Politics and Potential: Using Current Lgbtq Social Work Students to Assess Social Work Education
Recent large-scale survey research with North American social work faculty found them overwhelmingly supporting inclusion of curriculum content on gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (94-98%), with smaller margins supporting content on heterosexism, homophobia, and biphobia (90-95%), transgender-identified people (81-89%), and transphobia (63%)(Fredricksen-Goldsen et al, 2011). Martin et al (2009) identified numerous LGBT-specific topics that most faculty incorporated into human behavior, practice, policy, and, to a lesser extent, research courses. Both studies found that faculty included more sexual orientation-related topics than transgender-related topics. Yet, smaller qualitative studies with LGBTQ students (e.g., Diehm, 2004; Hylton, 2005; Messinger, 2004) repeatedly critique the adequacy and depth of coverage of LGBT topics. This research investigates the presence of LGBT content in social work curricula by surveying LGBTQ social work students, who, as population members enrolled in courses across the curriculum, may have better understanding of LGBT-related topics that could be included and more sensitivity to the depth of the coverage across their program’s curriculum (LaSala, 2003).
This analysis is based on data from an online survey of LGBTQ students within CSWE and CASWE registered undergraduate and graduate social work programs in North America. Likert-scale questions included in this analysis focus on (1) how often LGB and transgender readings/examples are included in classes; (2) students’ perceptions of how well topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression are handled in the classroom; and (3) how often the role and/ or challenges of being an LGBTQ social worker are discussed in courses.
An analysis of quantitative data was conducted utilizing frequencies to examine LGBTQ student responses in these areas. These findings are contrasted with findings from two other recent surveys of social work faculty in North America (Fredricksen-Goldsen et al, 2011; Martin et al, 2009).
66% of students reported that their instructors provided readings and examples about LGBQ populations often (12%) or sometimes (44%), as compared to only 21% of instructors who included transgender readings and examples in class. Indeed, 28% of students said instructors never provided readings or examples related to transgender populations. This same trend was seen in students’ assessment of how well LGBT topics were covered in class, with coverage of sexual orientation-related topics being rated as very well (28%) or somewhat well (42%) more often than transgender topics, which were rated not very well or not well at all by 32% of students. Students reported that faculty rarely discussed the role or challenges of being an LGBTQ social worker, with 33% of students saying they were rarely discussed and 51% saying they were never discussed.
These findings reveal meaningful differences between the prior reports of social work faculty about their curricula and LGBTQ social work students’ assessments. Both faculty and student respondents agree that coverage of topics related to transgender populations are covered less well and less often than sexual orientation-related topics, and little focus is paid to the needs of LGBTQ students as social work professionals. Suggestions for future research and curriculum integration will be discussed.