Transgender Student Retention: Final Report

This summer, I was fortunate to be able to continue my work on transgender/gender nonconforming (TGNC) student retention that began this previous academic year. When I joined this project, things had come to a stall and not much progress was being made, so some of my first tasks were to collaborate with LGBTQA & Social Justice Center graduate assistant Emmett and associate director Erin about how to refocus the project, and gather essentially a whole new set of research articles and studies.

We started by dividing up the components of our topic into TGNC student-related literature and retention literature, and collecting articles that pertained to those two areas. Once we were satisfied with the amount of literature we had compiled, we broke down the key themes of the literature and were able to write an annotated bibliography in order to better organize each article based on its themes and relevance to our work. The annotated bibliography then was able to help us in the construction of the literature review, which we decided would be best broken down into three categories or themes: retention models/strategies, issues facing TGNC students, and supporting TGNC students. With some last-minute additions to the literature from some recent studies Emmett made me aware of, the literature review now seems much more connected, and these new additions serve as a critical link between these three themes.

At the start of the summer, the goal of the project was more general in terms of compiling information about the needs of TGNC students and areas where institutions could better support them in order to better help them stay in school, but after reading the most recent literature from Garvey, Squire, Stachler and Rankin regarding campus climate comfort and persistence for queer-spectrum students, as well as the reaction our work received at the Philadelphia Transgender Wellness Conference, our goal has become more focused on highlighting the narratives as to why TGNC students may leave an institution and utilizing the suggestions from the Garvey et al. article as a means to frame our questions within a survey or focus group to better gauge the specific needs that need to be met by institutions in order to retain these students.

Being able to attend the Philadelphia Trans Wellness conference this summer definitely helped me to rejuvenate my passion for this work, since being able to interact with hundreds of individuals that could potentially benefit from it was very humbling and eye opening. It was also a chance for me to challenge myself in socializing with others, particularly in regards to promoting the work I am doing. Historically, I am known to downplay my achievements because I am afraid of coming off as arrogant, but I challenged myself to think differently and tell myself that I am allowed to be proud of what I am doing and share that with others, and it paid off. We received the email contacts of 114 TGNC individuals who are interested in participating in our research, as well as professionals who have access to TGNC student populations that were interested in sharing our survey and research information with them. Even TGNC social media influencers with tens of thousands of followers were excited by our research and offered to use their platform to help spread the word about our work.

Taking on a research project that has so many potential influential implications has been incredibly exciting and humbling, but also at times has felt somewhat daunting and overwhelming. Being the perfectionist that I am, occasionally I will get too caught up in my own thoughts and self-critiques that I become stagnant in my progress, worrying that what I have been doing is not good enough and not knowing how to push past it. But after taking a step back and talking through things with Emmett and Erin, I felt like I had a sense of direction and purpose, and plenty of support to remind me that I am not alone in this, I am doing my best and that they are there to help me make this work be the best that it can be.

While we may not have been able to get to the actual survey-writing process just yet, a full and extensive literature review is the finished product I will be walking away with for this summer. My future goal with this research is to hopefully be able to continue this process for my honors thesis, and getting to continue this project in any capacity would be extraordinarily meaningful to me, because I know how impactful the potential results may be, and I want to be able to see what I can do with this and how far I can go. The process this summer has enabled me to step outside of my comfort zone, work closely with Erin and Emmett in a new capacity, reignite my passion for the work I am able to be doing, and motivate me to continue on with this work, however that may look.

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