Bangor University Students’ Union Report

LGBT Access and Success in Higher Education Report
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Contents

Foreword Key Findings Introduction Profile of Respondents
Department Gender Age Group Ethnic Group Sexual Orientation

Methodology Research Activity
‘Belonging’ Events and Attitudes Academic and non-academic support and support networks

Recommendations Appendix
Comments Statistics Worksheets Surveys

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Foreword
success, and retention in Higher In 2013, NUS’ LGBT Campaign issued a call for partners to investigate equality, access, and success for LGBT students in Higher Education. Bangor Students’ Union was successful in becoming a project partner, and set out to identify two of the five key areas as identified by NUS; 1. “Building support for collecting monitoring data and encouraging disclosure of student sexual orientation and/or gender identity.” 2. “Working with LGBT staff in the institution to improve LBGT students’ experiences of education.” Many of the recommendations in our survey come directly from students, in addition to us drawing our own conclusions. In addition, our research will concentrate on working with LGBT staff to improve educational experiences of Bangor Students’ Union in recent years has come to greatly focus on education and representation, and during the last 18 months, Bangor SU has been a key partner in delivering on measures that will improve students’ experience of education. Bangor Students’ Union is committed to reducing and removing barriers to students accessing education, and ensuring that all students, regardless of sex, gender or gender identity, age, disability, religion or belief, or class. We believe that feeding into national data is paramount to tackling issues of access,
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Education, ensuring that our institutions take steps to ensure that a diverse student body can be supported to achieve and succeed in education.

We look forward to seeing the results of national research, and are hopeful that recommendations made in our report will improve experiences for LGBTQ+ students across the sector.

Higher Education, with further work on lobbying to build support for collecting monitoring data.

Rhys Taylor Vice President Education and Welfare, Bangor University Students’ Union Danielle Barnard Academic Representation Unit CoOrdinator, Bangor Students’ Union

Findings Summary

The themes that overwhelmingly appeared throughout our research were the following;

1. Students’ feeling towards staff and students in their school colours their engagement with active learning, co-curricular activities, and feeling of belonging. 2. Students who are unaware of staff awareness or training on LGBTQ+ sensitivity are less likely to access support, which enables students to achieve. 3. Students who have experienced negative attitudes have not been confident in addressing and challenging those attitudes, which have led to some students not feeling confident in engaging in learning and co-curricular activity. 4. The context of the curriculum and lecturers’ use of heteronormative language can impact upon students’ ability and willingness to engage with curricular and co-curricular activity.

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Introduction
to ensure that students are encouraged to Bangor University is consistently praised for its commitment to and delivery of quality student support, and providing a welcoming environment to all students. In BSU’s (Bangor Students’ Union) 2012 Annual Student Written Statement we said that Bangor University is an institution which “cares about its relationship with students”. Bangor University also has a very well structured and highly praised Peer Guide scheme, supporting students during the early period of their time at University. 1) Profile of respondents 2) Inclusivity in the curriculum and Very little evidence exists on LGBTQ+ students’ experience of education at Bangor University. Our student society, who were involved with this research, focus heavily on welfare and liberation campaigning. In addition the institution does not currently collect monitoring data, which has impacted on our ability to reach a wider audience. The research conducted concentrated on students’ experience of education whilst at Bangor, therefore our evidence discusses individuals’ perceptions and experiences of being a student at Bangor University, This opportunity has enabled us to do some small-scale research with students who, on the whole, have had positive experiences whilst at Bangor. and being an LGBTQ+ student within the Higher Education learning environment. learning environment 3) Belonging and identifying 4) Academic and non-academic support and support networks This report will analyse the results of two focus groups themes, discussed over the course of three focus groups, the results of a survey conducted during the focus groups, and a similar survey held in addition to the focus groups which includes equality data mapping. We will look at the following key areas; discuss issues and are learning in an inclusive and welcoming environment.

The report however will discuss key recommendations made by students during the course of our research on how
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Methodology

In order to ensure that we were able to gather sufficient evidence, and honest evidence, we designed two surveys and two workshop outlines. We set out to better understand how we could enable staff to improve LGBTQ+ students’ experiences of education, through identifying key factors that contribute to students’ ability to engage and participate in curricular and co-curricular activity, and the impact on success.

belong, instances of negative attitudes from staff or students and the perceived impact on access and success. Before researching into Bangor students’ perception of belonging, we found additional research that reinforced our hypothesis that greater a sense of belonging, the greater the engagement with the academic environment.

