Study aims for province-wide data on LGBTQ2S+ students

Laurier research team launches large-scale survey assessing academics, safety 

The survey is available until April 30.
Journal File Photo

Thriving on Campus is a province-wide study aimed at understanding the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ university students in Ontario. 

This is the first large-scale study on the subject in the country, designed to focus on advancing inclusion, health and wellbeing, and academic success. Associate Professor Michael Woodford, of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Faculty of Social Work, is heading the study’s research team.

The team has partnered with other groups working with university students, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the LGBTQ2S+ community. They’ve received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engage Grant and the Tri-Council Research Support Fund.

“If campuses are to support and promote students’ mental health and academic success, we need to know how their experiences and other aspects of the climate might affect their wellbeing,” Woodford wrote in an email to The Journal.

The team identified all policies, resources, and services available at Ontario universities, before launching an online survey to gather experiential information from current LGBTQ2S+ students. 

They plan to conduct follow-up interviews and publish fact sheets from the survey in fall of 2019. They will also provide participating schools with a summary of results for each institution. 

“These reports will give each school the snapshot needed to start conversations about how they can enhance their efforts to promote LGBTQ2S+ students’ inclusion and wellbeing,” Woodford said. They’ll also host regional and provincial webinars to present key findings and strategies for addressing diverse needs on campus starting in winter of 2020.

The study builds on research Woodford conducted in the US during his time as a faculty member at the University of Michigan. These American studies found LGBTQ2S+ students face both threats to their physical safety and social discrimination on university campuses, which impacts personal and academic success.

Despite this growing body of American research, there’s no significant information available concerning the experiences and well-being of LGBTQ2S+ students at Canadian universities, with the majority of studies pertaining to individual schools.

“These studies often drive change on individual campuses, but they tend not to have impacts at a provincial policy level or in terms of informing the curriculum offered in social work and other fields that work with LGBTQ2S+ students,” Woodford said.

This study hopes to bridge the gap and provide institutions with evidence-based suggestions for policies and services that will better support the acceptance, well-being, and academic development of LGBTQ2S+ students.

“Without an accurate picture of students’ experiences and wellbeing, how do we know what students’ needs are? What factors might be contributing to them flourishing on campus, or doing poorly?” Woodford said.

To understand the disparities in university experience, the survey examines topics such as positive mental health and social belonging, and also seeks to address how identities shape student experiences and wellbeing on campus. For example, the survey explores the correlation between discrimination and an individual’s “diverse identities, such as Indigenous identity, race/ethnicity, (dis)ability, religion, body size, gender, sexuality, and gender expression.”

“We know very little about intersectional identities among LGBTQ2S+ students,” Woodford said. “Service providers—on and off campus—policymakers, administrators, and advocates need robust research so that programs, services, and policies can be tailored to students’ diverse needs and strengths.”

The participation of students at Queen’s is important to the overall success of the survey, according to Woodford, as it’s the only way for the study to get a full picture of the situation in Kingston. 

In collaboration with the Academic Affairs Commission and OUSA, the AMS has been promoting the survey through social media, including a link their Feb. 7 newsletter. 

The survey is available for completion online until April 30.

“These kinds of changes in the long run will hopefully make campuses more accepting of LGBTQ2S+ students and help them flourish and succeed on campus,” Woodford said. 

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