Collaborative Research: Exploring the Impact of LGBTQ+ Instructors in the Undergraduate Biology Classroom

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description

Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and otherwise non-straight, non-binary, and/or non-cisgender (LGBTQ+) often do not feel welcome in the biology community. The LGBTQ+ identity is considered a concealable stigmatized identity (CSI) or an identity that can be kept hidden and carries negative stereotypes. Since our society generally assumes people are straight and cis-gender, LGBTQ+ individuals often need to make a conscious decision to reveal their identity. The decision to come out is often fraught with both internal and external stressors that are further amplified in the context of the biology community, which is often assumed to be objective and devoid of the influence of social identities. As a result, LGBTQ+ individuals often remain invisible in biology.
Same-identity role models have been shown to be transformational for students, particularly for students with marginalized identities. However, no studies have demonstrated the impact of having LGBTQ+ role models in biology. Further, our preliminary data show that 95% of undergraduate biology students perceive that they have never had an LGBTQ+ STEM instructor, despite ~12% of the U.S. population identifying as LGBTQ+. Our data also show that only 18% of LGBTQ+ biology instructors are out to their undergraduate students. Thus, LGBTQ+ students may not have access to LGBTQ+ instructors as role models because LGBTQ+ instructors do not reveal their identity. Exploratory interviews indicate that biology instructors conceal their LGBTQ+ identity in the class because they perceive minimal value in revealing their identity, not because they feared negative consequences. Thus, documenting the positive impacts of instructors revealing their LGBTQ+ identity could potentially increase the number of LGBTQ+ instructors who come out.
No studies have systematically examined how biology instructors revealing their LGBTQ+ identities can impact students, including specifically LGBTQ+ students. While previous research has outlined costs and benefits of an instructor coming out, this has not been done at scale. Given geographic differences in LGBTQ+ acceptance, it is essential to take a national approach. This proposed Engaged Student Learning Exploration IUSE project will use the lens of concealable stigmatized identities to study the impact of LGBTQ+ instructors revealing their identities in the context of undergraduate biology classrooms.
Specific Aims of the proposed study: SA1. Document whether LGBTQ+ instructors reveal their identity to undergraduate biology students in the classroom and what factors influence their decision whether to reveal, using a national survey and interviews SA2. Using a quasi-experimental design, assess the impact of LGBTQ+ instructors revealing their identity in the biology classroom on all students, LGBTQ+ students, and on themselves as instructors.
Intellectual merits: This would be the first large-scale, systematic study to explore the impact of LGBTQ+ instructors revealing their identity in the classroom. The study uses a theoretical framework of concealable stigmatized identity and employs a robust quasi-experimental approach. This work would also represent the first national-scale exploration into the benefits and costs to revealing ones LGBTQ+ identity in the classroom. Further, this work can help inform research on other concealable stigmatized identities in the context of undergraduate science classrooms.
Broader impacts: LGBTQ+ individuals are considered underserved in science and there are documented retention issues for LGBTQ+ undergraduates in science. Approximately 15-20% of undergraduate biology students currently identify as LGBTQ+, yet few know openly out LGBTQ+ instructors. By assessing the impact of an LGBTQ+ instructor coming out in the biology classroom, this study has the potential to encourage more instructors to reveal their LGBTQ+ identities, making science more inclusive for LGBTQ+ students and students with other marginalized identities by providing same-identity role models. The dissemination plan is broad and specifically includes LGBTQ+-focused social media that will be used to help communicate these findings to a large network of LGBTQ+ individuals.
StatusActive
Effective start/end date3/1/212/29/24

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $300,000.00

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