In the CHAE Report (Fall 2015), Dr. Renn discusses directing the National Study of LGBTQ+ College Student Success project and its many implications.

Written by Dave Nguyen, doctoral student

Professor Kristen Renn directs the National Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, and Queer (LGBTQ+) College Student Success project. This project, which started over three years ago, emerged from a collaborative effort between Renn and Michael Woodford, then an assistant professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan. Together, they launched a project intended to understand how environmental, institutional, and personal factors promote success for sexually minoritized students. Much of the scholarship about LGBTQ+ college students tends to operate from a deficit perspective. Renn and Woodford wanted to use a more appreciative approach to disentangle factors helping queer students succeed in navigating postsecondary education.

The National Study of LGBTQ+ College Student Success has two components. First, in February 2013, Renn and Woodford assembled a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary set of researchers to collect concurrent mixed-methods quantitative and qualitative data at a regional conference for sexually minoritized and allied students. Emerging from these conference proceedings and a brief data collection window, nearly 1,000 usable responses were collected. In addition to the collected quantitative data, these researchers conducted 60 semi-structured interviews. Data collected during this phase of the project involved understanding participant experiences with high school environments, academic contexts, student engagement (e.g., study abroad, faculty research, living-learning communities), health outcomes (e.g., suicide, alcohol usage), and on-campus resource usage.

The second phase utilizes a longitudinal design to understand the experiences of queer-identified students at Michigan State University. The study began with a cohort of LGBTQ+ students attending their first year at MSU. During each of the last two years of this study phase, Michigan State doctoral students have conducted eight interviews with each study participant. This study offers evidence of how students conceptualize and make strides towards their definitions of personal, social, and academic success. The study also documents the trial and error nature of the collegiate environment, while providing a space for students to discuss different aspects of their multiple social identities. The research team excavates each student’s multiple identities through a unique qualitative research approach, pairing multiple qualitative methods involving not only interviews, but also photo elicitation, map drawing, and other identity-centered activities.

These two phases have led to a number of scholarly products. A primary tenet of the National Study of LGBTQ+ College Student Success is enhancing and contributing to the national discourse on LGBTQ+ issues facing college students. Study results from the two phases have been published in scholarly journals, such as College Teaching and Journal of Homosexuality. A number of working papers have been presented at academic conferences, such as the American Educational Research Association, Association for the Study of Higher Education, and the National Symposium on LGBTQ+ Research. Finally, the project’s commitment to advancing student affairs practice around LGBTQ+ issues has led to practitioner oriented presentations at annual meetings of the American College Personnel Association and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.