Over the past several years I have become interested in understanding the biopsychosocial mechanisms through which stigma and marginalization "get under the skin" to shape the health and well-being of individuals who are socially marginalized because of their sexuality or gender (queer people, asexual people, nonbinary people, trans people, etc). Previous research on these topics has focused on "minority stressors" that face these individuals (everyday discrimination, victimization, family rejection, etc). Yet I have become convinced that the absence of social safety (i.e., the absence of clear unambiguous indicators that you are included, valued, and affirmed in your social world) is just as detrimental as the presence of explicit discrimination. Social safety is a difficult construct to assess, and I have been engaged in a number of different projects attempting to capture and understand how social safety, in the lives of sexually-diverse and gender-diverse individuals, influences their mental and physical health, and how best we can INCREASE social safety for marginalized individuals.
I envision a number of different roles for students. Because I have already collected a great deal of data on various life experiences that are plausibly related to social safety, there are opportunities for students to "carve out" research questions on social safety that are particularly relevant to their interests, and to pursue independent analyses and write-ups (co-authored with myself and my graduate students) of data on experiences of social safety and social danger among sexually-diverse and gender-diverse individuals here in Utah. For students interested in applying to graduate school, this is a GREAT way to demonstrate that you have the initiative and the analytical "chops" to pursue graduate training. Additionally, one of my projects involves detailed interviews with LDS families and their trans/non-binary children, around issues of health and psychological safety, and students involved in that project will be transcribing these interviews and assisting me with developing a coding scheme that can help us understand how best to promote social safety in LDS families with gender-diverse children. This project will also afford opportunities for co-authored publications.
Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits
I expect that students will gain skills related not only to academic work, but also in working with sensitive populations. They will learn how to manage a research project, analyze data, and disseminate that data in academic publications. For students interested in the project with LDS families, the project will help them develop skills on interpreting complex qualitative interview data and translating this information into smaller "chunks" that can be analyzed quantitatively. Students will also have important opportunities to develop writing skills.
I prefer to work quite closely with both my graduate and undergraduate students. With my current undergraduate thesis students , I meet with them regularly to discuss their progress in reviewing the relevant research and to review their skills, development, writing, and goals. I expect to include undergraduate students in my meetings with graduate students, and to offer guidance on applying to graduate school and other professions, and in seeking opportunities to work with community-based organizations on social issues (because much of my own work involves direct cooperation with local community organizations serving marginalized communities).