Public lecture at University of Brighton to explore shaping of identity through life challenges

February 13, 2023

An inaugural lecture by a leading University of Brighton academic will examine how people create identities amid the struggles of life, especially for those facing prejudice.

Professor Rusi Jaspal, the university’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research & Knowledge Exchange), will use the experience of gay and bisexual men as a starting point to explore deeper issues around an essential human question: Who do you think you are?

Entitled Identity: Its creation, growth and defence among gay and bisexual men, Professor Jaspal’s free public lecture will take place on Wednesday, February 15 at 6.30pm in Elm House on University of Brighton’s Moulsecoomb campus as part of the University’s LGBT+ History Month programme of events. A film of the lecture will be available on the inaugural web page for Professor Jaspal in March.

“We all have a sense of identity,” says Professor Jaspal. “Our identity begins to develop early in life and faces challenges across the life course. We are constantly exposed to threats to our self-esteem, continuity, self-efficacy and distinctiveness. We in turn cope with these challenges to restore a positive sense of self.”

These threats to self-occur universally, yet for some minority groups they can be particularly chronic and deep-rooted. Drawing on major findings from his own research, Professor Jaspal will highlight particular challenges faced by gay and bisexual men in defending, and sharing, their identities – before finding themes common to other groups.

Professor Rusi Jaspal

“I have always been interested in how people from marginalised and stigmatised groups come to construct an identity that is satisfactory to them and that they are willing to show to others in their social context,” he says. “For some groups, this is more challenging than for others, but we all strive to do this. The experiences of gay and bisexual men can help us understand how identity is constructed and defended in challenging circumstances.”

This is not just an abstract discussion: stigma and discrimination can kill, as the AIDS crisis of the 1980s proved. The consequences of such prejudice can be far-reaching, with LGBTQ+ people continuing to face significant health inequalities, for example. By focusing on the link between psychological health and physical health, Professor Jaspal’s research seeks to understand how those inequalities arise – and, even more importantly, what public health reforms might be needed to alleviate them.

“The decisions we take – such as either engaging or disengaging with care – can have significant implications for physical health,” he says. “I am trying to expose this link and thereby ensure that the patient experience is enhanced. By understanding how people will think and feel, we are better placed to understand how they will behave.”

“I want to live in a just society where people can be their true authentic selves. My research is all about bringing out such societal change.”

Professor Jaspal’s own identity has been an important factor in conducting his research. “I believe most social science researchers address topics that resonate with them – for whatever reason,” he says. “My own identity as a gay man has enabled me to ask questions that really matter. My own life experiences have undoubtedly influenced the sorts of research questions that I address.”

A common thread that runs through Professor Jaspal’s research is the idea that understanding who we are and how our minds work is key to wellbeing – and that such understanding can be used to make practical improvements to people’s lives.

“I truly believe that psychology is relevant to absolutely every area of human life,” he says. “It is the study of how human beings think, feel and behave. This is important in the workplace, in romantic relationships, in clinical settings, in politics, in relation to the economy, in urban planning, in leadership – the list goes on. Every technological, scientific, medical development also has a psychological dimension – you can create a new vaccine, for instance, but the question is how will people react to it? Will they actually use it?”

For Professor Jaspal, real-world outcomes are what ultimately matter: “Working with the British Psychological Society, I feel that my work has been able to influence policy and practice, and real-world change means a lot to me,” he says. “I want to live in a just society where people can be their true authentic selves. My research is all about bringing out such societal change.”

Book now to secure a place at lectures in the University of Brighton’s Spring Series of free public talks.