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Community College Journal of Research and Practice

ISSN: 1066-8926 (Print) 1521-0413 (Online) Journal homepage:

Relevance of Campus Climate for Alcohol and

Other Drug Use among LGBTQ Community College
Students: A Statewide Qualitative Assessment
Patricia Manning , Lauren Pring & Peggy Glider
To cite this article: Patricia Manning , Lauren Pring & Peggy Glider (2012) Relevance of Campus
Climate for Alcohol and Other Drug Use among LGBTQ Community College Students: A
Statewide Qualitative Assessment, Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 36:7,
494-503, DOI: 10.1080/10668926.2012.664088
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Published online: 18 Apr 2012.

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Date: 18 October 2016, At: 09:57

Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 36: 494503, 2012

Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1066-8926 print=1521-0413 online
DOI: 10.1080/10668926.2012.664088

Relevance of Campus Climate for Alcohol and Other

Drug Use among LGBTQ Community College
Students: A Statewide Qualitative Assessment
Patricia Manning
Qualitative Evaluator, Campus Health Service, University of Arizona,
Tucson, Arizona, USA

Lauren Pring
Evaluation Specialist, Campus Health Service, University of Arizona,
Tucson, Arizona, USA

Peggy Glider
Coordinator for Evaluation and Research, Campus Health Service,
University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA
Literature suggests that individuals who identify as LGBTQ may engage in more alcohol and other
drug (AOD) use=abuse than others. Little data is available about these populations on college campuses where AOD use may be seen as part of the general campus climate and culture. This article
will describe a qualitative needs assessment conducted on 10 community college campuses in
Arizona to determine campus climate for LGBTQ students and perceptions of AOD use rates and
correlates. Findings indicate wide variations in campus climate as well as policies, programming,
and resources available for LGBTQ students. This needs assessment is part of a five-year project that
includes strategic planning based on the needs assessments and beginning implementation of these
plans. This article presents the initial findings of this project and recommendations to the field.

In recent years, increasingly greater attention has been placed on campus climate for lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) college students as well as how campus
experience relates to alcohol and other drug (AOD) use=abuse in this population (Gillespie &
Blackwell, 2009; Rankin, Blumenfeld, Weber, & Frazer, 2010; Reed, Prado, Matsumoto, &
Amaro, 2010). A number of researchers have found higher rates of AOD use among LGBTQ
college students (Eisenberg & Wechsler, 2003; Reed et al., 2010; Ridner, Frost, & LaJolie,
2006), many of whom have linked these behaviors to issues relating directly to campus climate
(Eisenberg & Wechsler, 2003; Reed et al., 2010; Weber, 2008). Others have drawn attention to
disparities in campus climate as it is experienced by LGBTQ students in comparison to
Address correspondence to Peggy Glider, Campus Health Service, University of Arizona, 1224 East Lowell Street,
Tucson, AZ 85721. E-mail:



heterosexual students (Rankin, 2005; Rankin et al., 2010). Little has been published on either
campus climate or on AOD use=abuse among LGBTQ community college (CC) students, but
some researchers suggest that the CC setting poses its own unique challenges to improving
campus climate for these students (Ivory, 2005).
In December 2009, the Arizona Department of Health Services contracted with the University
of Arizona (UA)s Campus Health Service (CHS) to conduct a statewide, qualitative needs
assessment to look at these issues followed by strategic planning and implementation to address
the needs identified at Arizonas colleges and universities. The following focuses on the work
completed to date with 10 CC campuses across Arizona. Following a brief review of the findings
and discussion, some key recommendations are offered based on the needs assessment.
The approach that the project team has taken toward reducing risk of AOD abuse among
LGBTQ college students is that of environmental management (DeJong et al., 1998). Within
the social-ecological framework of the college setting, evidence suggests that there are factors
mediatingor in some cases causingkey stressors that many LGBTQ students are facing that
may lead to an elevated risk of AOD abuse (Reed et al., 2010). As such, efforts to gage the
campus climate for these students should include needs assessments at each campus. The assessments should be followed by targeted strategic planning and implementation based on these
findings, which is what the current project has done in Arizona.

