What We Say Matters: Exploring the Importance of Microaggression Language for Lgbtq+ Science Major Undergraduate Students

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

Megan Kowalske, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Brandy Pleasants, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Cathryn Bailey, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Nancy DeJoy, Ph.D.


Diversity Equity and Inclusion, LGBTQ+, microaggressions, queer in stem, science, undergraduate students


The purpose of this exploratory qualitative study is to better understand the climate for LGBTQ+ science major undergraduates in their departments through a transformative queer theory lens and intersectionality. Prior research on campus and STEM department climates have demonstrated inclusion issues continue to persist for LGBTQ+ individuals in higher education. One of these issues is discrimination in the form of microaggressions. Microaggressions against LGBTQ+ individuals have been demonstrated to cause physical, mental, and academic harm. In the literature, there is limited information on how microaggressions impact students in particular STEM fields.

LGBTQ+ science undergraduates from public colleges and universities in Michigan were recruited via email to participate in semi-structured interviews to learn about their experiences with and perspectives on microaggressions. A total of 19 participants completed a first interview to learn more about their experiences, followed up with an online training related specifically to LGBTQ+ microaggressions, and concluded with a second interview. Emergent coding was utilized to capture the full perspectives participants provided by allowing for analysis to follow themes both related to the research questions and the participants brought to the conversation.

This dissertation takes the form of three articles. The first article was a pilot study with three participants to determine what specific issues should be followed up on and to better prepare methods for the larger study. The second article examined the experiences LGBTQ+ students in science described in their departments and in science spaces more generally. The third article explored how the participants described microaggressions during the first interview compared to the second interview after having completed the training. Together, all three articles demonstrate that LGBTQ+ science students are aware of potential issues, but many struggle to articulate the issues and may better describe their experiences after being exposed to language related to discrimination and microaggressions.

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