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Running Head: THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT

The Influence of Popular Culture on LGBT Students’ Identity Development Research Proposal Rebecca Frost Miami University

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT The Influence of Popular Culture on LGBT Students’ Identity Development With the rise of popular television shows featuring openly gay men and lesbian women, college students are now, more than ever, exposed to entertainment media that can shape their

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identity development, especially for gay and lesbian students. The construction of identity relies partially on contextual influences, including peer culture, social norms, and stereotypes (Abes & Jones, 2004). These contextual influences include how college students construct sexual identity through reflecting on popular culture that portrays contemporary social issues, including sexual identity (Abes & Jones, 2004). As colleges and universities strive for inclusive communities, student affairs practitioners need to understand how popular culture influences identity development. As gay and lesbian college students make meaning of their sexual identities, they are also navigating a possibly hostile and uncomfortable college campus climate. As cited in Tetreault (2013), Brown, Clarke, Gortmaker, and Robinson-Keilig’s 2002 study found that ―All (100%) LGBTQ respondents indicated that anti-LGBTQ attitudes existed to some extent, and 47% reported these attitudes existed to a great or very great extent (Tetreault, pg. 950). Furthermore, Brown, et al.’s study found that ―30% [of LGBTQ students] reported they had experienced verbal insults at least once‖ and they ―reported hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity from other students (66%), faculty (57%), university staff members (40%), health care providers (23%), and roommates (22%) (Tetreault, pg. 950). Campus climate is particularly important for gay and lesbian students as they make meaning of their identity because they are in the formative stage of identity development (D’Augelli, 1992). Student affairs practitioners can help construct a positive campus climate for gay and lesbian students by affirming the identities of gay and lesbian students.

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT For the purpose of this study, I will be focusing solely on gay and lesbian college students, however I acknowledge that bisexual and transgender identities can be represented in popular culture. Furthermore, popular culture will refer predominantly to mainstream television shows particularly popularized by featuring queer characters. Entertainment media refers as a whole to television shows and movies. While there is research analyzing identity development and research analyzing critical

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media literacy, a gap exists in the literature in understanding how entertainment media influences identity development. The research indicates that external authorities, including entertainment media, influence one’s identity development (Tisdell, 2008). Furthermore, entertainment media is a powerful tool to educate and miseducate because it reinforces the images and values of the dominant culture (Tisdell, 2008). Thus, college students will be constructing meaning of their identities in light of these representations (Tisdell, 2008). Entertainment media has at least some effect on how we continue to learn about gender and sexual orientation; therefore, college students will draw on popular culture to construct their own identity (Tisdell, 2008). If college and university officials, and student affairs practitioners, can work to enhance campus climate for gay and lesbian students, they will inevitably positively affect campus climate towards gay and lesbian students (D’Augelli, 1992). As campus climate becomes more affirming, gay and lesbian students will have a safe space to develop their identities. For this study, I will be using a pragmatic worldview to conduct a mixed methods design. I have chosen to conduct this study through a pragmatist worldview because this research topic is problem-centered with real-world practice implications. There are consequences involved, for both gay and lesbian students as well as other students’ perceptions of gay and lesbian students. A pragmatic worldview can help scholar practitioners understand the importance of popular

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT culture in helping students make meaning of their identities, which can affect how scholar

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practitioners serve their universities and students. The research question I will attempt to answer is: To what extent popular culture influence how gay and lesbian students make meaning of their identity? Literature Review This study will examine the current body of literature as it relates to gay and lesbian students’ identity development, campus climate for LGBT students, and critical media literacy (the influence of popular culture as an educational tool). Identity Development Abes and Jones (2004) conducted narrative inquiry research with traditional age lesbian students at a large public research insitution in the Midwest in order to answer how lesbian college students make meaning of their identity. Their research indicated the importance of creating context that can foster these students’ meaning making capacity, which is necessary for LGBT students to internally define their sexuality (Abes and Jones, 2004). Academic course work and residence life programming could address contemporary issues through TV shows and movies feautring multiple and varied stories around LGBT characters and experiences (Abes and Jones 2004). Gay and lesbian students as well as other students can make meaning of their individal identities through contextual influences, which can include popular culture. This can enhance their own understanding of identity as well as the identity of others. Identity construction functions in three dimensions including context and content. Examples of context can be a student’s macro and mesosystems of influence including family, friends, peers, social norms, and stereotypes. These contextual influences then play a role in how students make meaning of their identities (Abes and Jones, 2004). For gay and lesbian

