The Journey To Complete My Ph.D.
About a year ago, I walked in the Oregon State University 2016 commencement ceremony marking the end of a journey to complete my Ph.D.. I later stood in front of a committee to defend my dissertation entitled “Gender Biases in Counselor Supervisor Evaluations of Counselors”. I am incredibly grateful to have been able to work full time and also complete a doctoral degree and it certainly wasn’t easy. Evoke was a tremendous support to me throughout the process, as was my love for the work I do with the girls in the wilderness. The idea to look at gender biases was first born out of my work with adolescent girls, as I have heard countless stories of perceptions of being treated unfairly or expectations being different for them than for their teenage boy counterparts – not to mention my own experiences in the world as a cisgender female. For those that may not know what the term “cisgender” means, it is a gender identity term that means someone whose gender identity matched with their sex assigned at birth. After my initial research exploring the study of gender and reading hundreds of studies on gender discrimination and bias, I discovered there were little to no empirical studies looking at transgender discrimination in counselor supervision and education. Based on this discovery of the glaring gap in the existing research and on my own personal convictions regarding the importance of affirmation, inclusion, and equality my research project was born. Below are the opening paragraphs from the manuscript (Hadeed & Ng, 2017, p. 2):
The legalization of same-sex marriage in all of the United States as ruled by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015, has received a lot of public attention (Liptak, 2015). With this attention, there seems to be an increase in the public discussion of traditional versus non-traditional gender roles (Carmon, 2016; Murray, 2016). Additionally, the highly publicized transition of Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender advocacy efforts of Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have inspired discussion and exploration of understanding gender identity, including awareness of gender stereotypes and discrimination against transgender individuals (Burkett, 2015; Somaiya, 2015).
The relevance of these human experiences is not a new one within the counseling profession. Our current era promotes advocacy for diversity, social justice, and multi-cultural competency across many disciplines within the counseling field (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014; American Psychological Association [APA], 2003; Association for Counselor Education and Supervision [ACES], 1991; American School Counselors Association [ASCA], 2010; National Association of Social Workers, 2008). Advocacy within the field places an emphasis upon recognizing the importance of viewing gender identity outside the binary perspective (masculine versus feminine). Gender diversity and gender issues in counseling have now been recognized as an important component of multicultural competencies and counselor education training for decades (Arredondo et al., 1996; Bernard & Goodyear, 2004; Bidell, 2012). There is also an increased interest in encouraging counselors and mental health practitioners to become allies to sexual minorities (Moe, Perera-Diltz, & Sepulveda, 2014). Despite all the emphasis on diversity, social justice, affirming sexual minorities, and multicultural competencies, there is a void of empirical research exploring counselor supervision and transgender issues (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004; Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011; Nilsson et al., 2008).
145 pages, a few tears, and 5 years later, the closing paragraphs of my dissertation mark a historically significant journey not just for me but also for a broader societal journey. The closing paragraphs are below:
Since the inception of this dissertation, which began in 2014, gay marriage was made legal in all of the United States, National Geographic had featured a transgender teen on its cover, a U.S. presidential election occurred and included debates about the controversy of gender neutral bathrooms, and the most recent 2017 ACA conference leadership team changed the conference location from Nashville to San Francisco due to the passing of a discriminatory law in Tennessee targeting the LGBT community. The conference also featured 17 sessions specifically focusing on transgender matters (ACA, 2017). This represents compelling evidence that the topic of gender diversity, including challenges to traditional gender identity, gender roles and gender norms, is exceptionally germane at this time in history. Yet, the literature and empirical research examining the topic remains astonishingly insufficient within the field of counselor education and supervision. (p. 89)
For me, the experience of earning my doctorate degree will always be wrapped up in my experience of being a cisgender female in this world and all that I learned through the research I poured my heart into for 3 years. The research that ultimately served to fuel an already existing conviction to do my part in being the change I want to see in the world. I want to see teenage girls find and love their voices even when they feel small. I want to see transgender individuals feel respected and affirmed in this world. I want to see individuals judged on the content of their character rather than their gender identity or expression. (And yes, I proudly borrowed phrases from both Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi).