Student Research Projects

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are: Gender Identity and College

Student Tiffany Brown
Department Sociology


Trying to understand the concepts of gender and gender identity is like trying to clearly define where one line starts and where another line ends in a Picasso painting. Everything seems to blend and form together, and yet you still come out with a beautiful work of art. Gender is a complex concept that often gets confused with sex. Sex is biology; it is defined by the genitalia which one possesses. Gender is a societal construct of what it means to be male or female, formed into binary categories based on a mixture of a person’s biological sex and their behavior. Gender identity is the way someone chooses to express themselves as males or females.

There is a dynamic body of research literature that attempts to explain gender and gender identity. However, there is less literature that examines the correlation of gender expression in relation to a person’s environment and, more specifically, the relationship between the expression of gender identity in relation to the college environment. My research uses a small pilot study to address the question: What is the relationship between a college environment and the expression of gender identity? Results confirm the influence of level of education and societal background on understandings of social constructs of sex, gender and gender identity. Respondents also indicated a perceived greater openness toward gender diversity on colleges as compared to high schools and the “workplace,” and also indicated that environment did directly impact their own expressions of gender identity.

Why is this important and what is the application? Studying and understanding the correlation of one’s gender expression as influenced by their surrounding environment, especially in an educational/academic setting, is important to both students and administration. It can bridge the way for new policies in and outside of the classroom. In addition, it can potentially alter retention rates in that the more someone feels comfortable, the longer they may stay at a particular institution. It can impact student life and campus culture as clubs and partnerships can be developed, couched in a broad and informed understanding of gender identify and the many aspects of transgenderism. And importantly, studying and understanding the correlation of one’s gender expression as influenced by their surrounding environment can add a chapter to the books of clinical sociology that gives professional counselors an insight into the relationship between gender expression and environment.


Association of Applied and Clinical Sociology