The Faculty of Science at UTS has six graduate attributes—skills, abilities, and knowledges which students need to have when they graduate. One of these graduate attributes is ‘Professional, ethical and social responsibility’—indicating that not only do we need to teach science, we need to teach science in a way that is contextualised within the ethical and social considerations of broader society that graduates will face as they become professionals. That is, science does not happen in a vacuum.

The path to inclusive curriculum

As part of the Developing Inclusive Science Curriculum project led by Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, a subgroup of students and staff are working together to explore how representations of diverse genders and sexualities can be integrated into science curricula so that all students can see science as somewhere they can belong and succeed. One of the exciting initiatives undertaken as part of that project has been to integrate a ‘Sex vs Gender’ module into a large, first-year subject taken by the majority of student in science—Cell Biology and Genetics.

The ‘Sex vs Gender’ module integrates social psychological concepts of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation into the teaching of the genetics of and biological basis of sex. Importantly, the module teaches students that biological sex as defined by multiple physiological attributes (such as chromosomes, genitalia, gonads, and hormones) is distinct from but intrinsically related to gender identity as a social construct, and that none of those concepts are binaries but are instead, distinct spectrums.

The module was co-created in partnership with a second-year undergraduate student who had previously taken the subject, Arthur Morphett, subject coordinator Dr Kristine McGrath, lecturer Dr Sarah Bajan, and Faculty of Science learning designer Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone.

The integration of this module is an acknowledgement that the science we teach from textbooks often lags years behind modern science as well as behind contemporary discourses in society which influence and are influenced by how people engage with and conduct science research. The module is also a response to increasing calls for greater inclusion of diversity in curricula to better facilitate the belonging and success of marginalised student groups who, given the often patriarchal, heteronormative, ableist, and white nature of curricula, rarely see themselves reflected or belonging in higher education institutions. While the module is a small step taken to open doors to deeper discourses, it is a step in the right direction toward curricula which are created with and for the diversity of students we teach. 

Feedback from students

In an anonymous feedback questionnaire, students enrolled in the subject said the following:

I think it is great that the topics are being so openly talked about.

Important to reflect the viewpoints of society in our lecture.

It was great! Please keep this in. I think it is great it is being taught in science subjects and great to teach future scientists who might not have known this previously.

Dr Bajan who co-created and delivered the module reflects on the following:

Helping to create this module was not only a wonderful learning experience, but also an opportunity to challenge and expand my own view on what should be included in current science curricula. As educators, we sometimes overlook the importance of humanising the content we deliver, which is so important in cultivating socially conscious science graduates. I felt a great responsibility in delivering this content in a way that leads to greater, more sincere, conversations within our student community.  

If you would like to know more about this project, please contact Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone.

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