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MSU extends support for LGBTQIA+ students, employees after data reveals higher victimization rates

January 26, 2023
<p>Illustration of a woman holding an LGBTQ+ flag.</p>

Illustration of a woman holding an LGBTQ+ flag.

Photo by Hope Ann Flores | The State News

Following the release of the 2022 Know More @ Michigan State University Campus Survey data, MSU is extending support services for relationship violence and sexual misconduct, or RVSM, and other services to help students, faculty and staff who identify as transgender and nonbinary. 

The survey revealed the following about the transgender/nonbinary community at MSU:

  • Members of the transgender/nonbinary community were most likely to experience work-related sexual harassment – five times more likely than cisgender men faculty and staff.
  • Members reported the highest mean workplace incivility score. 
  • More undergraduate transgender/nonbinary students report experiencing sexual harassment, compared to undergraduate cisgender men and women. 
  • More transgender/nonbinary graduate/professional students report experiencing sexual harassment, compared to graduate/professional cisgender men and women.
  • More undergraduate transgender/nonbinary students report experiencing intimate partner violence, compared to undergraduate cisgender women and men. 
  • More undergraduate transgender/nonbinary students report experiencing stalking. 
  • Cisgender women and transgender/nonbinary faculty and staff report more experiences with direct incivility, while cisgender men faculty and staff report more experiences with indirect incivility. 
  • When prompted, "if I were to experience sexual misconduct, MSU would treat me with dignity and respect,” transgender/nonbinary students, faculty and staff indicated significantly lower perceptions than cisgender men and women across all groups. 
  • By analyzing transgender/nonbinary students, faculty and staff separately from their cisgender male and female counterparts, the 2022 survey showed this group as a whole is more likely to experience victimization. 

The expanded support services include MSU Safe Place; the Center for Survivors; the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, or GSCC; and Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS.

Interim GSCC director Heather Shea, is a member of the RVSM Expert Workgroup. She tries to connect with students and believes expanding these services will help transgender and nonbinary individuals reach out to better their lives.

“We are an advocacy unit, a safe space and a place for members of our LGBTQIA+ to gather and receive resources to have the fullness of their identities appreciated and supported,” Shea said. “I also serve on a variety of different campus community and campus committees where I try to represent the needs but also kind of directly connect with students who are being affected by university policy.”

In the survey, 6,087 of the 6,410 undergraduate students who responded were cisgender. Of graduate students, 52 of 888 respondents were transgender/nonbinary. Faculty and staff respondents consisted of 87 transgender/nonbinary people out of the 3,695 people who responded. Transgender and nonbinary respondents were grouped together to "create groups with enough respondents to enable analysis,” the report said. 

In the survey, 57.3% of transgender and/or nonbinary undergraduate students felt a “general school connectedness” and 50.1% of the same respondents perceived the school as an “inclusive climate.”

After looking at this data, MSU Safe Place volunteer coordinator and GSCC liaison Lara Hayden said offering services through the GSCC for LGBTQIA+ students and faculty is extremely important.

Hayden works for the GSCC to create a safer environment for those students and to make sure that they have some type of connection with a member of a trusted organization within MSU, they said. 

“One of the reasons we wanted to be at the GSCC is to offer a space for LGBTQ+ survivors to have a space that they’re safe and they feel safe and familiar with,” Hayden said. “It’s important for many LGBTQ+ folks that they’ve entered spaces that were supposed to be helpful and instead harm was caused.”

The survey shows 25.3% of transgender and/or nonbinary undergraduate students have been sexually assaulted since enrolling at MSU. 21.5% transgender/nonbinary staff reported work-related sexual harassment in the 2021-2022 academic school year.

Psychology professor Rebecca Campbell studies sexual assault and the impact of trauma. She's also the advisor in the Office of the President of RVSM and the Chairperson of the RVSM Expert Advisory Workgroup. 

Campbell said she was not surprised by the survey results. RVSM is constantly adjusting what they can offer to survivors; which services work well and which do not, she said. According to Campbell, the 2022 results “tell us that we have made some important improvements.”

“The results also highlight that members of the trans and nonbinary community for students as well as faculty and staff have higher rates of victimization,” Campbell said. “What we need to do is work with our service providers to make sure that they are ready, able, available to serve survivors from the trans and nonbinary community, and also to work with our prevention, outreach and education department to see what we need to be doing differently to prevent incidents of RVSM in that community.”

Although one of the goals of RVSM and the support services, such as MSU Safe Place, is to help as many students that identify as LGBTQIA+, the survey showed 57% of transgender and/or nonbinary undergraduate students knew that MSU Safe Place existed.

Hayden’s goal while working at MSU Safe Place and GSCC is to increase the number of students and faculty that know about the support services MSU offers for that community. They said in the future, they hopes that there is a “continuation of growing services” offering more spaces that feel safe for folks” who have been discriminated against.

Hayden thinks this is possible through a group-based idea that she is developing with the GSCC: a peer-led survivor support group for LBGTQIA+ survivors.

Overall, 72.8% of transgender and/or nonbinary students experienced sexual harassment in the 2021-2022 school year, while 61% of cisgender women and 35.7% of cisgender men did.

Campbell hopes that in the future, any type of harassment and assault towards LGBTQIA+ individuals will decrease, more students will find out about the MSU resources available to them. 

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“For those who do experience victimization, we hope that more and more people will feel comfortable coming to our help services for counseling, advocacy and support,” Campbell said. 

To make sure that RVSM services can achieve a better turnout, the GSCC needs more staff, Shea said.

“Since the report came out, we have increased our presence of both the Center for Survivors as well as Safe Place within the GSCC,” Shea said. “We realized that we really needed to add additional support from our two offices on campus that are especially looking at RVSM response.”

Shea also said GSCC employees must focus on “creating ongoing relationships” and fostering a personal presence.

MSU Police Department Special Victims Unit Detective Lt. Andrea Munford says this “collaborative piece of the members” in the organization is “really critical.”


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