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