Queer-spectrum[1] and trans-spectrum students remain a significantly underserved population within higher education, despite the presence of significant disparities across measures of campus climate, academic, and health outcomes.  As of 2015, less than 15% of American colleges and universities provided dedicated staff and operational support to address the unique needs of queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum populations[2].

In the context of institutional research, survey instruments measuring student experience have historically omitted demographic variables measuring sexual orientation and gender identity.  In an increasingly data-driven culture, these omissions have rendered queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum students invisible to university decision-makers and program planners.  Quantitative scholarship addressing sexual orientation and gender identity in higher education is consistently under-represented among higher education journals. A study of quantitative research articles published among all tier-one higher education journals from 2010-2012 found that only 1.88% addressed sexual identity and 0.54% addressed gender identity.[3]  Conversely, while qualitative studies provide deep insight into the experiences of queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum students, their findings offer limited generalizability and present a significant obstacle to demonstrating the need for increased support of queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum students.

This landscape is at the precipice of a major shift, as leading higher education research centers increasingly incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity demographic variables to their respective instruments.

Year Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Variables were Included in National Datasets

chart 1

*From 2000-2007, sexual orientation and gender identity were ineffectively collapsed into a single question, “which of the following best describes you? Heterosexual, Gay/Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Other.”  In 2008, the NCHA revised the survey with two distinct questions.
**Survey information retrieved from the following websites on 3/27/2017:  https://heri.ucla.edu, http://nsse.indiana.edu, https://seru.umn.edu, and http://www.acha-ncha.org.


[1]The terms queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum describe identities that depart from heterosexual and cisgender identities respectively, while honoring that sexual and gender identities are fluid and do not always align with socially constructed, fixed categories commonly conveyed by terms such as “LGBT.”

[2] Dedicated staff defined as either one graduate assistant fully dedicated to service of queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum student support or one professional staff whose job duties are at least 50% dedicated to queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum student support. (The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals)

[3] Garvey, J. (2014). “Demographic Information Collection in Higher Education and Student Affairs Survey Instruments: Developing a National Landscape for Intersectionality.” In Intersectionality and Higher Education: Research, Theory, and Praxis, edited by C.S.D. Mitchell & L. Greyerbiehl, 201–216. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2014.