Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

A Subcultural Study of Gay and Bisexual College Males: Resisting Developmental Inclinations

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

A Subcultural Study of Gay and Bisexual College Males: Resisting Developmental Inclinations

Article excerpt

Introduction

Lack of knowledge of the collegiate experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students forms a significant gap in the higher education literature. Not only is there minimal research-based work in this area, some of the most prominent research tends to portray lesbian, bisexual women, bisexual men, and gay men as a homogeneous body, often grouping them under the common category of "homosexual." The assumption that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students share quite similar experiences has led to overgeneralizations about their lives and has compromised the quality of scholarship on such populations. In turn, this has contributed to campus policies and practices that are inadequately articulated and often implemented ineffectively (Rhoads, 1994). What is most needed at this time is in-depth knowledge of the diversity that exists among lesbian, gay, and bisexual students. Although their common struggle in the face of an oppositional culture has led to the loose formation of a "community" organized around the need for solidarity, such a common struggle ought not to be confused with a clearly articulated cultural enclave.

With the preceding in mind, I have three goals in this article: First, I seek to contribute research-based findings about the experiences of gay and bisexual college males. The focus is on issues of identity, as I utilize theories of culture to make sense of students' collegiate experiences. Second, in presenting a subcultural analysis, my intent is to highlight the diversity among gay and bisexual male students and thus resist the tendency toward monolithic portrayals of "homosexual" identity. I argue that understanding the diversity of students' experiences is crucial to the work of higher education researchers, faculty, and student affairs practitioners. Only through a commitment to understanding the complexity of students' lived experiences will colleges and universities be able to build the kinds of diverse learning environments needed for educating a truly multicultural society (Rhoads & Valadez, 1996; Tierney, 1993b).

A third goal of this article is to raise questions about the utility of developmental models of gay identity, such as stage theories advanced by Cass (1979, 1984), Coleman (1982), and Troiden (1979, 1989), among others. Although developmental models such as these are sometimes helpful in better understanding the general phases that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people may face, such perspectives also run the risk of misleading professionals involved in researching and/or educating lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students. Developmental models of "homosexuals" become problematic if they are used to particularize findings to specific individuals when, in fact, significant differences exist among lesbian, gay, and bisexual students. Thus, I use an ethnographic study of gay and bisexual college males to highlight some of the significant differences among these students. I argue that localized understandings are needed to offset the limitations of developmental stage models.

Student Culture and Identity

There are a multitude of theories about college students and their experiences that have proliferated over the past thirty years or so. From the early work on student culture and peer influence (Becker, 1963, 1972; Clark & Trow, 1966; Feldman, 1972; Feldman & Newcomb, 1970; Leemon, 1972; Newcomb & Wilson, 1966) to the more recent emphasis on student out-of-class learning and learning outcomes (Astin, 1993; Kuh, 1995; Kuh, Schuh, Whitt, & Associates, 1991; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) a variety of topics and developmental concerns have been addressed. This literature is immense, and any effort to summarize this body of knowledge here would be foolhardy and naive. There are, however, some key works that have paved the way for contemporary work on student culture and identity.

In terms of identity acquisition, the work of Erikson (1956, 1968), Chickering (1969), Perry (1970), and Kohlberg (1975) cleared some early ground for others to advance developmental understandings of identity processes. …

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