The needs assessment on which this article is based was conducted using key informant interviews and student focus groups from each of the participating CC campuses. One of our earliest
tasks was to successfully secure our university Institutional Review Boards (IRB) approval for
our questionnaires and protocols; in specific cases where host CCs had their own IRB, we
secured their approval as well before beginning our recruitment. We worked to get a range of
key informants, from faculty to administrators to counselors, along with other staff at the
colleges. Sampling was purposive to identify stakeholders who were (a) advocates for LGBTQ
students or other diverse populations, (b) connected to the student population based on their position, or (c) in key staff or administrative positions that would be important in strategic planning.
To recruit students for the focus groups, a flyer was posted around each campus in public areas,
residence halls, recreation areas, LGBTQ student organization office, etc. Project staff also
worked with the key stakeholders to identify students for the focus groups.
The students and key stakeholders were told that the interviews=focus groups were being
conducted to identify issues on campus that impact LGBTQ student populations at Arizonas
institutions of higher education (IHEs) and that all interviews=focus groups were anonymous.
The disclosure forms stated clearly that participation was voluntary, and they could leave any
questions unanswered and withdraw at any time. Students received a $20 gift card to the campus
bookstore to thank them for their participation, and snacks were provided at the focus groups.
A standardized protocol was utilized for both the focus groups and the key stakeholder interviews. These protocols were fairly parallel with additional questions asked of students regarding
their personal experiences on campus. Questions probed about perceptions of campus climate
both in general and for LGBTQ students, programs and policies for LGBTQ students, and
AOD use=abuse among students, and programming available for students regarding AOD.



The needs assessment was intended to answer the following questions for the IHEs participating in the project: (a) What is the perceived campus climate for LGBTQ students, from both the
student and key stakeholder perspective? (b) What resources and programming are available for
LGBTQ students? (c) Are there perceived differences in AOD abuse between LGBTQ students
and heterosexual students? and (d) What resources are available for AOD use=abuse prevention
and=or treatment on campus? The project was exploratory in nature, intended to inform strategic
planning and provide a glimpse into these issues at IHEs.
The findings from key stakeholder interviews and student focus groups conducted across the 10
CC campuses show remarkable similarities. Among nearly all CC campuses in this study,
respondents reported a lack of (a) AOD programming and resources, (b) mental and behavioral
health resources, and (c) LGBTQ programming and resources. There was variation by campus
regarding the degree to which these resources were lacking and the barriers around providing
such resources to students. Such barriers included scale and resource base of each college,
campus institutional culture, regional subcultures and community norms, percentage of special
student populations such as foreign athletes or military=law enforcement officials, and presence
or absence of a residential option for students.
The small-town feel of some colleges, particularly those outside the major urban centers, was
generally seen as a supportive factor for students; such an environment may make it easier to
build relationships with faculty, staff and other students. The modest scale of smaller institutions
and the relative ease of day-to-day operations there also were held up as positive, healthpromoting attributes. Nonetheless, various participants reminded us of the potentially oppressive
feelings experienced by some students in a small-college setting. There, campus life may be perceived as an extension of town life and, thus, dampen their expected enthusiasm to explore new
ideas and lifestyles or voice unpopular sentiments. On the smaller campuses, the lack of student
clubs or organized activities=events was often cited as a source of discontent.
Social Stressors
LGBTQ students may or may not experience greater psychological stress (a subject of ongoing
debate), but they do report experiencing more social stress both on and off campus. The college
experience was reported as even more stressful for LGBTQ students who are trying to come out
to their families and friends and are facing possible or active rejection. On top of those stressors,
having to face the universal stresses of college life without a campus counseling center and=or
wellness programs was emphasized several times as problematic for smaller campuses and CCs
Several informants asserted that there tend to be gender-norming pressures among peers in
both straight and L=G groups, and greater marginalization of trans- and bi- students by all.



