UCLA School of Law report reveals disparities faced by LGBTQ+ students of color
The UCLA School of Law is pictured. The School of Law’s Williams Institute recently released the findings of a report that sought to shed light on inequitable treatment faced by students of minority identities in higher education. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Jeslyn Wang
April 16, 2023 9:52 p.m.
The Williams Institute – a public policy research institute at the UCLA School of Law – recently released a report highlighting the disparities that people with minority identities face in higher education settings.
The report – which was conducted in partnership with the Point Foundation, the largest scholarship and resource-granting organization for LGBTQ+ students in the United States – compiled data from the Access to Higher Education Survey, a nationally representative sample of 1,079 adults aged 18 to 40. These survey findings aimed to explore the inequitable treatment of students who have intersecting identities, specifically LGBTQ+ people of color, and the need to increase funding and awareness to people who face greater academic vulnerabilities.
The survey asked participants to provide responses on their school, familial and financial experiences. These findings allowed researchers to compare the different experiences of LGBTQ+ people of color, white LGBTQ+ individuals, non-LGBTQ+ people of color and white non-LGBTQ+ individuals, according to the report.
Point Foundation’s Chief Program Officer Margaux Cowden was one of the main contributors to the Williams Institute report. She said she has seen a greater number of LGBTQ+ students in higher education in recent years, but they are also facing higher rates of discrimination, financial challenges and all-around access to resources otherwise available to non-LGBTQ+ students.
“Now more than ever, we need to be attuned to the fact that LGBTQ+ students are far less of a minority,” Cowden said.
The report found that more than twice as many LGBTQ+ students of color felt sexuality-based harassment was a barrier to their academic success when compared to white LGBTQ+ individuals. In four-year colleges, more than a quarter of LGBTQ+ students of color indicated that they faced bullying, assault or harassment – which was a statistically similar proportion to the same reported by 35.8% of white LGBTQ+ students. In comparison, non-LGBTQ+ people of color and white non-LGBTQ+ participants reported much smaller rates of the same treatment, with 14.3% and 22.0% reporting, respectively.
Scott Park, a second-year computer science student who identifies as a queer Asian American student, said his sexuality intertwines with his education because it impacts his relationships with his peers. Growing up in a conservative school community, Park said he often kept his sexuality hidden until he came to college.
While he recalled facing less stigma about his identity when he came to UCLA, Park said he once heard slurs directed at his past relationship while in his dorm building. Though he considered those students his friends, Park said he realized how different the reality was when those peers were behind closed doors.
According to the report, nearly one in four LGBTQ+ people of color reported picking a four-year college in a different city or state in hopes of it being more accepting, and over a third indicated picking a university to distance themselves from their unaccepting families. In comparison, non-LGBTQ+ people of color reported far smaller rates of the same, comprising 4.0% and 11.1%, respectively.
Kerith Conron, the Williams Institute research director, added that LGBTQ+ students of color also face evident disparities before beginning higher education. Over a third of LGBTQ+ people of color and non-LGBTQ+ people of color reported in the survey that someone in their childhood household required public benefits, including welfare payments and food stamps. In comparison, less than a quarter of white LGBTQ+ and white non-LGBTQ+ students reported needing the same financial support, according to the survey.
From lack of familial support to financial barriers, LGBTQ+ students face challenges that stem not just from educational struggles but also systemic, lifelong inequities, Cowden said.
LGBTQ+ people of color are not only experiencing sexuality-based adversity but also racism and race-related economic inequalities both structurally and interpersonally, Conron said. She said there is a necessity to recognize the complex experiences that come with intersecting identities.
Reports like the Williams Institute’s are vital for a multitude of reasons, said Conron. While other research, such as the American College Health Survey, do factor in questions about sexual orientation, they may lack data on LGBTQ+ specific experiences – such as the unique barriers that transgender people face. In the process, these studies are only surface level and cannot produce accurately generalizable perspectives, Conron added.
“We know anecdotally that (LGBTQ+ students) are facing challenges that other students aren’t facing,” Cowden said.
Conron added that significant change can only be achieved through the collective efforts of faculty, students and administrators. She said there must be collaboration within advisory groups and student leaders specifically dedicated toward advancing awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and funding. While UCLA does have designated LGBTQ+ resources in place, such as the LGBTQ Campus Resource Center, these efforts are often isolated, Conron said. From a lack of website advertising to poor digital infrastructure, she added that much more effort needs to be introduced in order to enact genuine progress.
“LGBTQ+ people of color, specifically, bring to the table histories of great resilience and survival,” Cowden said. “Where the need is understood to be the greatest is where the resources should ultimately go.”