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.

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