Respect for gender diversity is still a widespread social problem in the hypermasculine and
feminine peer-pressure environments at work in many secondary schools and social settings;
these community pressures are often reflected in college life as well. This is even more evident
in campus environments with a historically higher military, law enforcement, and=or religious=
regional-cultural presence. One interviewee eloquently summed up the daily toll of such heightened scrutiny and judgment: The public nature of LGBTQ lives and the centrality of public
discourse regarding their issues can poke holes in their sense of safety, of well-being. It requires
a different set of coping skills; they have to develop thicker skins to face the question, Why does
everyone get a say in my life?
Campus Norms
There is not a welcoming environment in the community for coming out in this culture, as
another respondent put it. There are family pressures toward conservative life and professions. Others explained there are the unspoken codes about such matters that vary across
campuses and even across residence halls or academic disciplines within the same campus.
Those may depend on the perceived mission of the school, the amount of local or media exposure to alternative ways of thinking and behaving, and social or institutional supports for exploring diversity. For first-generation college students and=or students already labeled as minority
students by measures like ethnicity or language, being affiliated with yet another marker of
minority status like gender identity or sexual orientation may feel even scarier and more overwhelming, one respondent explained. As one respondent put it, Not everyone is out and
proud or ready to be active in a group.
Administrative Vision and Support
Even well intentioned decisions by administrators may have stigmatizing results for LGBTQ students, (e.g., assigning an Americans with Disabilites Act [ADA] room to a transgendered student
in transition, or making students fit into a forced category choice on official forms that does not
reflect their true identity, or worse, that may out them if they respond honestly). Some respondents thought that funding an LGBTQ affairs office could be one possible model for offering
that support, but that having at least a gay-straight alliance (GSA) or a dedicated diversity center
on each campus is crucial. A GSA club or diversity center would be welcoming to, and respectful of, all students; and a dedicated space would be a safe space for facilitating LGBTQ and ally
interactions outside the classroom. Many interviewees said that no one group, even a GSA,
could be expected to serve as the designated club for the full spectrum of LGBTQ students.
However, respondents on even the smaller campuses reported that if more LGBTQ students
were to come forth with requests for student associations and greater visibility as a group on
campus, they were confident those requests would be honored. The policy on some campuses
supporting student organizations with start-up and matching operating funds could be useful
for future attempts to start a GSA and LGBTQ coalition.
However, respondents noted that homophobia, hate speech, harassment, and occasional
hate crimes still occur on Arizona college campuses despite official condemnations. These also
occur in surrounding cities and towns where homophobia is not uniformly challenged. Other



participants were quick to point out that, generally speaking, college towns are relatively
laid-back and tolerant, and that the climate of campus life is often an improvement over that
of high school. Social supports and programming efforts for LGBTQ students by college staff
and student groups were, thus, highlighted as essential initiatives because of that greater respect
for diversity on campus. Curricular and program supports were represented as a good way to
invite LGBTQ students participation in social events offering both individual support and socialization into campus life in general.
While widespread faculty and staff buy-in is crucial for carrying out these proposed changes,
several participants mentioned the lack of LGBTQ content or images in the formal curriculum
(beyond a few courses dealing with human sexuality or psychology, or offered through gender
and womens studies). Some educators and staff discussed what one termed the hidden curriculum of campus norms, policies, and structures that dont reflect all populations and, thus, may
feel exclusive to many students. That hidden curriculum may end up compounding the predictable stress associated among college students with trying to fit in. Several interviewees commented on the relative dearth of media=publicity around LGBTQ events, but another respondent
speculated that perhaps that reflected, in part, a desire to not attract hostile participants with their
own disruptive agenda. However, that same respondent commented that at least Arizona IHEs
value diversity by a broad range of measures, so that tolerant spirit may be generally helpful
for all students, whether or not they are ready to openly affirm a more hidden or private part
of their identity.
Supportive Communities and Activities
Respondents consistently reported the actual or potential presence of an active, visible LGBTQ
community on campus as a protective factor for student health. The LGBTQ community on a
few campuses was described as tight knit, such that it is easier to check in with one another
due to there being more trusta sense of family and, thus, [they have some] support perhaps not
available to others. That peer support provides a consistent space for LGBTQ youth to explore
identity and share ideas about responding to family and social challenges they face related to
general college=developmental issues as well as those specific to LGBTQ youth.
Service-related and awareness-raising programs, such as Coming Out Day or the Stop the
Silence campaign, were mentioned frequently as important resources for LGBTQ and allied students alike. At the same time, several informants stated that more purely social LGBTQ-oriented
activities are needed, and visibility is always an area in which more work can be done. Along
these lines, one individual mentioned that more baseline social activities, such as mixers,
are needed to help students engage with a stable social network. The overall notion among
all informants and focus group participants, however, was that the social presence that the
LGBTQ student groups offer is an important strength at the schools where they exist.
Inclusive AOD Services
Respondents offered that LGBTQ students are likely using AOD for the same reasons as other
students with similar stressors, be they identity- or developmentally-related or for emotional,
financial, or social-environmental reasons. All interviewees agreed that some kind of AOD



