The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the experiences of 15 Latina lesbian students and their perceived sexual identity development at a predominately Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI). Participants for this study were purposefully selected using criteria, convenience, and snowball sampling.
Using a conceptual framework comprised of the four tenets consistent across the spectrum of all sexual identity development models, participants’ experiences were described, analyzed, and interpreted to inform the study. Data were collected through individual face-to-face interviews, using an interview protocol, and were analyzed using inductive, deductive, and comparative analyses.
Three themes emerged during the inductive analysis: (a) the trifecta: family, religion and gender, (b) the paradox of being Latina and lesbian, and (c) institutional care. In the deductive analysis, a rubric of a priori codes was derived from their (a) cultural perspectives, (b) identity awareness, and the four tenets sexual minorities consistently experience which included: (c) alienation, (d) social exclusion, (e) disclosure, and (f) self-acceptance of a non-heterosexual identity. The deductive analysis confirmed that participants’ experiences and perceived levels of sexual identity development were determined by the challenge or support they received from family, peers, and their Hispanic-serving institution overall. The comparative analysis revealed an overlap of the inductive and deductive themes. Among 15 participants, the inductive themes of (a) the trifecta: family, religion and gender, (b) the paradox of being Latina and lesbian, and (c) institutional care were present in all segments of the deductive analysis.
The findings highlighted the complex and challenging experiences of Latina lesbians as they attempt to navigate their intersections of sexuality, gender, and culture in the context of higher education. The study makes a critical contribution to understanding the experiences and sexual identity development of Latina lesbian students at an HSI. The study concluded that while Latina lesbian students struggle to reconcile their Latina and lesbian identities, their experiences at a HSI can be a source of challenge or support in their overall well-being and identity development.