“They Are Demon Possessed”: Educational Psychology student responses to gender and sexual diversity at a South African University
We explore the perceptions and needs of student educational psychologists to support learners with same-sex sexual orientations. Local research shows that schools are oppressive and unsafe environments for non-heteronormative sexual identities. Homophobic violence perpetrated by teachers and peers compromise the wellbeing and educational performance of LGBT school youth. We conducted one-on-one interviews with 11 students pursuing a professional master’s degree in educational psychology. Thematic analysis uncovered that student educational psychologists are unaware of the repressive daily realities young people with same-sex sexual orientations experience in and around schools. They lack the knowledge and skills to support these young people in an affirming manner. Participants’ personal cultural and religious beliefs hampered the professional responsibility to support young people with same-sex sexual orientations. There is an urgent need to align the student curriculum in educational psychology with the recently established practice guidelines for psychology professionals to work with sexually and gender-diverse populations. This study further suggests that educational psychologists should be exposed to education that is critical of privilege and othering in order to proactively create a conducive environment for diverse sexuality among school youth. Finally, educational psychologists should be enabled to proactively advocate for safe learning environments for young people with same-sex sexual orientations.
Keywords: same-sex sexual orientation; educational psychologist; anti-oppressive education; compulsory heteronormativity, curriculum.