The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

Capturing the Categories: Critical Factors Influencing Identity and Support for Lgbtq Students in Social Work Programs

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 3:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
Michael P. Dentato, PhD, Assistant Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Lauren McInroy, MSW, Doctoral Student and Research Coordinator, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Lori Messinger, PhD, Professor, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, NC
Background: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer [LGBTQ] students in social work programs report challenges, such as discrimination (Longerbeam et al., 2007), that threaten their learning experiences. Previous research has demonstrated that feeling supported in their LGBTQ identities during their social work education greatly influences students’ readiness to practice (removed for review). The capacity of social work programs to provide this support is further complicated by a cultural shift that has resulted in younger sexual minorities accessing increasingly complex sexual and gender identity taxonomies (Cohler & Hammack, 2007; Savin-Williams, 2005).  The purpose of this study was to: (1) describe the sexual orientation and gender identity labels claimed by social work students, and (2) explore the relationship between educational factors, chosen labels, and perceived LGBTQ student support in social work education.

Methods: Using data from the Social Work Speaks Out online survey of current LGBTQ Master of Social Work [MSW] and Bachelor of Social Work [BSW] students in North America (n=1018) this study analyzed the quantitative and qualitative responses related to sexual orientation and gender identity using content and frequency analyses. Student support, curriculum content, outness of faculty and student experiences of homophobia were measured with multiple questions using a five point likert scale. Using SPSS 20 software in a general linear model framework, regressions were conducted to identify the contribution of educational constructs to students’ perceptions of support within their social work program.

Results: Despite ten original response options, participants self-identified primarily using the classic sexual orientation taxonomy of lesbian (30%), gay (17%), bisexual (25%), queer (17%), pansexual (5%) or some other identity (6%).  Although nine gender identity options were provided, most participants identified as women (73%); men (21%), transgender men (4%) other transgender (3%) and no gender (6%) rounded out the total.  Overall perceptions of student support were moderate. Although significant relationships were not found between levels of support and the majority of sexual orientation or gender identities, female students reported significantly greater experiences of support than male or transgender participants. Regression analysis determined that the model accounted for 21% (Adjusted R2) of student support.  The presence of out faculty (p=.001), as well as out students, LGBTQ student lounges, extra-curricular groups , LGBTQ topics in classes and expectations of being a role model (all p=.01), positively influenced student support. Experiencing homophobia (p=.001) negatively impacted feelings of support.

 Conclusions and Implications: (1) Social work students still primarily identify with traditional categories of sexual orientation and gender identity, yet data collection methods should evolve to capture the variation in an effort to both provide support and further understand their identification. (2) As participants articulated a need for support as LGBTQ students, enhancing the critical factors that can contribute to such support is an important component of research on social work education. Specific strengths, limitations, and strategies of such educational research will be highlighted.