In order to engage participants we Our first survey was drawn from questions asked by Goodenow (1993), who found that the quality of ‘social bonds’ in school is substantially correlated with selfreported school motivation, which has some impact on attainment or success. engaged with our LGBTQ+ society, Unity Bangor, attended committee meetings and society meetings, used social media and emails, including posters from NUS’ LGBT campaign to advertise the dates of the focus groups.

Our second survey asked similar questions, but drew on focus group activity around what positive steps their academic school takes to ensure that all students feel welcome and as though they

As Bangor University does not record data for LGBT students, targeting information specifically towards LGBT students was difficult, which impacted on engagement with our research.

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Profile of Respondents/ Participants
A total of 30 LGBTQ+ students responded to our survey and/or took part in our focus groups.

Ethnicity

Academic Department

Orientation

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Gender

Orientation

Age Group

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Inclusivity in the curriculum and learning environment
“I’m unsure of staff awareness of LGBTQ+ issues or mental health issues, so I avoid talking to my personal tutor.”

Inclusivity in the curriculum was a theme directly raised by students during our research. Evidence of mix-genders and de-genderising within the curriculum was cited by all students that participated in our research as an example of creating a positive environment in which LGBTQ+ (and trans*) students can learn.

A reoccurring theme during our research was the concept of belonging. Wider evidence highlights the correlation between belonging and academic achievement, which will be discussed later.

Inclusivity within the learning environment, in addition to inclusivity in the curriculum, was also a key finding from our research. In light of our focus on belonging and identifying with academic schools or environments, the importance of social bonds, and the increased sensitivity often We asked students in one of our focus groups to discuss positive and negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ issues and how they personally feel these attitudes affected their participation in learning and the wider learning environment. In our survey we asked respondents if they felt comfortable in their learning “A Course Rep once slandered one of my friends because of their sexuality. I was then unable to feel comfortable or ‘be out’. This made me feel uncomfortable and not feel wholly represented in my school.” environment, and if staff in their school understood them. We later asked students who participated to consider the (perceived) impact on engagement, and therefore their success and achievement. experienced by groups such as LGBTQ+ and trans* people to the issues of belonging, these comments pose difficult questions for us.

Therefore, does a link exist between “A lecturer kept saying ‘her/him’ etc. in a class. When I asked if they could use gender neutral terms instead, they refused on the grounds of it being grammatically incorrect.” feeling comfortable or belonging/identifying and being understood and the perceived impact on attainment, access, and success in Higher Education?
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In addition to the two statements above, we asked students to discuss what Our survey asked two questions, “I have felt comfortable in my learning environment” and “Staff in my school understand me, which has allowed me to succeed as best as I can in my studies” 13 respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the first statement, where 3 respondents disagreed with the first statement. On the seconds statement 11 agreed or strongly agreed, where none disagreed. Of the respondents that disagreed with the statements, further comments from those students revealed issues around the inclusivity of the curriculum and staff understanding of LGBTQ+ and trans* issues. In addition, some students pointed towards a lack of formal Fig.1 mechanism for reporting issues or concerns. Bangor Students’ Union and Bangor University adopted a Zero Tolerance to Harassment Policy in 2012, however a formal reporting mechanism is yet to be established within the University. positive things their school does to make them feel welcome and as though they belong, and any positive and/or negative attitudes that they had come across.

Fig. 2

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Belonging and Identifying

We posed the following statement to students who completed both our survey and participated in our focus groups; Belonging is “the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment.” (Goodenow,1993)

where they fit in (their sense of belonging) – if the quality of students’ social bonds are poor, does this impact on achievement?

Furthermore Walton and Cohen (2007) suggest that in an academic or professional setting, which would be comparable to that of Higher Education courses for all students, often stigmatised groups (such as LGBTQ+ and trans* people) are more uncertain of the quality of any social bonds, and are therefore more sensitive to the issues of belonging. When asked ‘What features or aspects of your school make you identify with your school?’ participants cited extra and cocurricular activity, approachability of staff, an awareness of an open and accepting body of staff, and engaged and wellpromoted Peer Guides and Course Reps. Respondents who participated in Students’ Union activity said that their sense of belonging within the University was stronger towards their society, rather than that of their school. One respondent said that due to the large lectures held in their school and lack of personal interest from staff, their feeling of attachment or belonging to their academic school was lesser than their
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During our discussions with students, factors within the learning or school environment also appeared to have an impact upon students’ engagement with their academic school/department.

