Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of Sociology

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 106 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Kate H. Averett

Committee Members

Ron Jacobs, Joanne Kaufman


campus climate, coming out, gender nonconforming, lgbtqia+, online v. offline, queer theory, Sexual minority college students, Sexual minorities, Coming out (Sexual orientation), Identity (Psychology), Online identities

Subject Categories

Communication | Higher Education | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies


This research aims to describe the experiences associated with coming out—both on campus and online—for sexually and gender nonconforming college students. In 2014, I conducted a pilot version of this study at a public American university in the Northeast, utilizing data from semi- structured in-depth interviews and a demographic questionnaire. A thematic analysis using open and axial coding techniques found that social media interactions contributed to ‘outing’ students on campus. This finding inspired a second iteration of the study, which replicates the original research design and expands its interview script to include a more expansive series of questions related to social media and internet use. Conceptually, I employ queer theory and bolster it with intersectionality to convey how participants negotiate identity work. My theoretical contribution also troubles an online v. offline dichotomy by relationally exploring how queer individuals come out, both on social media platforms and interpersonally on campus. With a deliberate emphasis on marginalized and nonconforming students, this analysis contributes an intersectional discussion of themes related to ‘digital inequalities’, institutional programming, and identity politics. I pose several research questions, including: what influences one’s decision to disclose identity(s) online? Does the college campus foster a climate that is receptive to coming out and the development of nonconforming identities? Are students pressured or encouraged to come out to peers, and does this vary online? Finally, how do students navigate the coming out process across traditional and digital social networks?