finds that his being gay does not by any means affect his academic performance. Furthermore, his being gay has not even interfered with his day-to-day operations. He remains a student leader despite this. In addition, he works as a DJ on the school radio where he says that he enjoys playing music and gets paid. Generally, he maintains his humor and life does not seem a disappointment to him. On the other hand, Gina feels that the perspective by which the campus fraternity views them does not offer a conducive environment that would promote their academic life. Most of the students tend to isolate themselves blocking them completely from interactive learning that is best for any given student. Other than being given no opportunity to participate in group discussions, lecturers and other teaching staff usually pay so attention to the special needs of these students to assist them to cope up with life. “The other students view us as deviant or nonsociable. They tend to isolate us during discussion group formation. One of the students once told me that incorporating me in their group might paint a bad picture of the group members” this is what Gina had to say.
Would the increase in the number of centers in the universities reduce the quality of education for the LGBT society? This question tended to achieve a uniform response. Most of the respondents accepted that establishment of LGBT centers would greatly improve the quality of life of these students. However, they expressed their fear of the approach of the centers. Lola, another Lesbian had this to say, “Do they have a clear picture of what should best be done? Do they know exactly what we need to improve the quality of our lives?” these sentiments are echoed by Anastasia who feels that LGBT centers would be a good idea. However, poor approaches by the centers would lead to malfunctioning. He says that developing programs that require the members of the LGBT minority to look for them is a blunder. He says, “Most of these students will not look for them. They will not look for these programs.” What does he recommend? Instead of programming, Anastasia prefers targeting. All the policies aimed at improving the quality of life of LGBTs should be constructed in such a way that they look for the LGBTs and not LGBTs looking for them. Anastasia clearly says, “The people they’re trying to target aren’t going to go to those programs, they need to go to them.”
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For universities to better serve this population and create a more positive campus climate, more GLBT offices should be established at universities. These offices should offer services to all GLBT groups, offer library materials, speakers, programs, focus on student services, and short-term counseling (Ritchie & Banning, 2001). The creation of these offices would create an environment for service and opportunities for campus involvement and activities that cater to and support GLBT environments. Universities should also partner with academics and different departments (such as history) to create courses and also help identify within courses significant historical GLBT events and people. Student affairs should work within their departments as well, for example, career development, to help identify GLBT-friendly companies or occupations. Policies also should support diversity and the GLBT campus community.
Universities should all be certain of things that may be easily overlooked in regards to showing a supportive environment towards GLBT students. This includes having “sexual orientation” included in the university’s non-discrimination statement, ensuring that the university has a GLBT student association, having courses on GLBT literature/history/theory, ensuring the university has domestic partner benefits for employees and having campus programs or speakers about GLBT issues (Cook, 2002).
A question about GLBT students that have yet to be answered or further researched thoroughly is special issues with GLBT racial or ethnic minorities. Very little research has been done on Hispanic GLBTs, and none focusing specifically on college students. Research is done by William L. Jeffries IV (2007) studies the homosexual behavior among gendered lines shows that men have different behavior patterns, but more needs to be done for the GLBT minority community as a whole in regards to higher education.
Implications and Discussion
With heteronormativity immensely affecting the belief system of the larger population of the United States, the chances that minority groups will continue staying under oppression are high. In the same line, educational institutions, which play an important role in the economic and political development of a country, are not left behind in this oppressive venture. This could pose a great danger to the socio-economic platform. With the association of university teachers (2003) pointing out that of every six students one of them is an LGBT, it becomes mandatory that policymakers identify a way through which these students can be assisted. Furthermore, research has also pointed out the implication of marginalization on academic performance and retention level. Unless appropriate steps are taken, it is clear that 16% of all college students would be wasted due to unutilized potential. To identify the best way forward, it is important to identify the challenges and strengths that exist.
One picture that is brought out clearly from the interviews is that while more and more universities and colleges are improving on their dealing with LGBT minorities, very few of them have the capacity or understand exactly what the needs of this group are. As a result, they come up with inappropriate policies that would not assist them. As Anastasia puts it, they should not develop programs and expect minority students to look for assistance from them. Instead, they should develop strategies that target this demographic bracket from where they can be found. And not the other way round.
