Abstract: Exploring the Academic and Mental Well-Being of LGBTQ College Students: A Person-Centered Intersectional Approach (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Exploring the Academic and Mental Well-Being of LGBTQ College Students: A Person-Centered Intersectional Approach

Friday, January 18, 2019: 5:45 PM
Union Square 17 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Woodford, PhD, Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, ON, Canada
Simon Coulombe, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada
Zack Marshall, PhD, Assistant Professor, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Background: LGBTQ students are marginalized on college campuses, which can undermine their academic and mental well-being. Quantitative studies examining these factors generally utilize variable-centered analysis in which specific factors are often considered separately (e.g., regression), thus not recognizing students’ holistic experiences and identities. A person-centered statistical approach provides a more global and context-sensitive analysis, taking into account that diverse students might have different well-being profiles, depending on a constellation of risk and protective factors.

Purpose: Framed within a person-centered, intersectional perspective, this study identifies latent profiles of academic and mental well-being among LGBTQ students and examines associations between the profiles and individual (i.e., demographics, marginalized intersectional identities, personality) and social (i.e., campus climate) risk and protective factors.

Methods: An anonymous campus climate survey was conducted online with students at a public institution. We conducted analysis with LGBTQ participants (N=445). Measures of academic well-being included GPA, academic stress (Kohn et al., 1990), and school avoidance (Ramos, 2000). Measures of mental well-being included depression, anxiety (Derogatis & Spencer, 1983), and self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1979). Demographic questions, personality items (e.g., optimism, Scheier & Carver, 1985), and campus climate scales (e.g., experiential discrimination, social acceptance, instructor relations, classroom comfort) were also used. Latent profile analysis was performed with Mplus. The likelihood of being a member of each profile was then explored in association with individual and social factors, using the BCH and DCAT subcommand.

Results: Three latent well-being profiles emerged (BIC=5902.15; CAIC=5928.15; BLRT p<.05): 1) Optimal academic and mental well-being outcomes (n=277); 2) Very poor academic and mental well-being outcomes (n=44); 3) Mixed-pattern characterized by negative mental well-being outcomes, concomitant with academic outcomes relatively close to average (n=124).

Compared to Profile 1, students with atypical gender expression, who were racialized or living with a disability were more likely to be members of Profiles 2 or 3. Membership in Profiles 2 or 3 was associated with more frequent experiential discrimination and lower social acceptance, as well as less positive relationship with instructors and less classroom comfort. Optimism was relatively high among Profile 3 students, and this might have played a protective role in membership in the mixed well-being profile.

Implications: The results suggests that person-centered analysis can provide researchers, practitioners, and policymakers with a much-needed nuanced portrait of the struggles experienced by LGBTQ college students, as well as their potential to flourish. Finding the largest profile to be characterized by positive outcomes is an encouraging result; however, the other profiles were characterized by significant challenges. Students with multiple marginalized identifies were more likely to fare worse, highlighting forms of intersectional oppression. The results invite clinicians and policy-makers to consider the diversity of students’ profiles in order to optimize well-being outcomes. Further research is needed to assess replicability of the profiles and to better understand the complexity of the underlying risk and protective processes.