Social work programs have undertaken efforts to promote inclusion of LGBTQ students and protect social work students from real or perceived discrimination based on their LGBTQ identities. Yet, despite efforts to promote safety in social work programs, research suggests that many LGBTQ students still feel unsafe within their programs. Research also suggests that social work programs may be environments that are unfriendly and potentially hostile towards LGBTQ social work students, consequently negatively impacting their learning experiences and their readiness to practice.
In an effort to elucidate and address unsafe social work educational environments, the purpose of this study was to explore perceived levels of violence among LGBTQ social work students by way of homo/transphobia present in social work programs across North America. This study contributes to the research literature by specifically exploring LGBTQ students who have reported homo/transphobia and their perceived level of faculty intervention when students have experienced homo/transphobia.
This study utilized data from the Social Work Speaks Out (SWSO) parent study. SWSO is a large-scale North American mixed-methods study (n = 1,310) with social work students from accredited undergraduate and graduate social work programs.
Social work student participants identified as women (73%), men (21%), transgender (6%), no gender (5%), or other gender category (e.g., intersex, 1%). In terms of sexual identity, participants identified as lesbian (30%), gay (17%), bisexual (25%), queer (17%), pansexual (5%), or some other identity (e.g., asexual, 6%).
The following questions from the online study survey were used for the analyses: Did you experience homophobia or transphobia while in your social work program? (yes, no, don’t know); Do faculty intervene when students display homophobia and transphobia? (yes, no, don’t know). There was minimal data missing from these questions. Analysis for all data was undertaken using IBM SPSS 23. Chi square analyses were conducted to explore associations pertaining to whether LGBTQ social work students experienced homophobia and transphobia in their programs, and whether faculty intervened when students displayed homophobia and transphobia.
Of the social work students sampled in this study, 28% reported experiencing homophobia, while 18% reported experiencing transphobia in their social work programs. Of the students who experienced homophobia, 37% reported that faculty did not intervene when students displayed homophobia, X2 (4) = 203.460, p <.001. Of the students who experienced transphobia, 39% reported that faculty did not intervene when students displayed transphobia, X2 (4) = 153.261, p <.001.
The findings suggest that there is a significant absence of LGBTQ-affirmative approaches among social work programs in North America. A significant amount of LGBTQ social work students experienced homophobia and transphobia in their social work programs, and reported that faculty did not intervene. The findings also suggest that a greater effort to address discrimination in social work programs is critically needed. This presentation will explore strategies to address these experiences of discrimination among LGBTQ students, enhance the level of intervention when anti-LGBTQ discrimination occurs, and ultimately support social work programs to be more LGBTQ-affirming.