Too often, trans and non-binary people are left out of scientific studies. Large data sets get collected, then split into the two largest (and therefore easiest-to-work-with) cohorts – men and women. So what to do with the trans or non-binary people who answered the survey, or participated in the study? Unfortunately, their data is often jettisoned in the process of simplification. Konrad Czechowski is on a mission to fix that. And it was this project that earned him 2018’s Jean and Dick Pettifor Award from the Psychology Foundation of Canada.
The estate of Jean Pettifor established a scholarship fund for graduate student research. The award supports graduate student research projects in the area of professional ethics with respect to the practice of psychology. It is designed with a special focus toward diversity – as examples they cite ethnicity, gender, and disability.
Konrad hopes to figure out a good method to ensure that trans and non-binary people are included in psychological research, and the right way to go about doing it. What kind of terminology and questions might offend them? How can researchers design their studies to make this population feel included? How can we create experiments that are specifically designed in a way that this oft-marginalized group has a voice as strong as that of their cis-gendered peers? Konrad is on his way to figuring that out. Figuring things out is something he does well.
There are a few canards in psychology, and maybe the most common one is that psychologists know an awful lot about undergrad psychology students. This stands to reason – the most available group to any university student is their peer group and classmates. The bulk of the studies done by that cohort are done ON that cohort – and so is born a canard.
This is one of the data-collection issues psychologists must overcome once they start doing larger and more involved studies outside of a classroom. But while they’re in school, what to do? Konrad Czechowski had a pretty clever solution. Of course, he’ll tell you it was luck and happenstance. I happen to think it was good planning.
Konrad did a study on non-consensual condom removal. He became interested in the subject when media reports started mentioning “stealthing” – the secretive removal of a condom during sex without informing your partner. Those reports appeared to indicate that this practice was on the rise, that it was becoming a pervasive problem among young people and on college campuses.
That was good news for Konrad – he was already ON a college campus! The University of Ottawa campus, to be exact, where he had access to all those university students about whom these stories were being written. If you can’t get another group to participate in a study, create a study for the group you have!
Konrad says his study was about “non-consensual condom removal” or, NCCR as the kids call it. It is NOT about “stealthing”, as the media calls it. The “non-consensual” part of the phrase is clearly the most important part.
A genial PhD student with a wide smile, Konrad is generally reserved and affable, with a quick laugh and a quick wit. His eyes twinkle when he talks about his childhood dream of becoming a professional volleyball player, doing the circuit somewhere in Eastern Europe. He’s charmingly self-deprecating when he talks about how he lied about his height to play his position, and how he realized that he would never grow the other foot he needed to fulfill that ambition. And his passion for the sport comes through in his eyes when he talks about his previous volleyball coaching experiences.
It’s in emphasizing the “non-consensual” part of NCCR that Konrad’s eyes harden. While his study on NCCR was designed for journal publication, he has become invested in seeing a change. He recalls the truly reprehensible message boards he encountered while researching this phenomenon, boards that insisted that men have a right to women’s bodies to be treated as they please. And sometimes much worse. While Konrad makes a point to say that this is not the only reason someone might engage in NCCR, or the most common reason, it’s clear he has been affected a fair amount by going down that particular internet rabbit hole. Given the high prevalence of NCCR he observed in his sample, he speculates that most perpetrators of NCCR may have a range of other motivations for perpetrating it, something he hopes to investigate in future research.
He even enlisted the help of a law scholar to write about the potential Canadian legal implications around NCCR, in the hope that it one day gets written more specifically into Canadian law. Given the high prevalence of NCCR he observed in his sample, he speculates that most perpetrators may have a range of motivations for perpetrating it, something he hopes to investigate in future research.
It was while studying NCCR that Konrad got his next idea for a study that can hopefully close some of the gaps in psychological research. The NCCR study surveyed 592 undergrad students, then split them into two groups – male and female. What did the men think of NCCR? Was it a different assessment than that of the women? How many gay men had NCCR perpetrated against them vs. straight women? All of this was available in the data set. They surveyed 153 men and 435 women, giving them a substantial set of data for both.
But what of the other 4 undergrads? The ones who, by virtue of being transgender or non-binary, did not identify as either a man or a woman? What do you do with their answers? There are a few options, none of them great. You can take the biological sex of their birth and lump them in with that group. You can leave those who identify as binary-trans with the current gender with which they identify. You can ask them to pick one or the other. Or you can, as so many studies do right now, just exclude them entirely from your data sample. The more often this happens, however, the less heard trans and non-binary voices will become. To Konrad, it didn’t seem right to exclude them from the study but it also didn’t seem right to force them into another group without telling them that’s what he’d be doing.
And so Konrad has embarked on his new project – how best to include trans and non-binary people in psychological research. His study on trans and non-binary data inclusion is just getting under way, partly funded by the Jean and Dick Pettifor Award he received last year. For the time being there are no results to show, but he hopes that when he’s done he will have created a more inclusive, leave-no-person-behind process for future studies of a similar nature.
In the meantime, he and two colleagues are putting the finishing touches on a three-pronged study that overlaps a fair amount. One is studying “ghosting” – the practice of, rather than breaking up, simply ignoring the other person and blocking them so they go away. Another is looking at the sharing of nude photographs, without the receiver’s consent.
Konrad’s portion is ‘disproportionate reactions to online rejection’. Much like his initial look into NCCR, this project stemmed from the truly startling things he heard from female friends. Rejection that leads to death threats, rape threats, stalking and escalating demands. (Send me more nude pictures or the ones I already have will be sent to your family and your employer and pasted all over school.) And his research has, once again, involved some disturbing and misogynist messages his participants shared with him, reporting on the threats they received after rejecting people online.
The three of them are hoping for acceptance to present their findings on this study at the CPA 2020 convention, and have submitted their symposium proposal. So you might see Konrad there, talking about the project he did while he was doing that other project and starting this third project. All of which had the perfect research subjects right there in the building – undergrad students! Konrad’s friends and his peers. And, one day, the students who will be sitting in his chair. Making the world a better place through studies of their own.