Comparison of UNL Climate

Comparing the UNL Campus Climate for GLBT Students with Results from a National Study of Campus Climate

Robert D. Brown and Valerie Gortmaker

How does the campus climate for GLBT students at UNL compare to the campus climate at other universities? This question arose frequently in November 2002 when results of the Campus Climate Study for GLBT Students at UNL were published (Brown, Clarke, Gortmaker, & Robinson-Keilig). A recently published study by Rankin (2003) makes it possible to compare the UNL study results with the results from a national study of 14 universities.

This report answers eight questions of interest:

  1. How does the Rankin study compare to the UNL study?

  2. How do the participants in each study compare?

  3. How do UNL GLBT students perceive the campus climate compared to GLBT students in the national study?

  4. Do UNL GLBT students feel the need to hide their sexual identity more or less than GLBT students in the national study?

  5. Is the level of harassment at UNL for GLBT students greater or less than that reported by GLBT students in the national study?

  6. How do UNL GLBT students and those in the national study characterize the campus climate?

  7. How do the recommendations made for the UNL campus compare to those of Rankin’s in her national study?

  8. What future action is recommended?


1.  How does the national study compare to the UNL study?

Fourteen institutions participated in the national study ending in December 2001 with 1,000 GLBT students completing a 35-item survey.  The national study employed a purposeful and snowball sampling procedure.  The UNL study was completed in the spring of 2002 with GLBT students completing an 80-item survey using the same sampling procedures.

The national study sampled GLBT faculty as well as students, whereas the UNL climate study surveyed general students, faculty, residence hall assistants, and student affairs staff members as well as GLBT students.  The UNL study included individual and group interviews with GLBT students whereas the national study included several open-ended questions.

The national study included representative institutions from all geographic areas of the country (Median undergraduate population: 15,000-20,000).  Because all participating institutions had a GLBT resource center and a paid staff member they are not necessarily representative of all institutions in the country.

* Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Dr. Robert D. Brown, Carl A. Happold Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 402-486-1579; rb61201@alltel.net

2.  How do the participants in each study compare?

comparison graph

Comment: Eighty UNL GLBT students completed the UNL Campus Climate Survey comparing favorably with the average of 71 students per institution in the national study. Both numbers are comparable to the number of GLBT participants in published studies conducted in the past decade.

The percentage of male and female students participating in the UNL study was nearly identical but none of the UNL respondents identified themselves as transgender whereas 6% of the students in the national study did so.

3.  How do UNL GLBT students perceive the campus climate compared to GLBT students participating in the national study?

perceptions graph

Comment: All UNL GLBT students perceived the campus to exhibit anti-GLBT attitudes to at least some extent, nearly half (47%) to a great or very great extent. In the national study, a lower percentage saw their campus as "homophobic."  The national study did not survey other campus community members, as did the UNL study. General students, faculty, and student affairs members at UNL overwhelmingly perceived the existence of an anti-GLBT climate on the UNL campus.

4.  Do UNL GLBT students feel the need to hide their sexual identity more or less than GLBT students in the national study?

need to hide graph

Comment: UNL GLBT students were more "closeted" than students in the national study, a clear majority hiding their sexual identity from students and faculty.

5.  Is the level of harassment at UNL for GLBT students greater or less than that reported by GLBT students in the national study?

been harassed graph

Comment: UNL GLBT students reported less verbal harassment and fewer direct physical threats than did students in the national study.  Reports of graffiti, however, were quite similar.  Seventy-four percent of students in the national study reported hearing "derogatory" remarks from students as did 80% of the UNL GLBT students.

6.  How do UNL GLBT students and those in the national study characterize the campus climate?

Comment: The consensus of GLBT students in the national study was that their campuses were "hospitable, but heterosexism and homophobia are prevalent".  UNL GLBT students would agree and also characterize UNL as being "silent" on GLBT topics.

7. How do the recommendations made for UNL compare to those of Rankin's in her national study?

Recommendations:

National Study Recommendation

UNL Study Report Recommendations

1.  Recruit and retain GLBT individuals

1.  Welcome GLBT students and recruit GLBT faculty.

2. Demonstrate institutional commitment to GLBT issues and concerns.

2.  Issue supportive policy statements.

3.  Integrate GLBT issues/concerns into curriculum and pedagogy.

3.  Support efforts to infuse GLBT topics into curriculum.

4.  Provide educational programming on GLBT issues/concerns.

4.  Develop mission statements, programs, & evaluation plans.

5.  Create safe spaces for dialogue and interaction.

5.  Create safe spaces on campus for GLBT students.

Comment: The almost identical set of major recommendations is noteworthy, especially given that the authors of the UNL GLBT Campus Climate Study did not have access to Rankin's recommendations when the UNL report was published. The similarity is undoubtedly a reflection of the consensus resulting from the findings of numerous GLBT campus climate studies conducted by researchers during the past fifteen years.  Rankin stresses the importance of equity; the UNL researchers suggest the need to move beyond tolerance and toward empowerment of GLBT students. 

8. Summary and Future Directions?

Generally, the campus climate for GLBT students at UNL appears to be about the same as that on the other campuses participating in the national study, perhaps a bit better on some indexes and perhaps a bit poorer on some other indexes.  Whether the indexes compare favorably or unfavorably is not really the core issue.  It is apparent that all campuses have great room for improvement and much needs to be done.

Rankin discusses the need for a "tapestry of transformation" in higher education which would encourage campus administrators and faculty members to ensure that GLBT issues/concerns are discussed in relevant courses, that suitable programming and support services are available, that staff and faculty receive needed training, that appropriate benefits are available, and that efforts are made to educate the broader community regarding the educational issues involved.

The authors of the UNL campus climate study stress, as does Rankin, that improving the campus climate for GLBT students serves also to enhance the learning and development of all students on campus.  They support similar objectives to Rankin's, noting in particular the need for leadership in promoting a systematic approach to improving the campus climate.

Rankin, Susan R. (2003) Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People: A National Perspective. New York: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

Brown, R.D., Clarke, B., Gortmaker, V., & Robinson-Keilig, R. (2002). Campus Climate and Needs Assessment Study for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Moving Beyond Tolerance Toward Empowerment (Full report and executive summary at: www.unl.edu/cglbtc)