University Park, IL,
16:41 PM

First- and Second-Year Students Present Gender and Sexuality Research

Governors State University freshman Brieyanna Jones and sophomore Ashley Basham, both members of the LGBTQIA+ community, suspected transgender youth enjoy a measure of support in culturally rich and diverse Chicago.

However, the students wanted to know how much support transgender youth receive elsewhere in the state. What they found in Champaign, Jo Daviess, Peoria, St. Clair, and Whiteside counties shocked them.

“Illinois seems to be so progressive, but there’s not a lot of support for transgender youth,’’ said Jones, adding, “especially the farther south you go.”

The students have spent a month conducting a comparative study of the five counties to determine what family and community supports were available to transgender youth in those areas.

On April 28, they will present their findings at a regional gender conference to be held at University of Notre Dame, which is expected to draw participants from 15 different colleges and universities.

The GSU students will present their “The Accessibility of Social Support for Transgender Youth” paper on the second day of the New Directions 2018 Midwest Undergraduate Conference in Gender Studies.

Visiting Spanish Professor Novia Pagone teaches the students in her Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies course and has helped them with the study.

She said the young women have achieved a milestone most students don't hit until junior or senior year when they are preparing for graduation. "It’s rare for first-year and second -year students to be able to put together an abstract. It's a real accomplishment."

Earlier this semester,  Pagone assigned a project for the Gender and Sexuality Studies course and was so impressed by Jones's and Basham’s that she suggested they present at the conference in Indiana.

Pagone has since worked closely with the students to craft their study and the resulting 15-minute presentation.

Early on, the students, both psychology majors, stood out, she said. “They are always extremely prepared and look for evidence for the topics we discuss outside the classroom.”

The students say they are “deeply connected” to issues of gender and sexuality, and as newly elected president and vice president of the Gender and Sexualities Club (GNSX), Basham and Jones, respectively, are committed to raising awareness about gender and sexual identities.

For the conference presentation, their research focused on youth 11 to 16 years old, an age when many are just entering or completing puberty and are subjected to intense peer pressure.

Jones said the mental health of this vulnerable group is at stake with limited family and community support. “They don’t have anyone to help them figure out who they are, and that’s such a big part of growing up.”

The study starts the conversation, they said. “We can’t make changes if we don’t start educating people,” Basham said. The students are grateful to Pagone, who sought them out. “GSU has really give me the tools to succeed here,’’ Jones said.

Pagone is excited to see her students flourishing.

“Doing research, presenting, and getting feedback will help them grow as professionals no matter what they do. It is also good for people to learn about GSU and the kind of student we attract.”