LGBTQ Students Experience Illinois State University as Benignly Heteronormative

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This paper discusses an exploratory study conducted with student focus groups at Illinois State University in the spring of 2008 about potential interest in a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT)/Queer Studies curriculum. These students belonged to campus organizations known to be particularly sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ students. Focus group members responded to three general questions: What were their perceptions of the environment at the university in terms of being inclusive and safe for LGBTQ students and allies? What were they currently learning in their coursework related to LGBTQ issues and what they thought should be included in LGBT/Queer Studies curriculum content? and What would be the advantages and disadvantages of being enrolled in a LGBT/Queer Studies academic program? This qualitative study followed an earlier quantitative survey study done in 2006- 2007 (Zosky, 2007). The quantitative study of 718 participants found that students at Illinois State had very little exposure to LGBTQ issues in curricular and co-curricular experiences. Students had the least exposure to LGBTQ issues at the secondary level and slightly more exposure in community colleges prior to attendance at Illinois State. More than half (55%) of students in the study reported no LGBTQ content in their Illinois State coursework thus far. Another important feature of this qualitative study is that it gave students an opportunity to express, in their own words, what they need to feel safe and supported on college campuses and what interferes with their social engagement in campus life. What students said coincides with studies conducted at other institutions and points to solutions that are manageable and realistic given the context of Illinois State (Angeli, 2009). Students expressed that they were ready and willing to work with faculty, staff, and administration on transforming the environment at the university from what they described as benign heteronormativity to one that is helpful to and supportive of all students.


This article was originally published as Ressler, P. & Zosky, D. (2010). LGBTQ students experience Illinois State University as benignly heteronormative. Gauisus Normal, IL: Illinois State University