Graduation Term


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Educational Administration and Foundations: Educational Administration

Committee Chair

Phyllis McCluskey-Titus


Through the voices and experiences of LGBTQ+ students on three campuses, this study provides evidence of the essential value of LGBT Centers as they advocate for and empower LGBTQ+ students. Grounded in theories of college student development, identity development, and Queer theory, the qualitative study draws on 35 semi-structured interviews with students and staff involved with LGBT Centers on three campuses that broadly reflect the diversity of higher education in the United States. In particular, the study answers the following questions: What are historical and current contexts of LGBT Centers? What is the nature of campus climate contexts for LGBTQ+ students? Who are the Centers for and what purposes do they serve? What are the policies, programs, services and daily practices around advocacy and identity affirmation? What skills and strategies are taught through Center interaction that help LGBTQ+ students mitigate microaggressions, obstacles and barriers related to identity?

The study explores campus climate for LGBTQ+ students, and campus spaces that reflect inclusionary and exclusionary practices. Participantsâ?? experiences of microaggressions and their perceptions of critical counterspaces are described. The study further describes the policies, programs, services and daily practices that embody the value that Centers contribute to campuses. Serving multiple simultaneous and congruent purposes on campus, the data revealed that Center activities fall into two themes: those that primarily support core institutional practices of instruction, education, learning and research: advocacy, ally development, fostering visibility, and assessment; and those that primarily further individual student outcomes: community and counterspace, specialized expertise, advising, leadership development, and providing information, referral and resources.

Beyond those activities specifically related to LGBTQ+ identity and the support of those marginalized based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Centers contribute significantly to the development of capacities and skills in students that transcend identity work and development. In particular, participants discussed ways that Center participation fostered professionalism and the ability to work with others in productivity environments. Participants also explored the development of resilience, or strategies that they employ to overcome obstacles to their achievement of desired goals and outcomes. Finally, participants discussed the ways Center involvement cultivated a social justice lens, which participants used to buffer, interpret and understand encounters and interactions with other individuals and experiences of the world.

Finally, the study provides additional observations, conclusions and recommendations for future inquiry. Asserting that future Center efforts must coalesce around emerging sexual and gender identity understandings to maintain Center value, purpose and relevance, the author calls on researchers to consider the ways that Centers can and do broaden their influence and impact beyond active users or students whose primary identity development trajectory relates to sexual identity or gender identity. The study also challenges that identity alone may be a less valuable unit of analysis in parsing and understanding participants, their experiences and contributions to research.


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