Academic journal article Adult Learning

You Are (Not) Welcome Here: The Climate for LGBT Students in an Adult Literacy Program

Academic journal article Adult Learning

You Are (Not) Welcome Here: The Climate for LGBT Students in an Adult Literacy Program

Article excerpt

Abstract: Although prior research has indicated a relationship between educational climate and educational outcomes, there is a lack of research in this area in adult literacy programs. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to assess the actual and perceived educational climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) students at an adult literacy program. Interview data from four heterosexual students, five LGBT students, and three heterosexual teachers were thematically analyzed. Students perceived the educational climate to be one of both comfort and discomfort, and teachers perceived it to be one of only discomfort for LGBT students. Sources of discomfort were twofold: implicit through lack of acceptance and silencing in the curricula, and explicit through actual and perceived harassment. Multiple implications for adult literacy educators and researchers are discussed.

Keywords: LGBT, adult literacy, harassment, bullying, case study

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Educational climate, defined as the subjective experience of students in an educational setting, influences student achievement across all levels of education (Freiberg, 1999), with students experiencing a negative climate (e.g., bullying) often performing below their peers in school (Freiberg, 1999). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) students tend to encounter negative climates more frequently than their heterosexual peers, leading to lower academic achievement (California Safe Schools Coalition & 4-H Center for Youth Development, University of California, Davis, 2004) and attrition (Remafedi, 1987).

Due to the lack of prior research on this issue in adult literacy contexts, the purpose of this qualitative case study was to assess the actual and perceived educational climate for LGBT students at an adult literacy program. This study was guided by the following research questions:

Research Question 1: How do LGBT students experience the climate?

Research Question 2: How do heterosexual students perceive the climate for LGBT students?

Research Question 3: How do teachers perceive the climate for LGBT students?

To frame the importance of the present research, we discuss the literature related to the perceived and actual climate for LGBT students in K-12 and secondary educational contexts.

Review of Relevant Literature

Prior research indicates a positive correlation between educational program climate and a variety of student outcomes, including self-esteem (Hoge, Smit, & Hanson, 1990), academic performance (Wang et al., 2014), and social development (Catalano, Haggerty, Oesterie, Fleming, & Hawkins, 2004). LGBT students face negative educational climates more often than their heterosexual peers, such as experiencing higher rates of bullying (Robinson & Espelage, 2011). In fact, as many as 31% of LGBT students report being the target of threats or injury (Mental Health America, 2011) and 6l% report feeling unsafe at school (Perry-Wood, Yang, Carr, & Stowell, 2010). Given these negative experiences, LGBT students are more likely to earn lower grades (California Safe Schools Coalition & 4-H Center for Youth Development, University of California, Davis, 2004) and drop out of high school (Remafedi, 1987). These behaviors may extend beyond the high school context, as some LGBT youth are less likely to pursue post-secondary education (Kosciw, 2004).

For those LGBT students at the secondary level, they view campus climate more negatively than their heterosexual peers (Brown, Clarke, Gortmaker, & Robinson-Keilig, 2004). Among the factors that influence a negative perception are harassment (Rankin, 2006) and bullying, which are functions of power in educational contexts (Misawa, 2015). In this study, we combine the two terms to include behaviors of verbal, psychological, and physical aggression. Sexual minorities face negative campus climates in a range of secondary educational contexts, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs; Mobley & Johnson, 2015), Christian colleges and universities (Wolff & Himes, 2010), and community colleges (Zamani-Gallaher & Choudhuri, 2011). …

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