College Student Housing: Gender-Inclusive Housing and Traditional Dorms
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It is well established that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming (LGB/TGNC) individuals experience more negative mental health outcomes compared to heterosexual and cisgender counterparts (Lindquist, Livingston, Heck & Machek, 2017; McCarthy, Fishter, Irwin, Coleman & Pelster, 2015; Woodford, Han, Craig, Lim, & Matney, 2014; Grant et al., 2014) as well as higher risks of suicide (McCarthy et al, 2014; Woodford et al, 2014; Vespone, 2016; King et al., 2008). These disparities are seen across the lifespan. For example, sexual and gender minority students report 1.57x more anxiety and 1.73x more depression compared to heterosexual students (Woodford et al., 2014). Furthermore, LGBTQ status is related to several factors such as increased hopelessness and greater levels of depression (Hirsch Cohn, Rowe, & Rimme, 2017). In a large study of 6,000 students, 21.1% of LGBQ students met criteria for major depressive disorder compared to 15.2% of heterosexual students (Grant et al., 2014). Likewise, 12.5% of LGBQ students reported social anxiety compared to 3.5% heterosexual students (Grant et al., 2014).
In addition to mental health outcomes, Hirsch et al. (2017) reported that increased negative mental health outcomes led to an increased risk of suicidal behavior. Sexual minorities are twice as likely to have suicide ideation compared to heterosexual counterparts (Mereish, O’Cleirigh & Bradford, 2014; McCarty et al., 2014; King et al., 2008). Furthermore, a study that included gender minorities found that sexual and gender minorities were five to six times as more likely to report suicidal ideation than non-sexual minorities (Hirsch et al., 2017). Another large sample of over 2,325 respondents found 46.5% of TGNC students reported attempting suicide compared to 4.6% of the general population (Seelman, 2016). Finally, in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a national sample of 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming participants, 41% reported attempting suicide compared to the 1.6% in the general population (Grant et al., 2011; Seelman, 2016). Lack of social support, substance abuse, depression, experiences of friends committing suicide, harassment, and bullying are all factors contributing to the substantial suicide risk among LGB/TGNC students (Johnson, Oxendine & Robertson 2013).
The presence or absence of social support has major implications for the mental health of LGB/TGNC students. There is evidence that high social support is associated with lower depression and anxiety (Pflum, Testa, Balsam, Goldblum & Bongar, 2015). In addition to contributing to suicide risk, low social support is correlated with substance use/abuse, psychological distress, intimacy barriers, and sexual risk behaviors among youth under the age of 25 (Brandon-Friedman & Kim, 2016). Many LGB/TGNC students experience family rejection which is associated with increased depression and suicidal behaviors (Hirsch et al., 2017; Grant et al., 2014; Blosnich & Bossarte, 2012). As LGB/TGNC students lack social support from family members, it is crucial for LGB/TGNC students to be able to find social support on campus. When looking at measures of social support and LGB identity development, higher levels of social support have been associated with sexual minority college students to have more positive attitudes towards their own identity. (Brandon-Friedman & Kim, 2016).
Increased campus support is associated with positive identity development which includes reduction in acceptance concerns, internalized homonegativity, and difficulty developing identity in sexual minority students (Brandon-Friedman & Kim, 2016). When looking at resident halls, having a resident assistant identifying as LGBT or openly supportive of LGBT communities is associated with better experiences and perceptions of campus climate (Kortegast, 2017; Evans & Broido, 2002). This finding also extended to residence directors and other resident hall faculty members (Evans & Broido, 2002). In a recent study with gay and bisexual mena, overall community involvement lead to greater social support which in turn predicted fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety (Salfas, Rendina, & Parsons, 2018).
