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Psychology at the Crossroads: Gay and Bi Men’s Accounts of Learning and Teaching in U.K. Psychology Departments. Ian Hodges & Carol Pearson Dec 2006. Background 1:.

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Psychology at the Crossroads:Gay and Bi Men’s Accounts of Learning and Teaching in U.K. Psychology Departments

Ian Hodges & Carol Pearson

Dec 2006


Background 1:

We know that gay men face all manner of prejudice in their day-to-day lives, not only physical and verbal assault (e.g. Rhoads, 1995; Slater, 1993; Waldo et al., 1998) but also the less visible aspects of homophobia and oppression which result from the all pervasive nature of heterosexism (both ‘psychological' and cultural) in Western culture.

However very little is known about the learning and teaching experience of gay men (and other sexual minorities) in UK universities. It has beenargued that lesbian and gay issues is a neglected area in education, this is partly due to government policy and partly because those who work as teachers want to avoid the issue - education, it is suggested, is viewed as being in the public domain whereas sexuality is part of the private domain this duality makes it difficult to address homosexuality in an educational setting (Epstein, 1994).


Background 2:

Eyre (1993) criticised compulsory heterosexism in the university classroom finding that prospective teachers often viewed anti-heterosexist pedadogy as equivalent to promoting homosexuality and that this standpoint was morally wrong.

However the issue is not just one of neglect and avoidance, Skelton (1999)argued that texts such as the Dearing Report and the Governments Green Paper, the learning age (DfES, 1998) which comment on Higher Education and issues of inclusivity merely focus on ‘inclusive access’ but neglect ‘inclusive experience’which would require both structural and cultural changes for example Waldo (1998) suggested that the campus climate is often hostile towards LGB undergraduates and graduates and that this hostile context adversely effects their educational experience.


Background 3:

Insert new research here from Ianfound that gay students experience of studying psychology Institutionalised homophobia has a detrimental impact on students’ experience in terms of the exclusion from the curriculum, the teaching and learning environment and the social and personal environment

Hodges & Pearson (2003, 2005):found that gay students experienced institutional homophobia

There was an expectation on the part of the participants to gain a deeper understanding of themselves but not in terms of their sexuality

the curriculum which was described as sometimes homophobic and heterocentric which led to feelings of exclusion

Participants reported feelings of ‘inhibition’ within the teaching and learning environment in terms of their relationships with both staff and students

Particiapnts reported feelings of exclusion from both the social & personal university environment leading to a clear separation between their university and domestic environments



  • This study explores the experiences of gay men who have studied or who are studying psychology at university/Higher Education level across England, Scotland and Wales. There is a particular focus on psychology’s treatment of sexuality within its subject matter and the experience of being gay in a university psychology department.This project builds on the authors previous research and has been funded by the Higher Education Academy.
  • Through an in-depth qualitative analysis we focus upon four key areas;
    • Studentexpectations of psychology
    • The learning and teaching environment
    • Curriculum content
    • The social and personal environment

Method 1:

Given the complexity of the accounts sought for this study principles from the methodological approach of Glaser & Strauss (1967) were adopted as it is particularly suited to the study of local meanings and interactions related to the social context in which they occur. Using grounded theory methods, the aim of this study is to generate ‘theory’ which fits the data well (through an iterative process of comparison).

In this way we aim to map the various relationships between students and psychology (in its operation as an academic discipline and as it is related to institutional forms e.g university psychology departments).


Method 2:

Participants:??participants were recruited for this study. Participants’ ages range from ?? - ??. Throughout the study the confidentiality of the participants was been guaranteed and maintained.It was agreed that the universities, a total of ??, at which participants are studying will not be identified.

Procedure:Data was collected using semi-structured one-to-one informal interviews. These were conducted with a sample of current and ex-students (up to three years after graduation) who had taken psychology as (at least) the major element of their undergraduate degree programme. The interview protocol was based upon literature searches, piloting and the authors previous research findings.


Results 1: Four key areas were explored and findings indicate that:

Firstly, student expectations of reading psychology at university level reflected the findings of previous research participants expressed an expectation of a deeper understanding of themselves & others. However issues concerning sexuality were not given a primary status

‘….. and I think I might have well latched onto this kind of idea of finding out what makes people tick’ ---------------‘I was not, I was quite experienced at that stage, … I mean I’m openly gay … so, these questions were not really an issue for me and they did not really trigger a decision to study psychology’

This lack of expectation with regard to the provision of content concerning sexual identity potentially reflects not only students’ experience of pre-HE syllabi but also the stories that psychology tells about itself (which are articulated with culturally embedded understandings) as scientific/disinterested. That is, if sexual minority issues are conceptualised as fundamentally political, they will not count as an element of an apolitical discipline.


