Ghent University Academic Bibliography

Advanced

Sense of Belonging in Secondary Schools: A Survey of LGB and Heterosexual Students in Flanders

Saskia Aerts UGent, Mieke Van Houtte UGent, Alexis Dewaele UGent, Nele Cox UGent and Johny Vincke UGent (2010)
abstract
General description Sense of belonging is a frequently used concept in the sociology of education. It refers to the students’ subjective sense of being a valued member of the school community. It appears that when students have a lower sense of belonging in school, they are less socially integrated in school and feel less attached to school and teachers (Pearson, Muller, & Wilkinson, 2007). They isolate and alienate more from school and peers (Pearson et al., 2007) and skip classes more to avoid interactions with others (Johnson, Crosnoe, & Elder, 2001; Pearson et al., 2007). But it can also have consequences for their school achievement and school career, as it is found that students with a low sense of belonging engage less for academic activities, have more chances to get lower grades, fail more often for courses and often choose for a less challenging curriculum (Pearson et al., 2007). When students do feel they belong in school however, they frequently have higher expectancies for success, value schoolwork more and have a higher school motivation and interest (Goodenow, 1992). Sense of belonging can be influenced by many factors, and one of them is what is often called the “Person-Environment Misfit” (Edwards, Caplan, & Van Harrison, 1998). This misfit occurs when certain people or groups do not conform to the norms or expectations of the environment. This is often the case with minority groups in society, like immigrants, disabled persons or sexual minorities. Schools and other institutions in society are very heteronormative environments. Heteronormativity means that heterosexuality is perceived as the “normal” sexual orientation and alternative feelings or behaviors are seen as “abnormal”, “wrong”, or “deviant”. Heteronormativity hides in many corners of school life. For example courses on sexual education often only talk about relationships between boys and girls, and gay or lesbian intimate relations are seldom discussed (Buston & Hart, 2001). Another example are school boards who just ignore the existence of homosexuals in their classes or who refuse to deal with prejudice, discrimination, and abuse against LGB-students in their school (Black & Underwood, 1998). LGB-students can experience a misfit between these heteronormative demands and their homosexual or bisexual feelings and/or behaviors. This misfit can result in specific forms of stress and anxiety, often called “minority stress” (Meyer, 2003), but we believe it can also cause a general lower sense of belonging at school. In Europe, very little research on LGB-youth is conducted and many researchers are afraid to make explicit comparisons between LGB- and heterosexual students. Making this comparison however, can produce very interesting findings that can change the heteronormative climate in schools and other institutions. With this research we want to investigate if there is a difference in sense of belonging between LGB- and heterosexual students and if there is, explore the determinants of it. We will also take into account possible gender effects, because some studies found significant differences in sense of belonging when they compared girls and boys (Galliher, Rostosky, & Hughes, 2004; Goodenow, 1992). Methods The data used for this research are part of a bigger research project on the socio-psychological well-being of LGB-youth in Flanders, Belgium. This project is called “Zzzip@Youth” and is linked to an earlier investigation of the general well-being of LGB’s in Flanders, the “Zzzip”-study (Cox, Vanden Berghe, Dewaele, & Vincke, 2008). The research project used an online survey and recruited respondents through different channels, like secondary schools, youth service institutions and LGB-youth organizations. The survey was completed in 2007 by 4163 youngsters between 12 and 21 years old. For this research we only selected these respondents who were in secondary school when they completed the survey, 1745 in total. From these students, 162 are LGB and 1517 are heterosexual. The data are analyzed using step-wise multivariate statistics with sense of belonging as the dependent variable and sexual orientation, type of education and discrimination variables as central determinants. Expected outcomes Bisexual girls had a significantly lower sense of belonging at school in comparison with heterosexual girls, but for the boys we found no significant effects of sexual orientation. At first, lesbian girls did not differ significantly from heterosexual girls, but this changed when we added a measure for the perceived discrimination by teachers. Controlled for discrimination, being a lesbian did cause a weak, but significant, lower sense of belonging. It appeared that the effect of sexual orientation for lesbian girls was buffered by the fact that they experience less discrimination than heterosexual girls. When we take a closer look at differences in the subpopulation of LGB-students, we did not find any significant effect of sexual orientation, nor of year of birth, discrimination by fellow students, the degree of “outness” or the acceptance of their coming out by classmates or teachers. The only factors that did have a significant effect were vocational training, discrimination by teachers and the perception of the school as an LGB-friendly environment. LGB-students perceived their school as a rather LGB-friendly environment and this can also be a partial explanation of the low degrees of discrimination on LGB-students.
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
year
type
conference
publication status
unpublished
subject
keyword
high school, LGB, educational sociology, sense of belonging, discrimination, heteronormativity
conference name
European Conference on Educational Research (ECER)
conference location
Helsinki, Finland
conference start
2010-08-25
conference end
2010-08-27
ISSN
N/A
language
English
UGent publication?
yes
classification
C3
id
1030311
handle
http://hdl.handle.net/1854/LU-1030311
date created
2010-08-30 16:08:52
date last changed
2010-09-01 11:34:19
@inproceedings{1030311,
  abstract     = {General description