Academic Performance and Retention
The effects of social support are also important for LGB/TGNC students’ academic performance and retention. Worthen (2014) found that social support from fellow students is associated not only with psychological outcomes (improvements in relationships, physical and emotional safety, alcohol use, psychological distress, victimization, and suicide) but with improved academic performance as well. Similarly, Kosciw, Palmer, Kill, and Greytak (2013) investigated school climate and outcomes for LGBT youth. Negative social experiences, including in-school victimization, was associated with decreased self-esteem, lower GPA, and more missed days of class for LGB/TGNC youth, demonstrating the negative academic impact of social problems like bullying. However, social support from educators in the same sample was associated with fewer incidences of victimization, greater self-esteem, higher GPA, and fewer missed classes. The content taught in schools is also important – LGBT inclusive curriculum was associated with higher GPA (Kosciw, Palmer, Kill, & Greytak, 2013). Overall, several studies have found that positive interaction with faculty and staff is associated with better academic outcomes (Woodford & Kulick, 2015; Tetreault, Fette, Meidlinger, & Hope, 2013; Linley, Nguyen, Brazelton, Becker & Woodford, 2016).
Outside of faculty and staff, students who have friends who also identify as LGB have higher GPA and institutional satisfaction (Woodford & Kulick, 2015). However, LGB students who have greater LGB social contacts are also at increased risk for harassment, which can itself lead to worsening academic performance. (Woodford & Kulick, 2015). Negative experiences on campus, like harassment, lead LGB students to have a worse views of their campus climate (Evans & Broido, 2002). Students with a negative perception of campus climate have lower academic integration and social integration on campus (Woodford & Kulick, 2015). Overall, campus climate has a great impact on LGB/TGNC students’ academic development and participation in campus life (Tetreault, Fette, Meidlinger & Hope, 2013).
Perceptions of Campus Climate
Woodford and Kulick’s (2015) study of 381 students found that 25% of the students reported being harassed on campus due to their sexual orientation and 30% felt uncomfortable with the overall campus climate. On average, LGB/TGNC students felt more tolerated on campus than accepted and therefore choose to prioritize safety by concealing rather than disclosing their sexual orientations and gender identities (Woodford & Kulick, 2015; Evans & Broido, 2002). LGB/TGNC students also are more likely to leave an institution due to the perception of a hostile climate than cisgender and heterosexual students (Johnson, Oxendine & Robertson, 2013; Seelman, 2016; Woodford & Kulick, 2015; Tetreault, Fette, Meidlinger, & Hope, 2013). Additionally, LGB/TGNC students with negative perceptions of campus climate may avoid being in LGBT spaces on campus (Seelman, 2017). However, students with allies and friends on campus had improved perceptions of climate (Evans & Broido, 2002), further implying the importance of social support for LGB/TGNC students. In addition to the creation of spaces and resources for LGB/TGNC students on college campuses, one recommendation to create a more social supportive environment is through gender-inclusive housing.
Student housing options impact mental health, social support, and perception of campus climate. Gender-inclusive housing allows LGB/TGNC students to live with roommates of different gender identities, as opposed to traditional housing which often groups roommates based on their sex assigned at birth. Additionally, gender-inclusive housing allows for students of different sexual identities to live together, in hopes of increasing their sense of community. Students who have negative experiences in residence halls tend to have more negative perception of their overall campus climate (Fanucce & Taub, 2009). TGNC students report they would be more comfortable in gender-inclusive housing and are more interested in attending institutions with gender-inclusive versus univerisities without that option (Krum, Davis, & Galupo, 2013). TGNC students are particularly vulnerable to negative experiences in residence halls. Obe study showed that 24.9% of TGNC students were denied access to gender-appropriate bathrooms or other facilities and 20.8% of TGNC students have been denied access to gender appropriate housing (Seelman, 2016). In addition, those denied access to gender-inclusive housing were 1.64x more likely to have attempted suicide (Seelman, 2016). Overall, negative campus climate was associated with increased numbers of suicide (Seelman, 2016). The implementation of gender-inclusive housing will allow for a more inclusive environment for TGNC students (Beemyn, 2005); Beemyn, Domingue, Pettitt, & Smith, 2005).
