Academic journal article Communication Studies

"We're Too Afraid of These Imaginary Tensions": Student Organizing in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Communities

Academic journal article Communication Studies

"We're Too Afraid of These Imaginary Tensions": Student Organizing in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Communities

Article excerpt

Student organizations play an especially critical role in identity development for students, allowing them to actively view the outcomes of their organized efforts (Guido-DiBrito & Bachelor, 1988). Student led organizations on college campuses coordinate political efforts, encourage action, and institute change within their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities and larger social communities on college campuses (McCarthy, 2002; O'Connor, 2001; Williams, 2002). College campuses are inherently transient, and student organizations experience continuous turnover. In essence, leadership of student organizations often changes every year and new members join at various stages of the organizing process (Komives & Woodard, 2001). This unique dimension of student organizations provides potential for organizational scholars to study the everyday interactions and efforts that define and redefine organizational purposes, goals, and objectives. Thus, student organizing provides a rich context for examining organizational life.

Ironically, though academicians are frequently located on college campuses inundated with student organizations, organizational studies pay little attention to the dynamics of student organizing. Studies of student organizations tend to express more concern for student involvement and engagement than in the organizational process (Eklund-Leen & Young, 1997; MacCannon & Bennet, 1996), and none approach student organizations from a communication perspective. Organizational communication research typically studies organizations long after they form, and the events that happen within them long after they occur. As a result, current research tends to marginalize personal, humanizing experiences of those forming and maintaining organizational structures through individual action. Treatments of student organizations often evaluate "effectiveness" or "instrumentality" of action rather than providing serious theoretical and practical evaluations of the communication processes used to organize and mobilize student activism on college campuses. Boden (1994) argues that surprisingly few organizational studies get "close enough to the fine structure of human action" to be able to theorize the consequences of "interactionally achieved actions and events" (p. 9).

This study presents the results of a grounded theory study of student organizing within the LGBT community of Elkhorn University. (1) Elkhorn University has a strong reputation as a center of student activism, especially with regard to LGBT issues. Elkhorn University is unique in that three distinctly student lead LGBT organizations exist on campus when many colleges and universities struggle to institute one organization. For the purpose of this study, student organizations are defined as organizations that exist relatively independent of a faculty advisor, where leadership positions and general membership are composed solely of undergraduate or graduate students. Given this definition, Elkhorn is home to three LGBT student organizations--Out Daily, Sisters of Dissent, and INC. Out Daily is the umbrella LGBT group on campus, defined by one of its leaders as "less of a political place because really people who come there are just coming out." Out Daily operates as a discussion group, and is generally concerned with providing information to students who are not "out" and providing spaces where LGBT students can socialize with one another. Sisters of Dissent was originally formed as a response to the needs of lesbian women on campus. Over time, the group has lost some of its gendered roots, and now is viewed as a "step-up group for those more comfortable with being out." Programming generally includes a variety of more "radical" and "visible" actions on campus. INC is defined by members as "sort of the more bureaucratic activism" necessary to raise awareness on issues of oppression. Their programming tends to focus on building strategic alliances with other organizations on campus to combat homophobia, sexism, and racism. …

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