Sense of belonging is a frequently used concept in the sociology of education. It refers to the students{\textquoteright} subjective sense of being a valued member of the school community. It appears that when students have a lower sense of belonging in school, they are less socially integrated in school and feel less attached to school and teachers (Pearson, Muller, \& Wilkinson, 2007). They isolate and alienate more from school and peers (Pearson et al., 2007) and skip classes more to avoid interactions with others (Johnson, Crosnoe, \& Elder, 2001; Pearson et al., 2007). But it can also have consequences for their school achievement and school career, as it is found that students with a low sense of belonging engage less for academic activities, have more chances to get lower grades, fail more often for courses and often choose for a less challenging curriculum (Pearson et al., 2007). When students do feel they belong in school however, they frequently have higher expectancies for success, value schoolwork more and have a higher school motivation and interest (Goodenow, 1992).
Sense of belonging can be influenced by many factors, and one of them is what is often called the {\textquotedblleft}Person-Environment Misfit{\textquotedblright} (Edwards, Caplan, \& Van Harrison, 1998). This misfit occurs when certain people or groups do not conform to the norms or expectations of the environment. This is often the case with minority groups in society, like immigrants, disabled persons or sexual minorities. Schools and other institutions in society are very heteronormative environments. Heteronormativity means that heterosexuality is perceived as the {\textquotedblleft}normal{\textquotedblright} sexual orientation and alternative feelings or behaviors are seen as {\textquotedblleft}abnormal{\textquotedblright}, {\textquotedblleft}wrong{\textquotedblright}, or {\textquotedblleft}deviant{\textquotedblright}. Heteronormativity hides in many corners of school life. For example courses on sexual education often only talk about relationships between boys and girls, and gay or lesbian intimate relations are seldom discussed (Buston \& Hart, 2001). Another example are school boards who just ignore the existence of homosexuals in their classes or who refuse to deal with prejudice, discrimination, and abuse against LGB-students in their school (Black \& Underwood, 1998). LGB-students can experience a misfit between these heteronormative demands and their homosexual or bisexual feelings and/or behaviors. This misfit can result in specific forms of stress and anxiety, often called {\textquotedblleft}minority stress{\textquotedblright} (Meyer, 2003), but we believe it can also cause a general lower sense of belonging at school. 
In Europe, very little research on LGB-youth is conducted and many researchers are afraid to make explicit comparisons between LGB- and heterosexual students. Making this comparison however, can produce very interesting findings that can change the heteronormative climate in schools and other institutions. With this research we want to investigate if there is a difference in sense of belonging between LGB- and heterosexual students and if there is, explore the determinants of it. We will also take into account possible gender effects, because some studies found significant differences in sense of belonging when they compared girls and boys (Galliher, Rostosky, \& Hughes, 2004; Goodenow, 1992).
Methods
The data used for this research are part of a bigger research project on the socio-psychological well-being of LGB-youth in Flanders, Belgium. This project is called {\textquotedblleft}Zzzip@Youth{\textquotedblright} and is linked to an earlier investigation of the general well-being of LGB{\textquoteright}s in Flanders, the {\textquotedblleft}Zzzip{\textquotedblright}-study (Cox, Vanden Berghe, Dewaele, \& Vincke, 2008). The research project used an online survey and recruited respondents through different channels, like secondary schools, youth service institutions and LGB-youth organizations. The survey was completed in 2007 by 4163 youngsters between 12 and 21 years old. For this research we only selected these respondents who were in secondary school when they completed the survey, 1745 in total. From these students, 162 are LGB and 1517 are heterosexual. The data are analyzed using step-wise multivariate statistics with sense of belonging as the dependent variable and sexual orientation, type of education and discrimination variables as central determinants.
Expected outcomes
Bisexual girls had a significantly lower sense of belonging at school in comparison with heterosexual girls, but for the boys we found no significant effects of sexual orientation. At first, lesbian girls did not differ significantly from heterosexual girls, but this changed when we added a measure for the perceived discrimination by teachers. Controlled for discrimination, being a lesbian did cause a weak, but significant, lower sense of belonging. It appeared that the effect of sexual orientation for lesbian girls was buffered by the fact that they experience less discrimination than heterosexual girls. When we take a closer look at differences in the subpopulation of LGB-students, we did not find any significant effect of sexual orientation, nor of year of birth, discrimination by fellow students, the degree of {\textquotedblleft}outness{\textquotedblright} or the acceptance of their coming out by classmates or teachers. The only factors that did have a significant effect were vocational training, discrimination by teachers and the perception of the school as an LGB-friendly environment. LGB-students perceived their school as a rather LGB-friendly environment and this can also be a partial explanation of the low degrees of discrimination on LGB-students.},
  author       = {Aerts, Saskia and Van Houtte, Mieke and Dewaele, Alexis and Cox, Nele and Vincke, Johny},
  issn         = {N/A},
  keyword      = {high school,LGB,educational sociology,sense of belonging,discrimination,heteronormativity},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Helsinki, Finland},
  title        = {Sense of Belonging in Secondary Schools: A Survey of LGB and Heterosexual Students in Flanders},
  year         = {2010},
}

Chicago
Aerts, Saskia, Mieke Van Houtte, Alexis Dewaele, Nele Cox, and Johny Vincke. 2010. “Sense of Belonging in Secondary Schools: A Survey of LGB and Heterosexual Students in Flanders.” In .
APA
Aerts, S., Van Houtte, M., Dewaele, A., Cox, N., & Vincke, J. (2010). Sense of Belonging in Secondary Schools: A Survey of LGB and Heterosexual Students in Flanders. Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER).
Vancouver
1.
Aerts S, Van Houtte M, Dewaele A, Cox N, Vincke J. Sense of Belonging in Secondary Schools: A Survey of LGB and Heterosexual Students in Flanders. 2010.
MLA
Aerts, Saskia, Mieke Van Houtte, Alexis Dewaele, et al. “Sense of Belonging in Secondary Schools: A Survey of LGB and Heterosexual Students in Flanders.” 2010. Print.