Rutgers Study Finds LGBTQ College Students Perform Well Academically Despite Higher Suicide Risk

Rutgers Study Finds LGBTQ College Students Perform Well Academically Despite Higher Suicide Risk

The largest study of queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum college students provides unprecedented insight into this population’s experience in American higher education

Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Tyler Clementi Center performed the largest-ever, nationwide study of the experiences of LGBTQ college students.
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"There is a critical need for universities to provide mental health services, mentorship and opportunities to develop friendships with affirming peers,”  – Maren Greathouse

Media Contact
Cynthia Medina

The largest-ever, nationwide study of the experiences of LGBTQ college students tells a story of resilience and academic success despite high rates of depression and distress, according to Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Tyler Clementi Center, which performed the study.

Researchers examined the responses of 66,208 lesbian, gay or bisexual students and 6,607 transgender students to seven national surveys, representing 918 four-year institutions across the United States – the largest sample of this population to be examined in higher education.

“This study provides educators, administrators and policymakers with new information that is critical to serving the needs of queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum students,” said Maren Greathouse, director of the Tyler Clementi Center, a research unit established in 2013 in memory of the Rutgers University freshman who died by suicide after he was cyberbullied because of his sexual orientation.

The Rutgers study found that approximately 25 percent of LGBTQ college students nationwide reported they had seriously considered suicide during the previous 12 months, and that LGBTQ students reported more than double the rate of depression compared with ther heterosexual peers.

Notably, however, the study also found that LGBTQ students were more engaged in the classroom than their peers and maintaned grade point averages on par with their classmates. Greathouse called this an indicator of the students’ strength and perseverance, as studies show depression can adversely affect academic performance.

“The college experience can be stressful for all students. But many queer- and trans-spectrum students carry into college a lifetime of social stigma. They may still be struggling to accept themselves, been a victim of bullying and harassment, suffered rejection by family and friends.  There is a critical need for universities to provide mental health services, mentorship and opportunities to develop friendships with affirming peers,” said Greathouse.

Greathouse noted that Rutgers provides robust services and support for the LGBTQ community, such as LGBTQ roommate-matching, gender-neutral housing, advanced health services for transgender students and LGBTQA scholarship opportunities. The nonprofit Campus Pride ranks Rutgers–New Brunswick among the Top 30 “Best of the Best LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges and Universities.”  

The study also found that LGBTQ students were significantly underrepresented in majors related to the health professions, business and engineering. Notably, 3.7 percent of students identified as trans-spectrum pursued degrees in business, compared with 16 percent of cisgender students.

“To help increase diversity in these fields, faculty and institutions can step up and work harder to make these students feel welcome and comfortable,” Greathouse said.

By contrast, 20.4 percent of LGBTQ students were enrolled in arts and humanities majors, compared with 8 percent of heterosexual students.

Results from the study are provided in a white paper, as well as infographics categorized by campus climate, health outcomes and academic outcomes.

The research from this study was funded by Rutgers University and the Tyler Clementi Foundation. For more information,  visit the Tyler Clementi Center website.

Media Contact
Cynthia Medina