This post (written by our Co-Investigator and Research Assistant, Stefani Vargas) is the first in a series titled "Connecting with Communities" where we discuss the various constituent groups we are engaging with our research.
Overall, higher education serves as a positive space for student identity development, aiding the student in both person and social growth along with academic learning. The same can be said for LGBTQ student identity development; however, little work exists to address how students create identity, achieve cultural literacy, and build community in rural environments. As a team of researchers working in rural, and often remote, environments we understand that LGBTQ students attending these institutions may not have the same needs as students attending urban universities. In order to address this gap in data, as part of this project we will be traveling to three public universities and three community colleges located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin in order to engage students in participatory design workshops and interviews.
To better understand how LGBTQ students experience support, we must understand how these students feel connected to their institutions and what supportive resources look like. We know that LGBTQ students attending rural campuses often face a lack of support and more unaccepting environments than their suburban and urban counterparts and that these students require tailored resources, which may look different than lose found in more urban environments. Our work allows students to participate in designing the resources, technology, and campus environments that would best serve their needs. Students, of course, will have broad ideas of what constitutes as support and what resources they require, but our aim is to find common threads, which can serve as a guide for administrators in resource creation, renovation, and maintenance.
In our work, we encourage students to reflect on the past, voice critiques of the present and propose future solutions. One of the many goals of our work is to help students become more comfortable with this type of problem solving and self-advocacy. Allowing students the space to become comfortable in the process of critiquing their institution, establishing concrete changes they would make, and appropriate justifications for said critique gives participants the tools to advocate for real change on their campus long before we begin to publish our findings and recommendations.
Institutions of higher education are often slow to change and one of the most powerful tools is the student's voice. Our hope is that students walk away with a deeper personal understanding of their social and personal identity and the ways in which technology affects these identities, but also with a more thorough understanding of ways in which one can critique institutions to which one belongs and design the future that best suits student needs. In doing this work we hope to help fill the gaps in data on LGBTQ students by providing a platform for the voices of rural student populations in remote locations and allow higher education professionals insight into the types of technology, support, and resources these students require now, and in the future.