Credibility, community college, and the closet: how students perceive a gay music instructor
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It has been shown that credibility beliefs impact classroom relationships such that students are more likely to rate traditionally marginalized faculty members as less credible than others and are less likely to interact with faculty they find less credible. The purpose of this mixed-methods study, undergirded by Critical Realism (CR), was to examine students’ credibility beliefs about and perceived learning from a male community college music instructor whose sexual orientation was expressed differently in two quasi-experimental conditions. It is an extension of the work of Russ, Simonds, and Hunt (2002) and others (Boren & McPherson, 2018; De Souza & Olson, 2018). The participants for this study were students enrolled in eight class sections of Music Appreciation at a large Mid-Atlantic community college. The same male guest lecturer expressed either a homosexual or heterosexual identity by mentioning his husband or wife by name during each otherwise identical lecture. Participants were then asked to complete McCroskey and Teven’s (1999) Source Credibility Measure to evaluate the lecturer on the credibility domains of competence, character, and caring. Data showed that participants as a collective did not provide significantly different ratings on any dimension of credibility nor for perceptions of learning for the gay or straight instructor; however, additional analysis revealed deeper complexity with regard to participant beliefs. Specifically, younger participants provided higher ratings in the straight instructor condition and African American participants provided lower ratings in the gay instructor condition. Open-ended prompts and interview data largely supported the statistical findings; however, they also revealed the presence of some discomfort with gay instructors and an eagerness to support a marginalized instructor. Quantitized open-ended and interview response data also showed that participants in the straight lecturer condition may have attended more to competence while participants in the gay lecturer condition may have attended more to positive character and caring traits. Implications of these results are discussed as they pertain to student course evaluations and teaching demonstrations for gay instructors.