Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Biology, PhD

Committee Chair

Fuselier, Linda

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Ewald, Paul

Committee Member

Swain Ewald, Holly

Committee Member

Mansfield-Jones, Jennifer

Committee Member

Mark, Sheron

Author's Keywords

queer theory; biology education; sex/gender beliefs; diversity


This dissertation focused on the ways that social beliefs about sex/gender and sexuality manifest in biology classrooms. Especially for health science students, classes include topics like sex, sexuality, sexual behaviors, or sex determination that forms the foundation of their understanding of human forms and behaviors. If the information they receive does not include the LGBTQIA+ community, their education will fail to adequately prepare them for the reality of healthcare practice where they will be expected to treat all patients with dignity and respect. There are three chapters in this dissertation. In chapter one, I asked what beliefs about and conceptions of sex/gender are present in undergraduate students. I found that students with more academic experience view sex/gender characteristics as occurring along a continuum rather than discrete traits and that health science students were more likely to conflate sex and gender along dichotomous male/female lines, with innate and essential characteristics defining these groups. This led me to analyze the ways that college-level nursing anatomy/physiology textbooks represent sex/gender and LGBTQIA+ populations. For chapter two, I conducted a qualitative content analysis of four common nursing textbooks and found that the books either excluded LGBTQIA+ healthcare needs and history or only mentioned LGBTQIA+ people in the context of disease or pathology, and they promoted social norms as scientifically validated. In an effort to counter these representations, I challenged the binary ‘two sex’ model using intersex case studies. Chapter three also assessed the phobias, attitudes, and cultural competence (ability to treat patients in a culturally sensitive manner) of biology students. I found that students still hold binary views of the sexes even after reading an intersex case study, and that case study had minimal impact on phobia, attitudes, or competence. However, there was evidence of a paradigm shift toward a sex model that sees the similarities between humans rather than the differences. Future directions should consider common misconceptions related to the ‘two sex’ model and how best to address these in biology curricula.