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Areas of Support and Barriers to Change Around Issues of Sexuality in Catholic Higher Education

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Change around sexuality in Catholic higher education is an often understudied topic in a particular religious context. Few studies have documented the fear around discussing sexuality in Catholic higher education. Those that have, examined only 1–3 institutions at a time, and identified several barriers to the sexuality discourse.


Through interviews with 31 employees from 17 different Catholic colleges and universities across the U.S., researchers explored how employees who have experience effecting change around human sexuality navigated this process in the Catholic institutional setting. Through inductive thematic analysis, researchers analyzed interviews and data point sheets to identify themes in supports and barriers to effective change around sexuality in these institutions.


Data were coded and built on previous findings by identifying areas of support and barriers to change around addressing sexuality in Catholic higher education. Areas of support included principal changemakers (students, tenured faculty, admin/staff members), supporting offices (residence life, student life, campus ministry, mission and ministry, and theology and religious studies departments), organizational characteristics (mission/heritage, university openness and geographic environment, and good organization), and supportive university leaders or constituents (higher administration, nuns/priests, alum/donors, board of trustees). Barriers to change included fear, conservative constituents, organizational challenges, and administrative resistance. Data were collected from January to May of 2017.


This process of change can look different depending on the university culture, the geo-political climate, those involved in the change process, the relationship to the bishop, mission of the school, and fear in the process.

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Correspondence to Mark A. Levand.

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The researchers sought and obtained appropriate IRB approval. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. The researchers have no potential conflict of interests to disclose.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Levand, M.A., Dyson, D.A. Areas of Support and Barriers to Change Around Issues of Sexuality in Catholic Higher Education. Sex Res Soc Policy 18, 170–183 (2021).

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