UW-Eau Claire is known for being LGBTQ+ friendly, having been ranked for years as a great college for LGBTQ+ students. But is the reputation deserved? According to students, support for transgender students may be lacking. The Eau Claire Longitudinal Student Survey (ECLSS) is an annual survey conducted by students in the Sociological Research Methods course (SOC 332) at UW-Eau Claire. During the Spring 2023 semester, a random sample of 1000 students were invited to complete the survey, which included questions about students’ perception of transgender issues on campus. Comparing how LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ students answered these questions exposed significant differences of opinion about how well UWEC is supporting transgender students.
One question from the survey asked students, ‘How uncomfortable do you believe transgender students feel on campus?’ Whereas only 13% of non-LGBTQ+ students believed that transgender students feel uncomfortable on campus, 30% of LGBTQ+ students held that belief. What is the reason for the difference? On one hand, it could imply that LGBTQ+ students are more aware of campus issues that make transgender students feel uncomfortable, whereas non-LGBTQ+ students may be less aware. On the other hand, it could reflect the fact that transgender people are subject to discrimination in society at large and that UWEC is no exception. When we asked, “How much discrimination do you feel Transgender people experience in society?” 72% of non-LGBTQ+ individuals and 97% of LGBTQ+ individuals said “a lot.” Given the large majorities of students who perceive discrimination against transgender people in society, the comparatively lower numbers of students who said they thought transgender students felt uncomfortable on campus is impressive. So although there are differences of opinion on campus, when compared to society as a whole, UWEC seems to be a much more welcoming place for transgender students.
In the Classroom
Another question from the survey asked students, ‘Do you feel the faculty at UWEC is well equipped to support transgender students at this University?’ Of those who gave yes or no answers, 81% of non-LGBTQ+ students said yes, while only 31% of LGBTQ+ students said so. These results show that LGBTQ+ students are more likely to say that UWEC faculty are not equipped to support transgender students and need more training and resources. If they are right, then we have more work to do in order to prepare faculty to support all students. The difference also suggests that non-LGBTQ+ students may be unaware of what faculty need in order to be able to support transgender students.
Why is this important? Not only for the sake of supporting transgender students, but also because students here want to know more about transgender issues. Results of the survey tell us that 59% of non-LGBTQ+ students say that they want to learn more about transgender issues, and 88% of LGBTQ+ students say they want to learn more. Thus, majorities of students, whether they identify with the LGBTQ+ community or not, are interested in learning more about transgender issues. Training and equipping the faculty at this university with resources to include transgender issues more into their curriculum could be both beneficial for students and consistent with their desires.
Still another survey question asked students ‘How do you feel about the number of gender neutral bathrooms on campus?’ Almost all (97%) of the cisgender students said that there were enough gender neutral bathrooms, while 76% of non-cisgender students said there were enough. Although it is not surprising that non-cisgender students would be more likely to say there should be more gender neutral bathrooms, it is notable that such a large majority of non-cisgender students expressed satisfaction with the bathroom accommodations. This shows that although there is still a difference in the views of students on campus, the university has done a good job of providing a resource that benefits students of all genders: 60% of all students said they have used gender neutral bathrooms on campus. Thus, resources provided with transgender students in mind also benefit cisgender students.
All in all, the results of these questions tell us a lot about how students feel about UWEC’s support for transgender students. On the one hand, when compared to the society at large, students have more favorable attitudes about UWEC’s support for transgender individuals. Even LGBTQ+ students think UWEC is a safer place for transgender students, who probably feel a lot more comfortable here than other places. But that doesn’t mean that UWEC is perfect; when comparing LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ students, we see differences of opinion that point to ways that UWEC may be falling short—starting with the need for more training and resources for faculty and staff. While we are making great strides as a university, UWEC still has some work to do before we can fully support LGBTQ+ individuals.