Before studying Psychology at Trent University, Hella Watkins knew she wanted to bring attention to LGBTQ+ issues through academic research. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Hella was motivated to address the lack of representation in textbooks and studies.
“I got very frustrated reading my textbooks because this demographic was left out of prior research, when discussing studies, concepts, and theories,” said Hella. “They didn't really apply to LGBTQ+ people.”
Examining PDA in different relationships
Now a graduate of Trent, Hella (Lady Eaton College ‘18) is taking strides towards her goal, most recently by presenting her undergraduate thesis on public displays of affection (PDA) in mixed-sex, same-sex, and gender-diverse couples at The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) Conference in Calgary, Alberta.
Using results from a survey conducted by Dr. Karen Blair, a professor of Psychology at Trent and director of the Social Relations, Attitudes and Diversity Lab, Hella examined PDA in same-sex, mixed-sex, and gender-diverse relationships.
Hella analyzed the responses concerning PDA, such as reasons for stopping or avoiding PDA, and the differences between how same-sex, mixed-sex, and gender-diverse relationships avoided or stopped engaging in PDA.
One element, Hella’s research found that while mixed sex couples also suffered harassment, Hella says it was mostly same sex and gender diverse couples that were harassed.
“There were people giving them dirty looks, there were people assaulting them, calling them slurs. Almost all of those experiences came from some participants who had same sex and gender diverse relationships.”
Networking with psychologists
At the CPA conference—an annual conference that was held in-person for the first time in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic—Hella participated in poster presentations, where undergraduate and graduate students presented and discussed their findings. This opportunity gave Hella the chance to network with academic and clinical psychologists and receive feedback about the work.
“I always had people there who were interested in the research or what I wanted to do next, or what I thought was interesting,” said Hella. “Having people interested in my opinions and research was really encouraging and made me want to advance my research and turn the questions I was getting into future studies.”
Up next, Hella plans to pursue a masters degree in couples counseling, focusing on LGBTQ+ relationships.
“Every relationship faces similar issues, but there are definitely issues unique to LGBTQ couples, and I would really love to explore those unique issues as a counselor.”
To learn more about the CPA conference and the award received by Hella’s supervisor, Professor Karen Blair, check out this story.