Study Focuses on Religious and Spiritual Involvement of LGBT Undergrads

A new study published in Research in Higher Education looks at the role of sexual orientation and gender identity in college students’ relationship with religion and spirituality on campus.  Coauthored by Steinhardt’s Matthew Mayhew, the study – among the journal’s first articles to focus on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) undergraduates – creates new scholarship on the interplay between sexual orientation, gender non-conformity, and religious and spiritual involvement in college.

The study was conducted using data from 52 college and universities participating in the Campus Religious and Spiritual Climate Survey. The results suggest that overall, lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students are more inclined than their heterosexual peers to explore and define their individual worldviews as well as develop meaningful relationships across ideological difference. Citing findings that indicate a more nuanced experience for gender non-conforming students, the article calls for more research on the role of gender identity in these outcomes and offers implications for practice to further support student development in these important spaces.

“This particular piece highlights the growing importance of understanding intersectionalities in identity patterns and their role in informing conversations about diversity climates,” said Mayhew, an associate professor of higher education.

“Embedded within this study is the assumption that identities that bring together religion and sexual orientation are fluid, formative, and in harmony — despite Western norms that suggest otherwise. Now it’s up to us, as college educators, to embrace these intersecting identity patterns and provide supportive spaces for their exploration.”

Mayhew and coauthor Alyssa Rockenbach, an associate professor of higher education at North Carolina State University, are now building on the findings of the Campus Religious and Spiritual Climate Survey with IDEALS (short for Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey), a collaboration with Interfaith Youth Core. The long-term study will follow over 20,000 college students from their freshman through senior years, tracking changes in their attitudes and behaviors about faith and diversity.

Additional coauthors on the Research in Higher Education study include Steinhardt doctoral student Marc Lo, Tiffani Riggers-Piehl of Baylor University, and Jason Garvey of the University of Alabama.

Photo credit: Digital Vision.