Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Social Capital for LGBTQ+ Student Leaders of LGBTQ+ Identity-based Student Groups

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Michael Coomes (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Ellen Broido (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Vikki Krane (Committee Member)


The purpose of this qualitative, interview-based study was to use the framework of social capital to explore how 15 LGBTQ+ student leaders of LGBTQ+ identity-based student groups described the impact of serving in those leadership roles on their sense of engagement and belonging with their university community. Using a constructivist paradigm, I sought a better understanding of how participants understood their own social capital within the university community and how they constructed the meaning of those relationships. I used a constructivist design and analyzed interviews, observations, and documents related to the topic. Participants identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community, all had at least one semester of positional leadership experience in an LGBTQ+ student group, and all were either currently enrolled undergraduate students at the research site or within one year of graduation. I used a semi-structured interview protocol and conducted one interview, lasting between 45-minutes and two hours, with each participant.

I gained an understanding of the participants’ described experience as LGBTQ+ student leaders of LGBTQ+ identity-based student groups and how they interacted with their campus community. Four major themes emerged: (1) gaining social capital; (2) being a visible leader; (3) experiencing changing relationships; and (4) participating in the interactive campus. Through serving in these leadership positions, student leaders gained social capital granted to them by their institution and created by their positional leadership role; they gained capital within their own organization; and they joined two larger social networks of people working for social justice and of student leaders. Participants experienced the campus as highly visible and prominent student leaders. This reputation granted them access to circles denied to others and allowed them to develop instantaneous rapport with people they did not know directly. This visibility came with pressure to represent the LGBTQ+ community well, leaving student leaders feeling like they did not have the freedom to make mistakes. Student leaders experienced changing relationships with advisors, campus administrators, peers, and family members. Finally, student leaders found that the campus community was more interactive and open to them than it had been previous to their assuming a leadership role. This interactive campus community contributed to a sense of belonging that encouraged them to become further engaged with the institution.