Psychological burdens arising from marginalization and isolation affect immensely the academic performance of students. What the policymakers need to identify are ways through which these could be avoided. A clear picture is through the creation of awareness. As one of the subjects put it, awareness is what the rest of the students need. They need not view lesbians and gays as weird people whose moral shave gone overboard. Instead, they should be taught to understand this group as a normal group of people who found pleasure differently. How can awareness be created? One of the ways through which awareness can be created is through the diversification of the curriculum. The current curriculum was developed based on certain principles that sideline minorities. As a result, diverse perspectives should be developed to reflect the needs of the minority population.
Still, on the issue of curriculum, studies on sexual orientation and identity should be given more emphasis than what is experienced currently. Unlike currently when this topic is taught in a few classes especially psychology, more of this should be taught in every class. Students need to understand that sexual orientation is a natural aspect and those involved are no less human or deviant. Instead of limiting this subject to social sciences, the topic of sexual orientation should be spread over in all faculties and even outside the classroom. The challenges faced by the group should be highlighted. By doing this, the group will get visibility which is necessary for awareness creation.
Resource allocation is another issue identified as a pressing issue for LGBT students. Several universities and colleges have not allocated adequate resources that are necessary for assisting the LGBTs. For instance, the development of functional LGBT centers would be appropriate in ensuring that this minority has enough material to assist them. Failure to have a resource center for the LGBTs leads to a population of minority students who have to endure isolation and marginalization while their heterosexual counterparts also suffer from a lack of knowledge that would further the heteronormativity problems within the education system. Together, these would lead to poor performance from both sides. Most interviewees pointed out the fact that the existent resource centers were poorly equipped. Some of the programs within were poorly funded hence non-performing. As a result, better programs need to be initiated. In addition, existent programs that are poorly funded should be given a facelift through increased resource allocation.
Finally, diversity should not be an issue for students only. While programs are initiated to improve the academic performance of these students, senior positions also need to be restructured. Research shows that students would be motivated if they saw a person with which they identify in a senior position. What does this imply? It implies that more LGBT lecturers and administrators should be employed. With successful individuals of LGBT inclination, the student minority will have role models for which they can look upon for strength to carry on. The heterosexual individuals will also have an opportunity to understand that even LGBTs are normal people who can perform normally in life and at the workplace. By understanding that this is a normal phenomenon, they will stop seeing themselves as queer and deviant. This will improve the interaction between these two groups.
Contrary to the findings of this research were the findings by the association of university teachers (2001) who argued that harassment and aggression against LGBT students were high. Most of the respondents pointed out that they lived a normal life where their affairs were not the affairs of others. A good example is Anastasia who argues that his being gay does not impact negatively his life or academic performance. His sense of humor and active participation in college activities include having been a student leader at some point and also working as a disc jockey in the campus radio is clear evidence of this. This is clear evidence that more and more colleges are starting to create a conducive environment for LGBT minority students.
Most institutions have failed to adequately address the issue of LGBTs in their academic setup. If this is the case, it becomes another hurdle to identify how students with multiple minorities could be assisted. Further study should be carried out to identify the effects of other forms of the minority on LGBTs. The research should try to identify the issue of LGBT about race, gender, physical disability et cetera. It should be ascertained how race and LGBTs can relate. In addition, how does race or gender coupled up with LGBT affect the performance of an individual? Ways through which multiple minorities could be approached should be ascertained.
In conclusion, there is increased awareness in institutions of higher education concerning LGBTs. However, the increase is not specifically the best that can be achieved. Much has to be done to address the needs of this minority. Awareness must be created through an increase in resource centers that have adequate resources. This would aid in facilitating programs that would eventually change the perception of the general public concerning sexual orientation. As mentioned earlier, appropriate programs should not wait for LGBTs to seek for them instead, they should seek LGBT through deliberate targeting. There should be a total overhaul in the academic curricula to enable minority students and practitioners to feel welcome with the contents. Finally, more teachers and lecturers who practice same-sex relationships should be employed to pose as role models for LGBT students. With someone to identify with, they will look upon them as a simple of success and soo they would work harder to be successful too. This will also allow heterosexual students to understand LGBTs. They will view them as human beings who can succeed just like any other individual. is also important to note that the issue of sexual orientation does not only cover the LGBTs but also heterosexual students. Their performance goes lower if they don’t have adequate information concerning sexual orientation.
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