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT students making meaning of their identity in college, it is important to understand what constitutes peer culture and external authorities. One can assume that popular culture can be a component of both peer culture and an external authority that gay and lesbian students are making meaning of in their identity development. Stevens (2004) reported that environmental contexts include not only the classroom and residence halls, but also television and movies, which are representative of larger social norms. As traditional-age students enter college, they are more likely to have either already come out or have begun that process (Bilodeau & Renn, 2005). One important consideration to make in understanding students’ identity development is the influence popular culture can have on that development. If a student’s personal identity is

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being informed by external authorities such as popular culture, student affairs professionals need to recognize the importance of popular culture in order to be serve and affirm gay and lesbian students’ identities. Contextual Influences and Campus Climate Additionally, Stevens, Jr. (2004) researched gay identity development within a college environment through the use of grounded theory methodology considering the experiences of 11 self-identified gay male college students. His study affirmed the importance of environmental contexts in identity explorsure. Stevens, Jr. (2004) found that not only was prejudice a frequent occurrence on campus but also that heterosexist and homophobic attitudes permeated throughout all levels of campus, including faculty, student affairs staff, and students. He found that the gay men he interviewed were more likely to disclose their gay identity within hospitable environments. He concluded that welcoming environments, including the attitudes of the people within the university, allowed gay students to more openly explore their place on campus as gay students (Stevens Jr., 2004).

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In addition to contextual influences, external attitudes influence identity development for gay and lesbian students, specifically campus climate. Campus climate has been defined as “the cumulative attitudes, behaviors and standards of employees and students concerning access for, inclusion of, and level of respect for individual and group needs, abilities and potential” (Tetreault, Fette, Meidlinger, & Hope 2013, pg. 947). Because campus climate affects both academic performance and participation on campus, it has become imperative to study how campus climate influences LGBTQ identity development (Tetreault, et al., pg. 947). As practitioners come to reflect on the current campus climate for LGBT students, they discover environments that are neither welcoming nor conducive for inclusion. In 1992, D’Augelli conducted a study that focused on the nature of the harassment and discrimination experienced by self-identified gay and lesbian students at Penn State University. He distributed two surveys, three years apart, which produced 315 replies. The results indicated that “nearly everyone (99%) overheard derogatory antilesbian/antigay comments on campus; two thirds (67%) had heard such comments often, one third (32%) sometimes” (D’Augelli 1992, pg. 390). Furthermore, over three quarters (77%) of students were verbally assaulted and one quarter (27%) had been threatened with physical violence (D’Augelli, pg. 387-388). Additionally, more than a quarter (28%) of students felt harassment “was very likely” and 41% felt discrimination “was very likely” (D’Augelli 1992, pg. 390). Lastly, of the 73 respondents who were victimized by harassment of violence, “88% did not report at least one of the incidents they experienced” and 64% of respondents felt they were occasionally fearful for their personal safety because of their affectional status (D’Augelli, pg. 390-391). Ten years later, the campus climate for LGBT students has not changed significantly. In 2002, Brown, Clarke, Gortmaker, and Robinson-Keilig conducted a comprehensive assessment of campus climate through surveys

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT and interviews. The study that found ―All (100%) LGBTQ respondents indicated that antiLGBTQ attitudes existed to some extent, and 47% reported these attitudes existed to a great or very great extent (Brown, et al., pg. 9). Furthermore, ―30% [of LGBTQ students] reported they

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had experienced verbal insults at least once‖ and they ―reported hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity from other students (66%), faculty (57%), university staff members (40%), health care providers (23%), and roommates (22%) (Brown, et al., pg. 10-11). Tetreault, Fette, Meidlinger, & Hope (2013) conducted an online survey in the spring of 2009 to assess the current needs of LGBTQ students at a large Midwestern university. The participants of the study were 77 LGBTQ-identified students at a predominantly white, large, land-grant research university in the Great Plains region of the United States (Tetreault, pg. 951). Of those surveyed, “Fifty-three percent reported having experienced unfair treatment by other students one or more times…they have hidden their identity from other students one or more times (65%), with 41% hiding their sexual orientation four or more times” (Tetreault, pg. 953). Additionally, “approximately one-fourth (26%) considered leaving campus, and more than onehalf (60%) reported that they have not attended a LGBT event on campus” (Tetreault, pg. 953). These results indicated that a campus must have a climate that includes “policies, procedures, facilities, programs and services that are visibly welcoming and inclusive” to LGBTQ students (Tetreault, pg. 959). Critical Media Literacy Natharius (2004), defined media literacy as “the understanding we have about the ways in which media affect our selves, our society, and our culture” (Natharius, pg. 238). He goes on to say that media literacy instills students with heteronormative messages, societal norms, and expected social behaviors (Natharius, 2004). Following his study, he concluded that what is not

