Transgender Student Retention: Summer Blog 2

For our work on transgender/gender nonconforming (TGNC) retention this summer, I have been working on a literature review, and in the process of compiling this review, graduate assistant Emmett made me aware of two significant recent studies that help in connecting our literature together, as well as help us more specifically frame the goal of our research.

Some data we recently looked into from the U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), which is the largest survey of TGNC individuals to date, pertains to the attrition of TGNC students. Of the respondents who attended college or vocational school and experienced forms of harassment, 16% left as a result of harassment (James et al., 2016, p. 136). 24% of students who were out or perceived as transgender in higher education reported being verbally, physically, or sexually harassed (James et al., 2016, p. 136). Additionally, 1% of respondents who attended higher education were forced out of school or expelled, and 5% left for other reasons pertaining to being transgender (James et al., 2016, p. 136). With some of these quantitative points related to reasons why TGNC students left their institution, we have more of a basis for framing our own research to help answer the question: how are we indirectly (and sometimes directly) pushing TGNC students out of their institutions?

A new study published in February of this year demonstrates a link between perceptions of campus climate and institutional action to academic success and persistence for LGBTQA students. Their results demonstrated that comfort with campus climate was the most significant predictor of academic success, followed by institutional action perceptions and campus climate perceptions (Garvey, Squire, Stachler & Rankin, 2018). In discussing their results, Garvey and Rankin noted that “across a wide swath of systemic oppressions, those who saw their campuses as less racist, transphobic, homophobic, ageist, classist, and ableist, felt more satisfied with their intellectual growth. This is potentially due to increased feelings of inclusion, lack of erasure, and increased positive visibility in the classroom” (Garvey, Squire, Stachler & Rankin, 2018, p. 11). The results of this study demonstrate that, if TGNC students feel included and positively visible and, in turn, perceive their campus climate as being more comfortable and warm, they have higher rates of persistence and academic success.These results provide us with a new bridge to link all of our literature together regarding retention strategies and experiences of TGNC students, as well as gives us suggestions and a framework to build our survey and/or focus group questions off of.

Between these new results relating to campus climate and academic success, and the USTS results pointing to the number of TGNC individuals who left their institutions for a variety of reasons, we are now better able to frame our own work as one of providing more qualitative context as to why students may leave, and what institutions may be able to implement in order to better retain TGNC students.

At the beginning of this month, I was able to attend the Philadelphia Transgender Wellness Conference (PTWC) through the UGR conference travel fund. The PTWC is the largest transgender health conference in the world, drawing thousands of people. While there, I was able to have a vendor table with posters and information about my work on display, as well as an email sign up sheet in order for those interested in participating in my work to give their email address in order to contact them about our survey.  My experience at the conference was incredibly valuable, and I was able to network with professionals interested in my work, as well as hear stories of TGNC individuals who left school or transferred for a variety of reasons relating to their gender identity.

Over the course of the 3 day conference, we gathered email addresses of 114 TGNC individuals who were interested in participating in our survey, as well as talked to others who are mental health providers working with TGNC students, those who work on college campuses and would have access to TGNC student populations on their respective campuses, and even social media influencers with tens of thousands of TGNC followers who were interested in sharing our survey on their platforms.

Throughout the research process this summer, I have learned more about myself and how to challenge myself in aspects of my life I used to shy away from. For example, being able to ask for guidance or allowing myself to feel proud of the work I have been doing is something I previously would have been too anxious to do. This project has been transformative for me because I was able to interact with other TGNC people who would benefit from the work I am doing and I am allowing myself to recognize how impactful this work could be, which is something I never would have imagined I would be doing.

I am hoping to continue this research project as a part of my honors thesis, and my current goal moving forward with this research is to complete the literature review I have been working on as fully as possible, and begin working on submitting for IRB approval so we can then move forward with creating a survey.

Transgender Student Retention: Summer Blog 1

Hi, my name is Matthew Scheller, and I am  a rising senior in the honors college majoring in applied psychology with a minor in queer studies. I am working alongside LGBTQA & Social Justice Center Graduate Assistant Emmett Griffith and Associate Director Erin Furey to look at transgender students and retention.

The current title of our research project is Transgender Student Retention, where our goals are to gain insight into the specific needs of transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) college/university students that could be met potentially through a retention model or strategy, and therefore may impact retention rates for TGNC students.

We hope to learn about what TGNC students would need from an institution that would better help them to remain in school, and we plan on using a survey and focus groups to learn about these needs.

So far, we are in the process of writing our literature review, having compiled a variety of sources pertaining to subjects such as retention strategies for LGBTQA and other marginalized groups of students, and experiences of TGNC college students, which can include topics such as mental health and perception of campus climate. We were able to come up with a few general themes to briefly summarize our sources, including the impact of support systems on transgender student success and engagement, influence of negative campus climate experiences on mental health, assumptions made about who TGNC people are and what they need, and largely, the lack of research about TGNC students. Currently, there is no existing literature that specifically focuses on TGNC students, so our literature review seeks to find the connections between existing literature about TGNC students and about retention and where our research may be able to fill in those gaps. Going forward, we plan to put together a survey and potentially focus groups where we would like to gather information from TGNC students regarding their needs and experiences at institutions and what they would need or like to see from institutions that may help them to stay in school.

Since there is no existing literature focused on TGNC students and retention, our work could be the first of its kind. With our work, an entire population of students that have been historically marginalized and overlooked by institutions when it comes to their specific needs may be finally recognized and may lead to a greater number of TGNC students staying in school.

UGR Post 1: Transgender/gender nonconforming college students & retention

My name is Matt Scheller, and I am a junior in the honors college, studying applied psychology with a queer studies minor. I have been a queerleader captain with the LGBTQA & Social Justice Center for the past year and just joined this research project this semester. I am working alongside the Center Associate Director Erin Furey and Graduate Assistant Emmett Griffith in researching transgender and gender nonconforming (T/GNC) college students and retention. Currently, our goal is to compile a literature review, which we would use to aid us in putting together a survey and focus group(s) investigating what the specific needs of trans and GNC students are, and what could be done from an institutional standpoint that could help them stay in school.

This research is important because it would be able to guide us in eventually developing a possible intervention model geared towards increasing T/GNC student retention at colleges and universities.  At this point, we have been essentially starting from scratch, reviewing articles previously pulled for the project while searching for new ones to possibly include in the eventual literature review. As Gabe had noted in his previous posts, subject matter in the articles that are being reviewed do not immediately respond to our specific subject of T/GNC college students and retention, so the articles we are looking at tend to span subjects such as transgender students’ mental health, perceived campus climate for LGBTQA students and their college experiences, and retention models and implementation strategies, among other slight variations of these subjects. Our immediate goal for the remainder of this semester is to compose this literature review.

So far, it has been interesting to read through these articles and notice what similarities can be drawn from their findings and conclusions. For example, I have been noticing across multiple articles that retention strategies for LGBTQA students, as well as other student populations, investigate factors such as campus climate, classroom climate, and strength of the student-faculty relationship when determining the most significant influences of retention. There seems to be a large focus on using trainings, support groups, and first-year initiatives in these articles as potential ways to foster a more accepting climate and positively influencing retention. I look forward to delving more deeply into drawing these connections and seeing what other findings can be made throughout the remainder of this literature review process this semester.