Center for Gender Equity (CGE) Graduate Assistant Kevin Franco organized a two-part initiative designed to evaluate the experience of queer students at Occidental. The first part consisted of the LGBTQ+ Campus Climate Survey distributed last fall, the results of which were made public this semester. In order to elaborate on the data, Franco planned focus groups for Monday and tomorrow to gather input from the queer community and allies.
According to Jonathan Grady, assistant dean of students for Intercultural Affairs (ICA), the survey collected quantitative data through student responses, and the Monday focus group invited queer students to provide qualitative analysis. At tomorrow’s focus group, student allies will be able to offer their own feedback.
One hundred eighty-three students from the Occidental community responded to the survey, according to Franco. Out of those 183 students, 80 percent said they felt included in the Occidental community as a whole and only 18 percent felt included within the queer community. Queer Student Alliance (QSA) President Alexis Morse (sophomore) attributed the lack of cohesiveness in the queer community to the perceived lack of a common and safe space for students in which to congregate.
“We all feel it’s pretty physically incoherent,” Morse said.
One of the positive results of the survey, according to Grady, was that 89 percent of respondents understood the need for queer housing (including the gender neutral rooms in Berkus Hall and Queer House) at Occidental.
“They enjoyed queer residential housing,” Grady said. “They enjoyed Queer House. They saw the relevance, they saw the importance. And they wanted Queer House to be sustained. I think in speaking to students, my interactions with students, a lot of students saw Queer House as really a healing space, as a place to come together.”
Intermixed with these results were vague responses that Grady said needed to be addressed by the focus groups. Students replied that within the queer community 70 percent lack confidence, 64 percent battle with self-acceptance and 70 percent struggle with coming out.
ICA Assistant Director Joel Gutierrez said he was looking forward to hearing students’ opinions during the focus groups to provide greater detail on the quantitative data.
“The qualitative piece, this is their ideas, and what they feel they need, and what their straight definitions are of what it means to come out,” he said. “What does it mean for the lack of confidence? What are you really enjoying with the residential halls since such a high number really feel that that is working?”
The process has been collaborative, Grady said, and ICA staff understand that they need to reach out to the diverse queer community to better understand their needs.
Upon his arrival at Occidental last semester, Grady said he felt it necessary to gauge the feelings of the queer community, since people’s perceptions and environments are always changing.
“The idea to develop the survey, and the queer initiative overall for that matter, came from the new leadership within the ICA office in fall 2015,” Franco said via email.
In order to determine what to include in the survey, Franco and other ICA staff met with groups and individuals on campus such as QSA, Lead with Pride leaders Chance Ward* (sophomore) and Daryl Barker* (sophomore) and Queer House Resident Adviser Ben Weiss (senior). Grady said ICA staff also met with Residential Education and Emmons Wellness Center staff to gain a better understanding of the queer student experience on campus.
“We used all of those sentiments to help inform our questions for the survey,” Grady said.
According to Franco, while creating the survey he focused the questions around four themes that came up during his interviews with campus groups: queer students’ feelings of inclusivity, understanding of the campus space, vision for the future and academics.
According to the survey, students feel high levels of exclusion across all races and ethnicities, ranging from 70 percent for Black students to 86 percent for Asian students. Certain issues pertaining to using campus space included the inconvenient location of the CGE. Morse said that students use the space little because of its location up the hill, away from the center of campus. In regards to the future, the most respondents — 76 percent — felt that building community was important to better support queer students.
*Ward and Barker are Weekly staff members.