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT depicted in the media is just as important as what is shown in that we remain critical of what we are consuming from TV and movies (Natharius, 2004). In 2012, Zemmels reported on studying

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identity in an evolving entertainment market. He found that media allows for people to construct their own identities and lifestyles, choosing from the multitude of representations in TV and movies, which can imply that popular culture can influence gay and lesbian students’ identity development (Zemmels, 2012). One avenue gay and lesbian students can make meaning of their identity is through popular culture because gay and lesbian students can find visibility in popular culture they may not find on a college campus. Popular Culture as an Educational Tool In 2005, Tisdell conducted research on “how traditional-age college students construct meaning and identified of themselves and others in light of the visual images and entertainment media (Tisdell 2005, pg. 3). She used a social constructivist paradigm within a mixed methods design of quantitative components based on a survey as well as qualitative data from interviews and focus groups (Tisdell, 2005). Tisdell found that media most often reinforces the attitudes and beliefs of the dominant culture, including traditional norms and values (Tisdell, 2005). Furthermore, she found that within those traditional norms and values were cultural or gender stereotypes that are reinforced in the media. However, she also intimated that if media can reinforce, then media can also challenge the societal norms. In short, the entertainment media, for good or for ill, is one of the most powerful vehicles of nonformal education of postmodern life (Tisdell, 2005). When applied to understanding how gay and lesbian students make meaning of their identity through external authority, popular culture serves to stand as a primary resource that can influence identity development. Tisdell’s study implies that gay and lesbian students are

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT faced with media that can serve as a powerful vehicle of nonformal education, including education on sexual orientation and gender identity. Tisdell conducted another study in 2008 that questioned to what extent adult educators draw upon popular culture to facilitate learning of diversity and equity issues. She based her

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research on the assumption that it is important to study how popular culture informs shaping and challenging power relationships of privilege and oppression (Tisdell, 2008). Her study explored how critical media literacy can be used an educative tool of transformative learning in higher education (Tisdell, 2008). Tisdell’s analysis of her own three studies concludes that media can not only challenge the dominant culture’s attitude toward sexuality, but also serve to educate and miseducate (Tisdell, 2008). Gay and lesbian students making meaning of their identities can draw on the power of popular culture to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions of queer populations as well as find community in those portrayals of LGBT characters and storylines. Conclusion These results are troubling and evident that campus climate must be improved for LGBT students. Because campus climate serves as an external authority in identity development, gay and lesbian students need university and college officials to work to enhance the campus climate as welcoming and accepting. Popular culture can be one such avenue to assist student affairs professionals in serving its students because popular culture can be a positive influence on affirming gay and lesbian identities. Student affairs professionals need to encourage positive campus climate for gay and lesbian students because without positive visibility acknowledging sexuality and gender identity, heteronormativity will persist on college campuses, perpetuating negative campus climate for LGBTQ students. The proposed research study extends the literature by examining how popular culture serves as a contextual influence on gay and lesbian

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT students’ identity development. On a practical level, understanding how popular culture

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influences identity development of gay and lesbian students can help student affairs professionals create a positive and inclusive campus climate. Affirming gay and lesbian students’ identities can be a crucial component of identity development because prior studies indicate that contextual influences (campus climate) and external authorities (campus staff including student affairs professionals) are important factors in identity development. Peer culture and popular culture (entertainment media) can serve as a contextual influence in that popular culture can serve as a powerful tool of visibility for gay and lesbian characters and storylines. Additionally, studies such as D’Augelli (1992) and Tetreault, Fette, Meidlinger, & Hope (2013) make it clear that campus climate can negatively affect gay and lesbian students’ feelings of acceptance and belonging on campus. Popular culture can serve as the great equalizer. This current study adds to the literature by attempting to answer this question: To what extent does popular culture (external authority) influence gay and lesbian college students’ identity development? Methods and Analysis The research question I will be answering through my study is: To what extent does popular culture influence how gay and lesbian students make meaning of their identity? The best way to answer this question is through explanatory sequential mixed methods, as outlined in Creswell (2014). Mixed methods research uses both quantitative and qualitative data to paint a more complete understanding of the results. I have chosen this methodology because of its strength in providing a sophisticated, complex approach to my research question. The explanatory sequential design will allow for quantitative data from surveys to inform the follow up qualitative data from interviews and focus groups, which will add context and explanation for the results of the quantitative study. The data from the surveys will help generate relevant

