The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Assessing the Implicit Curriculum: Environmental Factors That Impact North American Lgbtq Social Work Student Learning and Perceptions of Support

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 3:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Michael P. Dentato, PhD, Assistant Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
Lori Messinger, PhD, Professor, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, NC
Michael Lloyd, MSW, CADC, Doctoral Student, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: The Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Educational Policy and Practice Standards (2008) recognizes the importance of the learning environment - the “implicit curriculum” - on student development. CSWE defines implicit curriculum components as manifested through transparent, fair and substantive policies, faculty qualifications, adequate resources, and support for diversity.  Such implicit components hold great relevance specifically for LGBTQ students, who should be “affirmed and supported” (CSWE, 2008, p. 10).  These students often depend on university and/or departmental policies prohibiting discrimination, LGBTQ clubs and spaces (Westbrook, 2009), social venues, and the appropriate support for LGBTQ content (Longerbeam, et al., 2007) to ensure inclusiveness and safety (Rankin, 2005), enhance learning, and decrease hostility.  A student’s level of comfort and security also may be strengthened through the presence of “out” faculty and administrators (Martin, Messinger, et al. 2007) who can serve as supportive role models (Hylton, 2005), provide mentorship (Lark et al., 1998), and promote student success (Graham-Smith, 2004).  This study will examine the level of supportive implicit/environmental factors identified by LGBTQ social work students in the U.S. and Canada.

Methods: An online survey was conducted in 2012 with LGBTQ students in accredited CSWE and CASWE undergraduate and graduate social work programs in North America.  Students reported their perceptions of support; university/college, school and program policies; the presence of “out” administrators, faculty, and students; faculty impact in the classroom; and their assessment of other student’s comfort regarding LGBTQ issues.  An analysis of quantitative data was conducted utilizing descriptive statistics and frequencies.

Findings:  Student survey respondents (N = 1,018) were enrolled in BSW programs (24%) and MSW programs (76%) in the U. S. and Canada.  Overall, 64% felt supported in terms of their LGBTQ identity, compared to 29% who had a “neutral” perception of supportiveness, and 13% who did not feel supported.  68% of students reported non-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation at their institutions, with fewer reporting policies protecting gender identity (38%). LGBTQ student organizations were present at 87.5% of respondents’ institutions. 

At the school/program level, students reported that most faculty (60%) and students (75%) knew about their identity.  Indeed, students found most of their non-LGBTQ peers seemed comfortable with the students' LGBTQ identity (86%). Students reported that 91% of faculty were supportive of LGB issues, compared to transgender issues (75%).  Few students knew “out” LGBTQ administrators/staff (31%), though most knew “out” students (91%).

In the classroom, faculty led LGBQ-centered discussions (79%) more frequently than transgender focused topics (51%).  Most students “did not know” if faculty intervened when homophobia (48%) or transphobia (62%) was present in the classroom, whereas most students reported that faculty members did not exhibit homophobia (66%) or transphobia (59%).

Conclusions: LGBTQ social work students in North America report a variety of supportive factors in their school’s implicit curriculum.  Considerable differences remain with regard to institutional supportiveness surrounding transgender issues compared to LGBQ.  Implications for assessing factors related to the implicit curriculum and creating environmental change to increase perceptions of support among LGBTQ social work students will be discussed.