On March 2, Dr. Hillary Copp and Dr. William Koehler, professors in the social work department, presented findings from a campus climate survey they conducted in 2012 regarding the LGBTQ community. Koehler and Copp gave the survey in September 2012 to approximately a dozen classes of various levels and majors across the Edinboro University campus.
The survey asked questions about attitudes and peer experiences of LGBT students. The 55-item survey was taken by 417 undergraduate students, which represented nearly seven percent of the undergraduate class size at that time.
“The reason why it’s important to study the experiences of LGBTQ students is students who identify as LGBTQ have reported experiences of discrimination and harassment in a wide range of studies done at a number of different colleges and universities across the country,” said Copp. “We know that experiencing that kind of anti- LGBT bias negatively impacts academic performance as well as mental and physical health.”
Copp went on to explain that the purpose of the study was to figure out what the campus climate was like for LGBTQ students and whether Edinboro students were observing anti-LGBTQ behaviors like microaggressions, bullying and harassment.
Koehler explained that part of this study was based on the theory of bystander intervention that originated in the 1960s. The theory is a five-step process that includes observing a potentially harmful situation, considering if the situation requires action, deciding you have to act, choosing what action to take, and understanding how to safely perform the action.
“Do our straight, heterosexual, cisgender identifying students, when they observe something happening, are they noticing that it’s a situation that could be potentially harmful to an LGBT student?” asked Koehler.
Copp explained that she and Koehler adapted the survey questions from other surveys used in campus climate research; additionally, they created new questions for the survey.
Koehler said some of the questions about observances they based on social activity such as social media. “We asked for a wide range of behaviors, from everything from microaggressions all the way up to actual physical assault, so we wanted to get a range to see what students were noticing.”
The survey took place early in the semester so that it was “easy for students to think back over the last month.”
The results concluded that non-male people and older students had more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people, however, older students were less comfortable at the idea of having LGBTQ friends. Additionally, students who spent more time at Edinboro University had more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ students than newer students did.
The survey results indicated that younger students are more likely to observe behaviors across a range (microaggressions to physical assault); males noticed more anti-LGBT behaviors than non-males. Koehler noted that “we went to the police records for that entire year and there were zero reports of hate crimes for that entire academic year.”
“It stood out to us that perhaps while students were observing all of these behaviors, it wasn’t registering that this was making an unsafe space for LGBT students and the reports weren’t getting back to the police and safety or places that could intervene,” said Koehler.
Koehler and Copp said they want to take a two-pronged approach with the survey results. First, they want to look at the groups with poorer attitudes towards LGBTQ students and inform them about LGBTQ people and dispel any myths about the LGBTQ community. Secondly, they want to equip the students with better attitudes towards LGBTQ students with information on how to act when they see anti-LGBTQ behavior.
Koehler said that perhaps there are safe spaces on campus. Copp and Koehler said that in the upcoming fall semester, they plan to conduct the survey again.
“We want to figure out what is it about being here (at Edinboro University) that helps positive change happen so that we can amplify that. We want to think more about this bystander piece and how we can help students move along that continuum from simply noticing what’s going on to eventually deciding to act, which can help us determine what kinds of trainings would be most helpful,” said Copp.
Dakota Palmer is the news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.