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT questions for both the interviews and the focus groups. This portion of the study will help

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deepen the understanding of the quantitative findings. This research methodology will allow for the development of a more complete understanding of how popular culture influences gay and lesbian students’ identities. Sampling The participants I will be ultimately studying are traditional-age self-identified LGBT college students who attend a mid-size public, Land-grant University in the Midwest. Since the university does not collect demographic information including sexuality, the initial phase will need to be broad enough to generate a significant sample for the second, qualitative phase. To target the initial population for the survey, I will recruit participants through an email invitation to complete the survey. To garner a greater return, I will need to seek gatekeepers who can assist with greater distribution of the initial survey. The primary avenues of email distribution will through the university’s email server, as this is the primary method of university communication. I will select two email communities to target: (1) all students listed in student organizations (who can be emailed through the student organization listserv); and (2) all students associated with the Office of Residence Life (who can be emailed through the Office of Residence Life listserv). In order to access these specific listservs, I will need the cooperation of these listserv administrators. In seeking the cooperation of these administrators, I will outline the purpose of the study, addressing any concerns or risks the administrators may feel in the distribution of said survey. Through these emails, an initial invitation to participant in the online survey will be sent, followed by a second invitation one week later. In this initial email, I will explain the purpose of our study. One key component of the survey will be the space for students to self-identify their

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sexual orientation, sexuality, etc. An additional, optional survey question will be whether or not the student would want to participate in follow-up interviews and focus groups. This data point will drive the second round of sampling for the one-on-one interviews and small focus groups. I will contact those students who self-identify as LGBT and who indicated they would want to be interviewed. The goal for participants in the second phase will be 15 self-identified LGBT students. For those participating in the second phase, I will offer monetary compensation in the form of a gift card for their participation in both phases—one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Data Collection For the quantitative phase of this study, I will create a survey specifically tailored to our research question. To that end, a few of our independent variables include: self-identified LGBT identity, how students make meaning of their identity, how much TV (shows and movies) they watch on a regular basis, which of those shows include LGBT characters or storylines, and how/if these shows affect this identities. The question types will be varied, including openended and free response questions, Likert-scale questions, and multiple choice/close-ended questions. This data will be analyzed to target only LGBT students’ responses (keeping to the specification of the research question). Once these data are coded and analyzed, I will contact those students who indicated they would participate in the secondary phase of interviews and focus groups. The students I will contact for this portion will have indicated components on the survey that is in line with my intended research question, or present interesting data that I think should be explored. See Appendix A for a sampling of survey questions to be used. For the qualitative phase of this study, interviews will be conducted one-on-one in a comfortable office within our department. These interviews will both be recorded and

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT transcribed (with the participants providing consent). The focus groups will discuss prompted questions in a more boardroom/conference room setting within the academic department. The

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focus group dialogue will also be recorded and transcribed. The qualitative interviews, both oneon-one and within the focus groups, will cover questions regarding students sexual identity and how they have made meaning of those identities, how popular culture has impacted or influenced their identity development, and if so, what popular culture specifically, i.e. which TV shows or movies have been significant in their development. The interviews and focus groups will also expand upon the popular culture influence, discussing specifics of TV shows and movies, including characters, plot lines, etc. and how these elements of popular culture have personally influenced participants. See Appendix B for potential interview and focus group questions. These questions serve as a starting point because ultimately, they will be influenced by the results of the quantitative data, which aligns with the explanatory sequential design. The procedure going into the second phase is predicated on the initial quantitative results. Therefore, the interview and focus group questions provided here are only starting points. Trustworthiness With as many moving parts that mixed methods have, establishing trustworthiness is important. Reliability with the quantitative instrument (surveys) will be achieved with peer and faculty reviewers to assess the quality of survey questions. The peers and faculty reviewers will be recruited through the Department of Educational Leadership at the institution. I will also ask our reviewers to assess any noticeable biases inherent in the questions that will need adjustment. Analyzing the qualitative data will tasked to both the research team and two selected participants from the initial survey review team. These multiple points of view will read the interview and focus group transcripts as well as research notes accumulated through the duration

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT of the project. Applying outsiders’ lens to the data will allow for discrepancies or biases to be accounted for in a more objective way. Lastly, mixed methods has an inherent level of trustworthiness due to data triangulation, which is a key component of this study as I will use qualitative data to explain the context of the quantitative data.