services is needed on each campus via counseling centers, heath centers, and=or student life
services that would be inclusive of all students and open to their diverse concerns.
Ten CCs falls short of our desired response for a more comprehensive statewide overview.
Nevertheless, we are heartened by the fact that so many campuses across Arizona saw this as
timely and important research, and they welcomed participating in the process. Most campuses
that declined to participate in the assessment cited reasons related to the challenges of structural
adjustment due to the persistent economic crisis: e.g., personnel cuts and increased workloads;
uncertainties about programs, positions, and enrollments; and changes in administrations and
subsequent uncertainty about new campus priorities for planning and resources.
Opportunities for Improvement
All respondents acknowledged a gap between their ideal campus and their current campus environments. However, many suggestions for improvements offered by interviewees were sympathetically framed, acknowledging most unmet needs as reflective of larger resource constraints.
The only behavioral health service on most CC campuses consists of being handed lists of
service providers for outside referral options. This makes follow-up less likely to be pursued
by resource-poor students with acute needs. Some of the same respondents acknowledged that
campus resource allocations for health education, prevention, and promotional services have to
be made within a broader state context of both budget austerity and abstinence-driven assumptions. The states current political climate makes it more difficult for professional health promotional or alternative wellness efforts in these socially contested areas to be sufficiently funded to
address the diversity of student needs in both medical and counseling settings. While optimistic
for the long term, most respondents concluded that until a majority of academic administrators
are convinced of the educational value of encouraging the examination of multiple, even controversial, perspectives to facilitate both critical thinking and constructive social engagement, campus norms would continue to merely reflect and perpetuate historic patterns rather than serve to
inform a dynamic regional culture.
Acceptance of LGBTQ students by the wider campus remains an ongoing concern across the
state, particularly for transgender students. Stereotyping from limited interactions or education
about the issues still plays a major role in shaping responses from non-LGBTQ students, faculty,
and staff. Heteronormativity (the assumption that heterosexuality is or should be the norm),
homophobia, and gender bias continue to be major concerns. With regard to campus environments, language usage continues to be a problem, and some groups have developed awareness
campaigns to address that. Language insensitivity creates an environment where LGBTQ
students do not feel safe or respected.
Prior experience with, and understanding of, diverse genders and sexualities strongly influence levels of tolerance and prejudice toward LGBTQ students. A healthier campus community
would be more widely accepting of all forms of diversity, would not presume heteronormativity,
and would not make assumptions based on presumed gender identity or sexual preference nor
exert gender-norming pressures on otherseven within L=G communities.



It is important to frame recommendations around improving campus climate in terms of a
broader goal toward equality of all students in higher education. LGBTQ people need to be
understood and portrayed as an equally valued part of the wider campus community. Its not
a matter of singling them out for special services. Rather, it is including them in wider community representations and services that help break down their invisibility on campus and validate their participation and contributions. We feel it is necessary to conceptualize efforts toward
improving campus climate as a project of norming gender and sexual diversity. As such, it may
be necessary for programs to address LGBTQ issues specifically as a means toward this goal;
such issues include LGBTQ centers, clubs, media campaigns, and Safe Zone trainings. We
encourage those working with LGBTQ students to be cognizant about the line between targeting
groups in a way that cultivates equality versus one which may inadvertently further marginalize
groups of students. As described above, we feel there is a strong need to address AOD issues not
through targeting programs to a particular population. Doing so runs the risk of pathologizing a
group of people. Rather, the issues should be addressed through environmental management
strategies to mitigate some of the factors that may heighten risk. Therefore, recommendations
are centered more generally on improving campus climate, an approach that the 10 CC partners
have been utilizing throughout this project. Based on the needs assessment and the experiences
and goals of these CCs, we have devised seven recommendations for improving campus climate
for LGBTQ students in these unique higher education settings. This is not an exhaustive list, but
it includes some critical areas that CC policymakers and planners should consider.
Conduct a Targeted Needs Assessment on Your Campus
Given differences in context, needs, and resources at different CCs, it is prudent to assess the
unique context of ones own college before moving forward with planning. It is important to
involve a diverse array of stakeholders and students in this process, because each will bring different perspectives and sets of knowledge about the strengths of the college and opportunities for
improvement. It is also important to reach out to LGBTQ students as a part of this process, as
they will have firsthand experience of what the campus community is like for nongenderconforming and sexually-diverse populations that heterosexual students are unlikely to possess.
Aside from identifying needs and gaps in resources for students, the needs assessment can
also serve as an effective tool in garnering support for working toward campus goals. Because
the needs assessment can be used to identify problems or issues that were previously invisible, it
can be highly useful in drawing administrative attention to these issues and can serve as a call to
action. Furthermore, data in this form or from surveys can be useful in developing proposals and
applying for funding, which is far more challenging without such data.
Engage in Strategic Planning
The strategic planning process has been a key aspect of this project on all campuses, and it has
been critical for each in moving forward. Strategic planning is crucial for developing effective
strategies to improve campus climate, leveraging key stakeholders, and tracking progress over



time. The strategic planning process will look different at each campus, depending on the stakeholders involved, the need, and the political, economic, and social context of the college.
Whatever shape the strategic planning takes, it is important to carefully identify key stakeholders. Stakeholders should have a commitment to the health and wellbeing of all students
and particularly LGBTQ students. Stakeholders should alsohave some base-level knowledge
about the LGBTQ population or be willing to learn, and=or they should hold a position through
which they can affect change to the campus climate through programming, outreach, policy
development, curriculum development, etc. It is highly encouraged to find advocates at the
administrative level; and depending on the college, it may be difficult to do much without topdown support or assistance. On the other side of the coin, it is also prudent to invite student participation in strategic planning to ensure that efforts are addressing perceived needs and are in
touch with the student population.

