LGBTQIA+ BYU students do not feel they can confide in their religious leaders, do not feel a sense of belonging and do not feel safe.
This is not limited to a specific college or group of colleges at BYU.
Finding a safe space on campus is the greatest stressor for LGBTQIA+ students, on average.
BYU could begin to address these grievances by approving an LGBTQIA+ club.
Brigham Young University (BYU) is the flagship university for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With a total student population of 34,737 enrolled in the Fall 2021 semester, BYU consistently ranks among the best-valued colleges by sources like the Wall Street Journal. In addition to its affordability in an academic era defined by unaffordable tuition, BYU’s business program, accessible undergraduate research experiences, and a rigorous Honor Code based on LDS religious values that distinguishes BYU from other universities.
In the spring of 2020, BYU removed the term “homosexual behavior’’ from its online Honor Code, implying the explicit ban on LGBTQIA+ students was lifted. This prompted many LGBTQIA+ students to share their relationships with family and on social media. Following this, Paul V. Johnson, the Commissioner of the Church Educational System (CES), wrote a letter addressing students and faculty on all 3 of the BYU campuses clarifying that the change in wording did not allow for “homosexual behavior.” Feeling deceived, LGBTQIA+ and non-LGBTQIA+ students mobilized to protest this clarification.
In January 2022, the RaYnbow Collective and the BYU Data Science Club partnered for the second time to conduct a survey investigating perceptions of safety and belonging of LGBTQIA+ students at BYU. With this analysis, we request from the BYU administration 1) an end to the ban on "homosexual behavior," 2) the approval of an official club for LGBTQIA+ students and 3) the appropriation of more resources to the university’s Office of Belonging for the purpose of providing our LGBTQIA+ friends and peers with much-needed mental health resources.
In this analysis, we look to answer:
What are the perceptions of family/friend acceptance, faculty support, the LDS church’s stance on LGTBQIA+ issues, church leader support, inclusivity and safety of LGBTQIA+ students at BYU?
How do these perceptions vary by college?
What kind of support do would LGBTQIA+ BYU students value most?
LGBTQIA+ Student Perceptions
The following bar charts contain only the responses of 137 LGBTQIA+ BYU students. The y-axis is the percent of these students that strongly disagree, disagree, are neutral, agree, or strongly agree with each of the perception statements included in the survey.
Family & Friends
Over 70% of LGBTQIA+ BYU students agree with the statement “I have spoken with my family and friends about my sexual orientation.” This strongly suggests that the majority of LGBTQIA+ BYU students have a network of family and friends to confide in when it comes to their sexuality and gender identity.
There is a clear split in students that feel they can and cannot confide in at least one faculty member. In the next section of this post, we looked to see if this split was due to differences in perception by college, but we did not find it to be so.
Interestingly, in spite of aggressively homophobic rhetoric by LDS Church elders like Dallin Oaks, there is a clear split in how LGBTQIA+ BYU students percieve the LDS church’s stance on same-sex marriage.
Despite the clear split in perception of the LDS Church’s stance on homosexual relationships, about 70% of LGBTQIA+ BYU students do not at least agree with the statement “I can confide in my religious leaders on personal matters.”
Approximately half of LGBTQIA+ BYU students would not say they feel like they have a place on BYU campus. BYU needs to evaluate if it wants to have a place for LGBTQIA+ students and, if yes, determine how it can improve perceptions of inclusivity on campus.
Nearly 1 in 2 LGBTQIA+ BYU students do not perceive themselves as safe at BYU. Again, this communicates the desperate need for BYU to demonstrate it cares for its LGBTQIA+ students.
Differences in Experience by College
While we initially hoped to use the survey data to investigate the experience of LGBTQIA+ students by department, we shifted the focus of the analysis to be by college due to sample size issues. The "Other" column in the following figure is comprised of students that listed their major as nursing, international relations, other, or no response. As a result of this combination, the "Other" option will not be included in further analysis since it does not have a clear interpretation. Additionally, we combined "Strongly disagree" with "Disagree" and "Strongly agree" with "Agree" to prevent the data from being too sparse for downstream analysis and to save on computation time.
