New research has found that the “friendliness” of a college counseling center’s website to LGBTQ+ students was lower at institutions in states like Ohio that do not offer statewide LGBTQ+ protections.
A popular trope is academia is that colleges and universities stand apart from society, ivory towers on a hill unaffected by what happens off-campus. With that in mind, authors of the study were not sure what they would find with regard to the effect of statewide protections on a service like a college counseling center’s website, a place where LGBTQ+ students usually first go to get information.
“A study like this had never been done before as previous work in psychology usually focuses on the individual,” said Dr. Jasmine Mena, associate professor of psychology at Bucknell University and co-author of the study. “We found that colleges are actually not neutral and that institutions are not exempt from the social forces in society.”
The study randomly selected 212 U.S. institutions and scored their campus counseling websites for LGBTQ+ friendliness based on 11 criteria, including:
- Whether the staff listed their pronouns in their biographies
- Whether the website addressed LGBTQ+-specific resources in individual, group and couples’ counseling settings
- Whether counselors were trained in LGBTQ+ concerns/sensitivity
- Whether the counseling center provided educational outreach or informational resources
The data was then compared to whether the state housing that college provided protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Results yielded statistically significant findings, with website friendliness significantly higher in states that offered protections.
“What is happening in society has a cascading effect that impacts individuals,” Mena said. “The context of policy trickles down to institutional choices including how they present themselves on a website.”
Although the study’s findings were about the overall effect of state policies on college websites and not focused on specific states, 8 Ohio institutions were part of the study.
As opposed to the 5.17 (out of 11) friendliness score earned by college counseling websites in California (a state with LGBTQ+ protections), a friendliness score of 1.83 was earned by websites in Ohio (a state without LGBTQ+ protections).
With these findings, researches see a call to action for colleges and universities to both create more affirming websites as well as get more involved in their state policies, particularly if their home state does not offer LGBTQ+ protections.
“Colleges and universities are not these isolated islands that can just rest on their good intentions,” Mena said. “We need to think about communicating with lawmakers and advocate for more socially just policies and laws.” 🔥
- (From the research study) Counseling centers need to provide affirming treatment and implement communications systems that address the unique needs of LGBTQ+ students.
- (From the research study) Counseling center staff should be aware of the impact that structural stigma and campus climate have on LGBTQ+ college students’ mental health.
- (From the research study) Colleges and universities should advocate more for socially just policies and laws.
- Learn more about the Ohio Fairness Act and GET INVOLVED.