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THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT Appendix A Survey Question Sampling

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1. Do you consider TV and movies important? a. Not important b. Somewhat important c. Important d. Very important 2. Does popular culture influence your life? a. Rarely b. Sometimes c. Frequently d. Generally e. Almost always 3. How many hours per day do you watch TV (which can include movies)? a. None b. 1-2 c. 3-4 d. 5+ 4. How many days per week do you watch TV (which can include movies)? a. None b. 1-2 c. 3-4 d. 5+ 5. Please rank the following genres by level of interest, 1 being the highest to 10 being the lowest. a. Action/Adventure b. Comedy c. Crime d. Drama e. Horror/Mystery f. Satire g. Sci-Fi/Fantasy 6. How often do you watch the following TV shows? Show Never Heard Rarely Sometimes Frequently Generally Almost of it Always Buffy the Vampire Slayer Degrassi Doctor Who Glee Greys Anatomy Lip Service Lost Girl Nip/Tuck

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT Once Upon a Time Orange is the New Black Orphan Black Pretty Little Liars Six Feet Under Skins South of Nowhere The Fosters The L Word Warehouse 13

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7. Please self-identify your sexual orientation and/or sexuality. 8. Age 9. Year in School a. Freshman b. Sophomore c. Junior d. Senior 10. Would you be interested in participating in follow-ups interviews or focus groups? Focus groups will be 3-5 students and offer an opportunity to discuss how important TV and movies are in your life. a. Yes b. Maybe c. No

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT Appendix B Survey Question Sampling 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

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What TV shows do you watch that feature LGBT characters? How important are these TV shows to you? Have there been any shows or characters that you have taken a liking to? How do the characters represented resonate with your sexual identity? As characters have addressed their own sexualities, have you found connection in their stories? 6. Tell me about how you relate to particular characters? a. What is it about their stories that are significant to you? i. Why or why not? b. How does seeing their stories on TV affect you? 7. Would you be likely to recommend any shows to friends who may be making meaning of their sexual identity? a. Why or why not? b. Which shows?

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT References Abes, E. S., & Jones, S. R. (2004). Meaning-making capacity and the dynamics of lesbian college students’ multiple dimensions of identity. Journal of College Student Development, 45(6), 612–632. doi:10.1353/csd.2004.0065 Bilodeau, B. L., & Renn, K. A. (2005). Analysis of LGBT identity development models and implications for practice. New Directions for Student Services, (111), 25–39.

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Brown, R. D., Clarke, B., Gortmaker, V., & Robinson-Keilig, R. (2002). Campus cli- mate and needs assessment study for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Retrieved from http://www.unl.edu/cglbtc/climate.shtml Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [ch. 10] D’Augelli, A. R. (1992). Lesbian and gay male undergraudates’ experiences of harassment and fear on campus. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 7(3), 383–395. Natharius, D. (2004). The more we know, the more we see: the role of visuality in media literacy. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(2), 238–247. doi:10.1177/0002764204267269 Stevens, R. A. (2004). Understanding gay identity development within the college environment. Journal of College Student Development, 45(2), 185–206. doi:10.1353/csd.2004.0028 Teddlie, C., & Tashakkori, A. (2009). Foundations of mixed methods research: integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches in the social and behavioral sciences. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. [ch. 2]

THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE ON LGBT STUDENTS’ IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT Tetreault, P. a, Fette, R., Meidlinger, P. C., & Hope, D. (2013). Perceptions of campus climate by sexual minorities. Journal of homosexuality, 60(7), 947–64. doi:10.1080/00918369.2013.774874

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Tisdell, E. J. (2008). Critical media literacy and transformative learning: drawing on pop culture and entertainment media in teaching for diversity in adult higher education. Journal of Transformative Education, 6(1), 48–67. doi:10.1177/1541344608318970 Tisdell, E. J., & Thompson, P. M. (2005). The role of pop culture and entertainment media in adult education practice. In Proceedings of the 46th Annual Adult Education Research Conference (pp. 425–432). Zemmels, D. R. (2012). Youth and new media: studying identity and meaning in an evolving media environment. Communication Research Trends, 31(4), 4–23.