Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Centering Trans Students' Climate Experiences to Transform Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

613P (see Poster Gallery) Centering Trans Students' Climate Experiences to Transform Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel Gartner, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Adrian J. Ballard, MSW, PhD Student and Graduate Student Research Assistant, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Emil Smith, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Carla Chugani, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, Chief of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose

Transgender and gender diverse (TGD) university students experience disproportionately high rates of sexual violence (SV) compared to their cisgender peers. Research indicates that not only are TGD students vulnerable to SV, but their campus discrimination experiences make them less likely to access services. For example, TGD students are more likely than cisgender students to doubt that their reports of SV will be taken seriously or treated fairly, and they expect to encounter discrimination when seeking support. Research on campus climate, sexual violence prevention and response (SVPR), and TGD student wellness have historically been siloed, creating a dearth of information about how to address TGD students’ barriers to reporting and need for primary prevention improvements. To address these gaps, the current study conducted focus groups to identify TGD students' perceptions of SVPR practices and improvements needed to address their needs.


Five qualitative semi-structured focus groups (N=21) were conducted with TGD students from a research university in Pennsylvania. Participants included undergraduate and graduate students who identified as White (n=14), multiracial (n=4), Asian/Asian American (n=1), Black (n=1), and Hispanic (n=1). Focus groups were conducted using Zoom and transcribed. Descriptive and thematic coding were conducted by two coders engaged in an iterative six-stage process using Dedoose. Further thematic coding was conducted by a third team member. A member checking survey was sent to all focus group participants.


Climate emerged as critical to TGD students’ engagement with SVPR resources – participants voiced a need to feel safe, valued, seen, and heard before they would contemplate using SVPR resources. They stressed that barriers to feeling safe include campus infrastructure issues (e.g., lack of restrooms, microaggressions, names/pronouns in documentation) and institutional approaches to addressing TGD student needs (e.g., reliance on Title IX). Participants emphasized that to feel valued, they need to see the university’s financial and programmatic investment in their well-being, as current practices seem anchored in performative commitments to inclusion or protection against liability. To feel seen, students stressed a need for greater representation of TGD identities among campus personnel and ways to access support from those individuals. They also identified the need for expanded SV prevention training incorporating gender competence, awareness of subtler forms of SV, students’ trauma histories, and risk factors unique to TGD communities. To be heard, participants spoke about wanting a seat at the table in building infrastructure and programming to serve their community.

Conclusions and Implications

The SVPR status quo on campuses is not only insufficient for TGD students, its reliance on cisgender, heteronormative, white, ableist notions of victimization and perpetration excludes many students. Our participants want to be a part of a campus that sees and values them, that listens to their issues and works with them to transform harmful norms and practices. Unless TGD students are engaged in this process, the impact of campus SVPR advances will be limited. Researchers and practitioners on university campuses have an important opportunity to create inclusive SVPR approaches that better serve all students.