Research within education shows that belonging and identifying with your school environment can improve educational attainment. “In domains of achievement, we suggest, people are sensitive to the quality of their social bonds.” (Cohen & Steele, 2002) Steele, 1997; Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2002)

This suggests that in higher education, where success and achievement are key, students are more aware of how and

feeling of attachment or belonging to the Students’ Union and their society. “In welcome week there was a talk two
lecturers. The whole talk was focused on beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it was all about straight peoples' relationships and a woman’s perspective on what would be found attractive in a man and vice versa, which actually really annoyed and made me feel really uncomfortable. Not only had the LGBT been totally erased from the talk and research but also it simplified relationships

This could be as a result of the type of degree, the academic field, or their mode of study. 13% of our respondents study a joint honours degree, which can impact on a students’ sense of belonging, accessing support, and feeling comfortable in their learning environment.

For those students who somewhat disengage with their school(s) due to their mode of study or large class sizes for example, students may identify more with their society or club, rather than their school.

down to women liking men's money and men liking women's physical appearance.”

Through evaluating focus group participation that discussed the use of heteronormative language by lecturers within curricular and co-curricular activities, students noted a sense of exclusion from the subject, activity, school, staff, and fellow students.

This can potentially impact upon engagement with active learning or cocurricular activity which contributes towards students success and achievement in (higher) education.

Again, disengagement and lack of identification with aspects of the school social environment, as described by Goodenow (1993), could lead to lack of engagement with the curriculum or with a co-curricular activity, which could negatively impact upon attainment and achievement (in addition to retention).

Welcome week activity within the school social environment was also referenced heavily by survey respondents. One respondent said that;

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It is important to note that Bangor University and Bangor Students’ Union place an emphasis on employability skills in addition to academic achievement, particularly following the introduction of the Higher Education Achievement Report.

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Academic and non-academic support networks
Academic and non-academic support networks were discussed by students during the course of our research, with relation to Peer Guides, Course Reps, Senior Tutors and Personal Tutors. These groups are key features in the school social environment and are key points of contact outside the lecture room. However these individuals shape the tone of the learning environment, and attitudes from these individuals can impact upon engagement with the school social environment. “I was having an issue with my partner at the time. I talked it through with a tutor and she was very helpful and accepting. This made me feel more able to discuss LGBTQ+ issues in my school. Additionally, some comments in our survey suggested that positive attitudes and ‘accepting’ support in the academic environment could support learning and achievement.
“Speaking with my personal tutor when going through some difficulties was very helpful and helped enable me to get my work in.”

“Being with staff and students who I felt
unable to out myself to, so I became introverted during more active learning (e.g. labs)”

In contrast, one respondent said that they would feel uncomfortable approaching a tutor if they were experiencing homophobia, but emphasised that knowing if persons providing academic and non-

“A Course Rep once slandered one of my friends because of their sexuality. I was then unable to feel comfortable or ‘be out’. This made me feel uncomfortable and not feel wholly represented in my school.”

academic support had received sensitivity training would make it more likely that they would approach someone if they were experiencing difficulties. “I once heard a Peer Guide saying that a student should ‘stop being gay’ if they were worried about parents’ reaction.” Other students also noted that a positive and close relationship with school staff was a feature/aspect of their school that made them identify with their school.

Returning to the concept of belonging, if students cannot turn to staff or fellow students due to perceived or actual attitudes to LGBTQ+ and trans* issues, engagement and therefore attainment and access to education could be inhibited.

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Recommendations

1. Academic staff to ensure that module curriculum uses non-heteronormative examples and uses gender neutral terminology. 2. Institutions and Students’ Unions should ensure that persons providing academic and non-academic support are sufficiently trained in LGBTQ+ issues, including personal tutors, senior tutors, Course Reps, and Peer Guides. Students should be made aware of this training. 3. Schools/Academic Faculties to ensure that students are aware of Zero Tolerance or any other policy that protects staff and students from harassment. Institutions should also make reporting mechanisms clear for students. 4. ‘Equality Contacts’ should be made available to students in schools, similar to Disability Contacts, to enable students to openly discuss any issues that they are facing. This member of staff should also be able to support students with any issues affecting their studies.