Survey Resources and Identify Gaps

As a part of the needs assessment process and throughout strategic planning, it is important to
take stock of available resources to students on campus to fill a variety of needs. What AOD
programming is available to students? Can students struggling with addiction seek help at the
college or be referred to community programs, and is there a follow up process? Are there student groups promoting LGBTQA equality? Are there behavioral health services available to any
student struggling with the various stressors that students face? Identifying the gaps in student
support services is a necessary step toward ensuring that needed resources are provided to all

Work to Norm Sexual Diversity and Gender Nonconformity through Increasing Visibility
On many campuses, LGBTQ students may be somewhat of an invisible population to the general
campus community. It is difficult to promote equality in the broader campus population if
LGBTQ issues remain invisible. And cues such as courses covering human sexuality and gender, queer-friendly media, and other visible signals can provide valuable teaching moments for
the student population.

Develop a Bias Incident Reporting System

On average, LGBTQ students experience more violence and harassment than their heterosexual
counterparts (Reed et al., 2010). It is likely that some of these bias-related incidents are occurring
on your campus. While some colleges have in place a bias incident reporting system (BIRS),
many do not, making it difficult to report when harassment occurs. BIRSs are important tools
in tracking and responding to bias incidents, and they can communicate to students that the college is committed to protecting their rights. If there is already a BIRS at your campus, it may still
be useful to review the system and assess whether it is widely known on campus.



Identify Heterosexist Policies and Queer Them

While IHEs do their best to make campuses safe and inclusive for everyone, one can often still
find policies which reinforce heterosexism in a variety of forms. Such reinforcement is usually
due to lack of awareness that a group is being excluded or otherwise marginalized. For example,
more and more colleges are including sexual orientation in their statements on diversity and nondiscrimination policies; however, many still omit this group as a part of such policies. Even
among those that do include sexual orientation in their policies, many do not also include gender
identity along with it. Other important areas to look at include language use on forms (Does the
form ask students to fit themselves into a gender binary?), policies for serving transgender students in dorms, presence or absence of gender-neutral bathrooms, the presence or absence of a
director of LGBTQ affairs, and so on. It is highly recommended that part of the efforts toward
improving campus climate include identifying and rectifying such policy issues. Because if one
part of the campus is promoting equality yet another is inadvertently denying it, then students are
receiving competing messages from the same institution.
Educate Staff, Faculty, and Administrators
To ensure a confluence of efforts toward improving campus climate for LGBTQ students on
campus, it is important to provide educational opportunities to the entire campus community.
This can include Safe Zone trainings, forums or panels open to the college community, events
such as Pride Week or Coming Out Day, and offering topics in human sexuality and gender
identity in courses.
The ongoing study reported above has found many strengths and challenges within CC environments that may impact the health and wellness of LGBTQ students, including AOD use=abuse.
The initial needs assessment data has been used to establish strategic plans at each of the
participating campuses, and implementation of these plans has begun. These strategic plans
are being monitored and modified as needed as new data emerges. Follow-up key stakeholder
and student interviews are being collected annually for the next three years and will be presented
in future publications.
Patricia Manning is a Qualitative Evaluator with the University of Arizona Campus Health Service. She has worked
over the past two years to facilitate key stakeholder interviews and student focus groups for this project and to prepare a
narrative summary report of the findings for each campus. Patricia has a long history of working with social justice
issues in many contexts.
Lauren Pring is the Evaluation Specialist with the University of Arizona Campus Health Service. She has been
involved with LGBTQ and GSA groups for the past 10 years, volunteering her time to assist with events and
programming. Lauren is a Safe Zone trainer and provides training to college and university campuses throughout



Peggy Glider is the Coordinator for Evaluation and Research with the University of Arizona Campus Health
Service. She chairs the Arizona Institutions of Higher Education Network on Alcohol, Other Drug and Violence Issues,
and represents this network on the Arizona LGBTQ Advisory Committee. Peggy has been conducting AODV prevention
and intervention research for over 24 years.

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