Results 2:

Secondly, participants reported a feeling of exclusion as well as a lack of identification and appropriateness with respect to curriculum content which was described by our interviewees as sometimes being homophobic and heterocentric in nature.

‘I don’t think that I’ve had any lectures directly on gay issues or sexuality issues, It has never really come up, so in that respect it hasn’t really included anything yet’

There was very strong support for greater inclusion of LGBT material in the syllabus to reflect the lived experience of gay men. Many students mentioned that they had to ‘translate’ course material in order to counter the heteronormative assumptions of much psychological research. Moreover, representation of a range of experiences/ identities was identified as necessary across a broad range of topics rather than limited to areas with a specific link to sexual identity e.g. research on attraction/relationships.


Results 3:

Thirdly, participants discussed that they had developed strategies by which they dealt with their inhibitions with respect to their relationships with both staff and students within the teaching and learning environment.

‘I think as a gay man operating in a straight world, you don’t have those expectations. I think you get to become more self driven, perhaps more self-reliant, so the expectation really wasn’t there in the first place’

These strategies can be conceptualised as ways of coping within a heterosexually oriented institutional context. Psychology departments do not appear to be any less heteronormative than UK culture/society in general, thus gay students must carefully navigate their relationships with students and staff while at the same time finding ways to cope with the heteronormative value systems and structures of university psychology departments.


Results 4:

Fourthly, there was an indication that difficulties with the personal and social milieu resulted in a clear separation between university and domestic environments.

‘I’ve not emphasis in your gay life in the university, because it’s the wrong place, you know… Sorry but it’s the wrong place …university is a place to achieve the knowledge and to improve knowledge, not to show your sexual behaviour or your sexual orientation in life’

Again, here we see a key means of coping with the dominant (heteronormative) value system as reflected in both departmental and university culture as a whole. Students’ personal lives were routinely self-censored to enable a sense of fitting-in with the prevailing social climate. Many participants reported a highly conditional form of acceptance (i.e. more like tolerance) from other students.



Analysis indicates that institutionalised homophobia has a detrimental

impact on students’ experience due to exclusionary practices evident in

areas such as:

  • Curriculum content
  • The teaching and learning environment
  • The social and personal environment


  • Psychology needs to fully recognise homosexuality as a normal form of sexual expression
  • Implement procedures and policies that will enable more inclusive teaching and learning practices in psychology
  • Implementation of staff training programmes


Glazer, B & Strauss, A. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded theory. Chicago University Press.

Hill, R. et al. (2002) In the Shadow of the Arch: Safety and Acceptance of LGBTQ Students at the University of Georgia. UGA Campus Climate Research Group.

Rhoads, R. (1995). Learning from the Coming-Out Experiences of College Males. Journal of College Student Development. Vol. 36, (1): 67-74

Slater, B. (1993). Violence Against Lesbian and Gay Male College Students. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy. Vol 8, (1-2): 177-202.

Waldo, C., Hesson-McInnis, M., & D’Augelli, A. (1998). Antecedents and Consequences of Victimisation of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young People: A Structural Model Comparing Rural University and Urban Samples. American Journal of Community Psychology. Vol 26, (2): 307-334.

Waldo, C. R. (1998). Out on Campus: Sexual Orientation and academic climate in a University context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 745-774.

Epstein, D. (1994). Challenging lesbian and gay inequality in education. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Skelton, A. (1999). An inclusive Higher Education? Gay and Bisexual male teachers and the cultural politics of sexuality. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 3, 239-255.

Eyre, L. (1993). Compulsory heterosexism in the university classroom. Canadian Jouranl of Education, 18, 273-284

Hodges, I. and Pearson, C. (2003). Silent Minority: Gay men’s experience of University Psychology courses in the UK. Poster presented at BPS Annual Conference, March 2003.

Hodges, I. & Pearson, C. (2005) Out From The Margins: Exploring Gay Men's Accounts of Learning and Teaching in U.K. Psychology Departments. Paper presented at the BPS Quinquennial Conference, Manchester, UK. 30 March-1April.