Now we look to explore the relationship between college and perceptions of safety and inclusivity. To do this, we use a statistic known as Cramer’s V. Cramer’s V is used to calculate the correlation between nominal categorical variables. Nominal variables are take on category labels and have no natural ordering. Cramer’s V ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating no association between the variables and 1 indicating a strong association. Since there is no natural ordering for college nor agreement with a statement, this statistic is appropriate for our purposes.
In addition, we test if there is an association between college and perception of a particular issue (e.g., safety). Because of the sparsity of responses, we do not use the χ2 test of independence. Instead we use a generalized form of Fisher’s Exact Test (FET) to test this hypothesis (specifically, using Monte-Carlo approximations due to the extreme computational demands of exact tests). We use a significance cutoff of 0.05. Table 1 contains the calculated Cramer’s V Statistic and FET p-values for each of the statements the survey.
In the first row of Table 1, we have the Cramer’s V statistics for each perception statement. We see that all of these statistics are around 0.2, indicating these is only a weak relationship between the included colleges and the perception of LGBTQIA+ students for these specific statements. In the second row of Table 1, none of the statements have a statistically significant association with any of the included colleges.
What these results indicate are that none of the included colleges at BYU are performing better or worse with regards to perceptions of family and friend acceptance, faculty support, the LDS church’s stance on LGTBQIA+ issues, church leader support, inclusivity and safety. It appears that regardless of the student’s chosen college, the university as a whole is not stepping up to communicate with and support its LGBTQIA+ students.
Supporting LGBTQIA+ Students
Our findings are not a surprise for those familiar with the daily challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ students at BYU. In this section, we report what LGBTQIA+ students identify as the most pressing challenges they face as well as resources they feel would be most helpful. These resources are actionable, and BYU and the LDS Church are able to take immediate steps to provide these resources if they are prioritized. Even if BYU insists on banning “homosexual behavior,” that does not mean the university should ignore the fact that a large group of its students do not feel welcome or safe.
With help from the BYU Raynbow Collective, the BYU Data Science Club identified 10 aspects of BYU that LGBTQIA+ students find particularly challenging. The highest ranked stressor for LGBTQIA+ BYU students was discovered to be a LGTBQ+ friendly environment with an average rank of 1.65. The next highest ranked stressor was finances followed by grocery bills and navigating romantic relationships.
Along with identifying the greatest stressors, we asked LGBTQIA+ students to respond with what resources they would value most. To visualize their responses, we generated a wordcloud. The larger the word in the wordcloud, the more frequently it was used in the responses. Some of the most noticeable words are safe, therapy and club. These indicate that resources BYU’s LGBTQIA+ community would appreciate most are safe spaces in the form of access to mental health counselors and a club.
In this analysis, we used survey data from 137 LGBTQIA+ BYU students. Most LGBTQIA+ students do not feel they can confide in their religious leaders, do not feel a sense of belonging and do not feel safe. This is not limited to a specific college or group of colleges at BYU. Finding a safe space for queer folk is the greatest stressor they experience, on average. Many LGBTQIA+ students would find an university-sanctioned club to be a potential solution for reducing this stress.
Acknowledgements & Comments
Thanks to the BYU Data Science Club’s support and help in designing the survey. Thanks to Nate Gordon in fielding the survey. Thanks to Jared Cummings for assisting in designing the survey and with the analysis. Thanks to Brooke Wolverton for providing feedback on earlier drafts. Special thanks to Maddison Tenney and the RaYnbow Collective for organizing the BYU Student Pride parade and providing BYU students with direct support.
I would love ideas on how to make this analysis better as well as potential next steps. Feel free to reach out! If you are interested in donating or volunteering for this work, please go to the RaYnbow Collective's website to do so.