Diversity in Higher Education: Lesbian & Bisexual Psychology Undergraduate’s Experiences of Studying Psychology. Carol Pearson & Sue Smith University of Westminster June 2006. BACKGROUND 1:.
Lesbian & Bisexual Psychology Undergraduate’s Experiences of Studying Psychology
Carol Pearson & Sue Smith
University of Westminster
Rich (1980): first drew attention to what she termed society's and psychology's "unexamined heterocentricity“ i.e. the assumption that the 'natural' form of womankind is heterosexual and how this can block meaningful analyses of the diversity of female identity
Kitzinger (1990): the marginalisation and problematisation of lesbian and gay issues within psychology undergraduate curricula and in textbooks. She highlighted the oppressive nature of university psychology departments for both staff and students in terms of homophobic and discriminatory attitudes.
Pilkington & Cantor (1996): found heterosexual bias & discrimination in areas such as textbooks & course material, and interactions with programme administrators & other faculty and teaching staff
Skelton (1999): argued that texts such as the Dearing Report on higher education focus on inclusive access but neglect inclusive experience, which requires both structural and cultural changes.
Simoni (2000): psychology still lacks an appreciation of and sensitivity to sexualities that are different to ‘the norm’. Treatment of these issues is either cursory or as a segregated topic.
Evens & Broido (2003): suggest both lesbian and bisexual female
students experience some levels of non-supportive actions and
indirect harassment from both students and staff
Smith & Pearson (2005): found lesbian students reported levels of
dissatisfaction with their experiences of studying psychology in terms
Informed by the authors previous research (Smith & Pearson 2005), this study re-examined three main issues relating to the experiences of both lesbian and bisexual female students who were either currently studying or who had previously studied psychology: This project is funded by the HEA.
Design: The study utilised a qualitative approach informed by grounded theory principles (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Confidentiality was guaranteed & maintained throughout the study for all participants, and non of the 15 universities at which they had studies were identified.
Participants: A total of 30 women were interviewed, their ages ranged from 20 to early 50 years of age. All were ‘out’ - self-identifying as lesbian or as a bisexual female.
Procedure: The interview protocol was based upon previous research. A semi-structured framework was adopted for questioning
Commonalities: During the course of the interviews all the women
freely moved between 3 distinct positionings, as a woman, as a
lesbian/bisexual, as an undergraduate. All appeared to be politically
aware, particularly when speaking from a woman’s perspective
Expectations of Psychology: In line with the authors previous
research three main themes emerged:
achievement was consistently reported - Virtually all the
interviewees reported that their expectations of psychology had been met in this regard
Expectations of Psychology cont: The two remaining expectations
On the whole our interviewees felt that these expectations had not
been met by psychology with the one caveat that they had had no
expectations in terms of understanding themselves in terms of their
The interviewees consistently suggested that the entrenched
empirical nature of psychology contributed to this fact
Subjective experiences: In line with the aurthors previous findings
the experience of ‘fitting in’, in terms of both the social and personal
environment, was a theme that consistently emerged from the data:
The main issue raised was that of Inclusivity - this included:
Subjective experiences cont: For some of our interviewees these
factors led to feelings of oppression within their social and personal
environment at University
However, on a more positive note although inclusivity was seen as
very important by all:
2. University life was seen as secondary to their life outside – the
focus at University being solely for academic purposes
Curriculum content: Previous research suggested that there was
dissatisfaction with the relevance, scope and nature of the content
of psychology (Smith & Pearson, 2005)
The main theme to emerge from this study concerned feelings of
Marginalisation - this included:
Pilkington & Cantor (1996)
Evens & Broido (2003):
Smith & Pearson (2005)