UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Place of promise? Queer students’ negotiation of risk, danger, and safety at the University of British Columbia Sullivan, Rachael E.


Drawing on sociological, geographical, and educational research, this dissertation explores how self-identified queer students understand and engage with the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus as a ‘queer space.’ In this case study, I interview 26 queer-identified UBC students and utilize a mapping exercise in order to capture their understanding and engagement with what university administrators argue in the visioning document Place and Promise: The UBC Plan (2010) is a safe learning, living, and working environment. I utilize Lefebvre’s (1991) spatial triad of conceived, perceived, and lived elements of space, along with feminist post-structural and queer theories of discourse, subjectivity, and power to expose the spatial dynamics of queer sexualities on the UBC campus. As queer students transition from high school to the university setting, they demonstrate that the task of identifying and exploring their queer desires involves a complex and ongoing process, one that challenges the standard ‘coming out’ narrative. I have termed this process ‘becoming queer’ to indicate how it recognizes the contextual, spatial, and continual identification of queer desires, even within the university setting. Further analyses reveal how queer students actively identify homophobic, transphobic, and heteronormative discourses and practices through what I call ‘queer spatial awareness’ in an effort to create and maintain their own sense of safety and comfort on campus through their deployment of ‘queer spatial practices’. Students discuss how specific social spaces, including on-campus residences, fraternities and sororities are perceived as risky, compared to student resources, administrative, and academic spaces on campus. However, this sense of safety for queer students, especially within the neoliberal context of the post-secondary education, has the potential to constrain the possibility of enacting queer politics on campus. The dissertation concludes by considering some of the implications of this research in providing new insights into queer students’ engagement with the campus, while also offering practical recommendations for improving campus culture at UBC and beyond.

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