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Appendix

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LGBT Focus Group Survey

Q16 Please tell us about a time when you experienced negative attitudes towards you in your learning environment, which you believe negatively impacted on your learning.
Answ ered: 7 Skipped: 21

# 1

Responses In welc ome week there was a talk from Guillame Thierry and Fay Short. The whole talk was foc used on beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it was all about straight peoples' relationships and a womans perspec tive on what woould be found attrac tive in a man and vic e versa, whic h ac tually really annoyed and made me feel really unc omfortable. Not only had the LGBT been totally erased from the talk and researc h but also it simplified relationships down to women liking men's money and men liking women's physic al appearanc e. But maybe I just took it too seriously..!?? None in bangor university. Being surrounded by students and staff I felt unable to out myself too, so bec oming introverted during more ac tive learning (e.g. labs) I onc e over heard a c ourse rep slandering a friend of mine for their sexuality whic h made me feel unc omfortable and unable to turn to them Being misgendered in c lass by lec turers and students. Having lec turers use the wrong name after being asked not to. See all previous responses via questionnaires and workshops; plus; // Referenc es to 'other sorts of relationships' whic h the tutor said they had to mention 'to be PC', but as if those relationships (gay; and anything else outside the standard hetero nuc lear family model) were weird or a joke. Or not real. (As Sec tion 28 c alled it, 'pretend family relationship') Having to keep quiet at various c lasses when homophobic things were said, wanted to c hallenge it but hard to do so without outing yourself. I sometimes did speak up but it depended on the setting and my mood that day. If people didn't/did guess, both ways I got ridic uled for standing up for 'those' (!) people. (Are we supposed to wear a neon sign saying gay?!) In one partic ular c lass (held at Normal Site) there was a pro-gay tutor but tensions in the c lass. The module was in soc iology and there were about 2 of us guys that stayed to the end of the c ourse, in a c lass of girls/women. When the tutor (female) wanted to talk about stereotypes, the other guy would c all himself a feminist (but later in private c ritic ise the tutor for being one) before saying misogynist things. I later told the tutor at some point during the c ourse that I'm gay, or it c ame up in the c ourse of something else. Either way she found out, and was okay about it. We were supposed to be trashing stereotypes, though when I had managed to persuade the c lass that women c ould work in heavy industry (for example) and men c ould be c arers, I was not popular when I brought up the existenc e of other sexualities than straight. I don't know, but with hindsight it looks a bit like bullying developed during the c ourse. The male student was following me on buses and in town, as well as at uni. I thought of c onfronting him direc tly and saying something like 'in c ase you are wondering, I am gay, and that's is not even relevant'. I didn't, in c ase there were c onsequenc es. Sometimes when dealing with (espec ially) mac ho environments or people from them,. you have to sort of go bac k in the c loset! And ac t like the surrounding subc ulture wants you to ac t. -

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LGBT Focus Group Survey

Q17 Please tell us about a time when you experienced positive attitudes towards you in your learning environment, which you believe positively impacted on your learning.
Answ ered: 6 Skipped: 22

# 1

Responses Speaking with my personal tutor when going through some diffic ulties was very helpful and helped enable me to get my work in. General positivity towards who i am. Finding a staff member and c lassmate I c ould out myself too. There have no instanc es of positive attitudes towards myself in my learning enviroment The tutor in the above c ourse was okay but we didn't disc uss muc h, or in any depth or for any length of time. -

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LGBT Focus Group Survey

Q9 Please tell us what positive things your school does to make you feel as though you belong or are welcome in your school.
Answ ered: 6 Skipped: 22

# 1

Responses This is hard to answer, nearly all c ourse c ontent is still heteronormative. Tutors, c ounsellors and fellow people still assume you are straight, so its c oming out to people as per. No segregation at all to do with gender Not muc h LGBTQ+ researc h has been inc luded within the c urric ulum - Helpful and generally nic e peer guides - Teac hers are approac hable - Fresher's week ac tivities When I c ame out as trans, the sc hool has adopted my new name and c all me that & I've had my name c hanged on my library c ard

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