LGBT Life in UK Higher Education: an ethnography of staff-student working relations

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Education and Professional Studies


In 21st century Britain, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, trans)
communities have seen many legislative changes impacting
day-to-day life (Local Government Act 2003, Marriage
(Same-sex Couples) Act 2013). With an increased legal
acceptance has come an assumption that social and
professional aspects of life too have improved for LGBT
people, particularly in spaces that are seen as progressive,
like Higher Education (HE) institutions and their directly
surrounding areas. I have been an LGBT volunteer involved
with community-building, policymaking, and wellbeing at
Sussex University and Goldsmiths College, both institutions
which have a reputation for attracting LGBT students.
However, relations between volunteers and university staff
were often characterized by our frustration at - what seemed
to us - the lack of interaction with student initiatives from
university management, especially when we made an active
effort to reach out to the university. This left a lot of day-today work to student volunteers, who often lacked the training
or time to do this properly.
I will conduct ethnographic research to explore the extent to
which HE institutions promote themselves as LGBT-friendly,
how they cultivate this in their own conduct and policy, and
how the work towards this is divided between paid university
staff and student volunteers. I aim to work from a critical
understanding of the impact of neoliberal labour divisions on
marginalized groups (Rottenberg, 2015; Ahmed, 2004), and
combine this with original research on the working relations
between universities and LGBT students. This research will
outline which courses of action are beneficial to conducting
working relationships between universities and volunteers,
particularly at institutions where students arrive expecting a
certain level of LGBT-friendliness

Research questions:
1. To what extent does promotional material for Higher
Education institutions use LGBT-friendliness as a marketing
2. What measures do British institutions of Higher Education
put in place to enhance LGBT-friendliness within their
organizational structures?
3. How do LGBT volunteers experience the support (or lack
thereof) from their institution of education with regards to
working towards LGBT-friendliness?
4. What do these findings suggest for the future of
policymaking and practice around LGBT-friendliness in Higher
Research objectives:
1. Through analyzing the links between promotional material
and prospective LGBT student expectations, this study will
contribute to scholarship around the marketing of education,
and its effects on LGBT people.
2. By discussing the effects of university policy, this study will
contribute new insights into methodologies of efficient and
materially relevant policymaking.
3. By analyzing successes and shortcomings in interactions
between university staff and LGBT volunteers, this study will
give insight into practical changes that can be made in
everyday conduct between university staff and volunteers, to
optimize working relations.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2307577 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2019 31/12/2023 Pippa Sterk