Why are they so mad? Queer women college students navigating Chilean higher education




Canelo-Pino, Ximena Carolina

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As also has happened in the United States, Chilean higher education has experienced a major paradigm shift over recent decades, becoming a massive and more accessible educational system whose student profile has changed significantly in association with its levels of selectivity. Despite these changes, higher education has not yet become a mechanism for reducing social inequalities, since its structure contains entrenched ideologies and values that promote the continuation of hegemonic power, helping to reproduce and perpetuate inequality. Similarly, empirical inquiry in higher education has been remiss in taking into consideration sexual identity as a characteristic of a student’s background, establishing the heterosexual experience as the norm when studying any particular issue. In the United States, scholarship about LGBTQ issues in recent decades while increasing the support and recognition of LGBTQ students, also contributed to the perpetuation of a monolithic view of this population. Although sharing similar experiences of invisibility, isolation, and marginalization, as well as everyday struggles to foster a positive sense of belonging and a healthy identity development within that context of oppression, queer women students also face challenges that are unique to them and are normally overlooked by researchers when employing the LGBTQ umbrella. Consequently, research on queer college women remains scarce in the United States, while in Chile scholars have been negligent about addressing this topic. Therefore, as a way to contribute to filling in this gap, this study’s purpose is to better understand the college experience of Chilean queer women. To achieve this goal, a grounded theory study was carried out. The primary study findings portrayed how complex it is for Chilean queer women collegians to navigate higher education while facing multiple challenges, such as transitioning to adulthood, embracing their sexual identity and, at the same time, responding to demands from family and college. These demands increased the students’ anxiety and emotional distress, affecting their well-being. Furthermore, the study shows that the academic success of queer women students attending Chilean higher education institutions is affected by the ubiquity of sexism and heterosexism resulting from customary and explicit policies and practices currently in place.


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