This study utilizes a secondary data set of undergraduates at a large, public university in the US mid-Atlantic region, which collected data from students starting in the fall of their first year and then every consecutive spring. The current study sample includes third-year students who identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual (n=124). The 14-item life satisfaction scale (range 0-56) measures emotional, psychological, and social well-being. An example item is “how often did you feel…that your life has a sense of direction or meaning to it,” with responses from 0 (never) to 4 (everyday). Participation in social activities was one item: “How often do you participate in school activities such as student government, professional or service fraternities (not including social fraternities/sororities), or other student interest organizations.” Scores ranged from 1 (never) to 4 (often). Covariates included serious difficulties at school (1 item; yes/no) to rule out atypical experiences that may affect both participation and life satisfaction, and social support (3 items; range 0-9) to consider whether participation contributes to life satisfaction separate from individuals’ close relationships. One-way ANOVA and a multivariate general linear model were conducted to test our hypotheses.
In our sample, 36.3% of LGB students reported never participating in activities, 23.4% rarely, 20.2% sometimes, and 20.2% often. There were statistically significant mean differences for life satisfaction between students in those four groups of participation, F(3, 120)=5.50, p<0.001. Mean levels of life satisfaction for each group increased, from never (M=26.7, SD=10.03) to rarely (M=31.3, SD=10.9), sometimes (M=34.1, SD=10.3), and often (M=36.1, SD=9.4). The general linear model (covariates included) demonstrated that, compared to the “never” group, participating in social activities sometimes (B=6.037, SE=2.439, p=0.015) or often (B=7.640, SE=2.416, p=0.002) was significantly associated with life satisfaction; participating rarely and never was not associated with life satisfaction.
While prior studies recognize the benefits of organizations tailored to the needs of LGB students, this study demonstrated an association between participating in general university activities and increased life satisfaction for LGB college students; participation was uniquely associated with life satisfaction after accounting for other kinds of social support. Therefore, participation may be beneficial to the well-being of LGB students because it promotes a sense of belonging. Encouraging participation in these social activities may be an increasingly healthy strategy as college campuses become more inclusive. Universities should look for ways to promote LGB students’ participation in addition to fostering an inclusive environment.