Moreover, in a qualitative study of 11 LGBTQ students, Kortegast (2017) found that students naturally migrate towards student housing spaces that have been known to been generally safe for LGBT students. Likewise, these students naturally form LGBT living communities overtime on their own by living in the same rooms, on the same floor, or within the same buildings (Kortegast, 2017). Additionally, in a qualitative study of 10 lesbian and bisexual women, students expressed a more negative perception of residence halls that lacked such a community (Evans & Broido, 2002). Without a community, many LGBT students expressed that their room was the only safe space (Kortegast, 2017). Further, LGBT students are reluctant to report victimization that occur within their halls (Kortegast, 2017). Some stated that reporting was too much of a hassle for little to no results (Kortegast, 2017).
When living in traditional housing options, LGB/TGNC students expressed concerns on lack of privacy, roommate selection, harassment, and disclosure of sexual orientation and/or gender identity (Fanucce & Taub, 2009; Seelman, 2016). Many of the TGNC students voiced concerns about their privacy and disclosure when proceeding with their transition (Kortegast, 2017; Fanucce & Taub, 2009). Students also felt discomfort and constant tension when they or their roommate showered or changed clothes (Alessi et al., 2017). Furthermore, the students mentioned shame and embarrassment when talking about their experiences living in traditional dorms and sharing the living spaces. They experienced heterosexual students pointing, whispering, or leaving the restroom when they entered, creating an in-group and out-group situation (Alessi et al., 2017).
In a focus group of 21 first-year sexual minority students, students reported being excited to start over and fully explore their sexuality in a larger environment with possibly less marginalization (Alessi, Spiro, Kanhn & Craig, 2017). However, a number of LGBT students claimed that a main issue in living in traditional dorms is not their own comfort or concern, but rather that their sexual identities would cause discomfort for their cisgender and heterosexual potential roommates (Alessi et al., 2017). As such, these students were conflicted on whether or not they should conceal or disclosure their identity with their roommates (Alessi et al., 2017). Students stated that it was best to conceal their identity to prevent any conflict and discomfort that may arise; however, they also felt that they should disclose their identity early to resolve the issue quickly (Alessi et al., 2017). Students noted that their reason for concealing their sexual orientations were so their roommates would not have to go through the hassle of switching rooms; however, the same students reported the concealment led to the constant reconsidering of their choice and chronic stress (Alessi et al., 2017). Once the students finally decided to disclose their sexual identity, some of their roommates ultimately requested to switch rooms (Alessi et al., 2017).
Gender- inclusive housing is one recommendation for improving campus climate and creating affirmative campus spaces for LGBT/TGNC students (Krum, Davis, & Paz Galupo, 2013; Beemyn, Domingue, Pettitt, & Smith, 2004). Because gender-inclusive housing is a more recent topic, there has been little research evaluating its impact on campuses, only research that indicates LGB/TGNC students desire such housing arrangements. The literature that does exist on LGB/TGNC college students demonstrates mental health disparities exist between LGB/TGNC students and heterosexual/cisgender students, which can impact academic performance (Kerr, Santurri, & Peters, 2011; Oswalt & Wyatt, 2011; Lindquist, 2017). Additionally, social support and campus climate substantially relate to mental health outcomes in LGB/TGNC college students. Determining the relationship between housing arrangement and psychological and academic outcomes in LGB/TGNC students is a next step towards identifying evidence-based resources and support for students on campus.
The current study aims to investigate the outcomes of LGB/TGNC college students living in gender-inclusive housing and traditional dorms. More specifically, the study aims to identify associations of housing types with mental health outcomes (generalized anxiety, social anxiety and depression) social support, satisfaction with life, minority stress levels, academic performance and retention, and perceptions of campus climate. The study proposes that there will be significant differences between LGB/TGNC students living in gender-inclusive housing and traditional housing. Specifically, it is hypothesized that LGB/TGNC students living in gender-inclusive housing will report higher levels of social support, satisfaction with life, academic performance and retention, and better perception of campus climate than LGB/TGNC students living in traditional housing. Furthermore, LGB/TGNC students living in gender inclusive housing will experience less minority stress as well as better overall mental health with less generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and depression than students in traditional housing. In addition, it is