The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

“There's Just a Lack of Awareness”: Transgender Content in North American Social Work Programs

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 4:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Lauren McInroy, MSW, Doctoral Student and Research Coordinator, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
Ashley Austin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL
Purpose: Most research on educating students for practice with LGBTQ populations has focused on gays and lesbians (Case et al., 2009; Fredrickson-Goldsen et al., 2011; Wentling et al., 2008). Despite recent calls for attention to transgender populations in social work education (McPhail, 2008), research on the extent of transgender content in social work curricula is limited (Martin, Messinger, et al, 2009). This research is critical as social workers’ frequently practice professionally with transgender populations, and transgender individuals commonly experience discrimination (Collazo et al., 2013; Carroll et al., 2012). This study investigated the experiences of LGBTQ students regarding the handling of transgender topics in contemporary social work programs. Particular attention was placed on the quality and quantity of curricular materials and classroom content, the response of faculty and students to such topics, and the presence of educational non-discrimination policies.

Methods: This mixed-methods study is part of the Social Work Speaks Out online survey of LGBTQ Bachelor of Social Work [BSW] and Master of Social Work [MSW] students  (n=1018). Quantitative descriptive statistics (SPSS 20) were used to examine participants’ educational institutions, and social work programs regarding characteristics specifically related to transgender topics. Qualitative responses (ATLAS.ti 7) were used to enhance the richness and complexity of the analysis. Responses were explored utilizing content analysis for content relevant to transgender topics; careful analysis was undertaken to initially aggregate responses into main categories and then into coherent themes (Krippendorff, 2013; Schreier, 2012).

Results: Nearly 5% (n=48) of participants identified as transgender, with an additional 5% (n=49) identifying without gender categories. Participants were primarily under age 39 (84%), and White, non-Hispanic (75%). Their sexual orientation was predominantly lesbian (30%) or bisexual (25%). Most participants were enrolled in a MSW program (76%). Analyses indicated a lack of attention to transgender populations in social work programs. Several themes emerged, including: (1) a lack of knowledge regarding transgender terminology, topics, and issues by faculty and students; (2) a lack of curriculum content which would sufficiently prepare students to practice professionally with transgender populations; (3) an inappropriate combination of transgender topics into discussions of sexual orientation, despite these constituting different identity categories; and (4) a lack of institutional and program non-discrimination policies related to transgender status to facilitate support for transgender students. Only 38% of students indicated their institution had a non-discrimination policy. Curriculum content was uneven, included through student-led discussion (61%), faculty introduced topic (56%), or required readings (43%). Overall, only 35% of students identified their institution as transgender friendly.

Implications: These findings represent an important step in addressing the gap in the literature. Integration of content on transgender populations into social work education is critical to prepare students for professional practice with transgender populations. Results indicate a lack of faculty and student knowledge and support, as well as an absence of curriculum content to ensure adequate preparation. Strategies to address the scholastic gap, thus increasing knowledge relevant to social work practice with transgender populations, will be discussed.