People at Rockefeller Identifying as Sexual/Gender Minorities (PRISM) formed in late 2015 because we five founders saw a lack of formal LGBTQ+ community at Rockefeller University. Since we are the first group at Rockefeller focusing on LGBTQ+ issues, we had no data about what our community here looked like. So, as good scientists, we set out to get some! Over two weeks in January, we invited all Rockefeller community members by email to fill out a 5-minute survey about LGBTQ+ experiences.
The survey was a great success, garnering 191 responses from both LGBTQ+ folk and straight allies. While these data draw on a non-representative sample and are therefore incomplete, they provide a fascinating first glimpse into LGBTQ+ life at Rockefeller. Here are some main findings:
LGBTQ+ people exist at Rockefeller at all levels (except, notably, heads of lab)
LGBTQ+ people feel mostly safe at Rockefeller, but many remain guarded about their identities: More LGBTQ+ people than not say that science is a friendly place for them. However, many respondents are wary of disclosing their identities, especially around senior colleagues. Most respondents have not personally experienced bias or harassment, but those who have are disproportionately LGBTQ+, women, and especially both.
LGBTQ+ people have needs that PRISM can fill: a visible community, access to senior role models, and a community across NY institutions.
Next: data illustrating these findings.
LGBTQ+ people exist at Rockefeller at all levels
LGBTQ+ people across the acronym work at Rockefeller. Out of the 191 who filled out the survey, 85 identified as a gender and/or sexual minority. These 85 work at all levels in Rockefeller, from lab support staff to administration to trainees to senior researchers. Notably absent are any out LGBTQ+ heads of lab at Rockefeller. These data suggest that PRISM’s potential constituency at Rockefeller is large and broadly placed.
LGBTQ+ people feel mostly safe at Rockefeller, but many remain guarded about their identities
According to LGBTQ+ survey respondents, science is a decent place to be LGBTQ+. More respondents than not said that science was a friendly place for sexual minorities (36% positive vs. 11% negative), and very few respondents had been deterred from science by their sexual or gender identities (5%). Many respondents in the free form elaborations said that science and/or academia was friendlier than other fields, though some expressed doubt that this was as true in more senior positions.
Despite this relatively welcoming climate, however, many respondents remain guarded about their identities. Survey respondents report being less open to colleagues (76%), especially senior colleagues (51%), and the majority say that their gender or sexual identity influences how they talk about their personal life at work (56%). While some said that this was because of appropriate boundaries between personal and work lives, others said that they worried about their coworkers’ perceptions and changed their behavior because of it, such as by not keeping pictures of their partner on their desk.
A minority of LGBTQ+ people (17%) self-report bias, harassment, or discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, gender identity, or gender expression. However, these numbers depend heavily on the gender of the respondent. LGBTQ+ men report less bias (9%) and only on the basis of sexual identity, whereas LGBTQ+ women experience more bias (31%), with half of those experiencing bias experiencing it on multiple fronts of gender and sexuality. Straight women also reported high levels of bias (23%), most often based on gender identity but sometimes also on their sexual identity. Many of these respondents further detailed their experience in free form descriptions that ranged from microaggressions to outright homophobia or sexual harassment.
The intersection of gender and sexuality clearly impacts experiences at Rockefeller. Women, queer and straight, face more and more varied harassment than men. Several respondents wrote thoughtfully about how the perceived femininity of gay men or masculinity of lesbian women affected their treatment. While generally the Rockefeller community is safe for LGBTQ+ people, we have a lot of work to do particularly around sexism. PRISM has close ties with WISeR (Women in Science at Rockefeller), and we will continue to prioritize intersectional approaches in our work.
LGBTQ+ people have needs that PRISM can fill
LGBTQ+ survey respondents identified not only a lack of LGBTQ+ community at RU, but also a desire to have more of such a community. While some LGBTQ+ people have found each other to create small informal communities at Rockefeller, a large majority of respondents wanted a more formal community (68%). Creating this community can also include stronger ties to LGBTQ+ groups at other institutions, such as with our Tri-I. Thus far these ties have been woefully absent because of lack of publicity, with 82% of respondents unaware that a Tri-I LGBTQ+ group exists. One of PRISM’s crucial roles is to create a more formal community both at Rockefeller and across NYC institutions.
Another goal of PRISM is to provide more access to senior LGBTQ+ models. Perhaps because Rockefeller has no openly LGBTQ+ heads of lab, most LGBTQ+ respondents do not have senior LGBTQ+ role models here (82%). Many wish they did have such role models (64%).
With these priorities, it is unsurprising that the top three PRISM activities respondents wanted are social events (71%), LGBTQ+ networking events encompassing multiple NYC institutions (62%), and a panel of out scientists sharing their scientific research and personal stories (56%). PRISM is working hard to bring these events to Rockefeller. In February, we threw our first social, which had a staggering turnout of 60+ people, and we plan to have these socials annually. We are currently coordinating with Q!, the LGBTQ+ group at Weill-Cornell, to bring you a Tri-I mixer, and through our newsletter and social media presence we seek to keep our memberlist updated on Tri-I events. Lastly, this summer we will bring East Coast out scientists to Rockefeller for a panel and happy hour. We’re excited for the future. Thanks to everyone who filled out this survey and helped us set our mission!