Staff members from the EDIT team at ISGMH’s 3rd Annual State of SGM (Sexual and Gender Minority) Health Symposium on August 15th, 2018. From left to right: Peter Lindeman, Anand Raman, Ying Han, Blair Turner, Rachel Marro, and Jacob Broschart.
Written by Ying Han, B.A, EDIT program intern
Hello! This is Ying. I’ve been working with the EDIT team at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University (ISGMH)* as an intern for my first summer post-undergrad at Northwestern. I double majored in Bio and Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) and minored in Japanese and indecision.
Halfway through senior year, I began panicking after the realization hit me “four-years-of-pre-med-too-late” that I maybe didn’t want to do the med school thing, but rather grad school and research instead. However, I struggled with what that would look like to me and how doing research would help me find and fulfill a sense of purpose that I assumed becoming a physician would straightforwardly give me. That’s when I found myself talking to Dr. Gregory Phillips II, Director of the EDIT program, for a summer position. Since then, it’s been a kind of ~ the stars have aligned, my skin is clear, my crops are flourishing ~ experience. I’m beginning to find some clarity in this happy marriage of all things GSS and health, that gives birth (if you will) to so many concrete and important applications of all the theories I’m interested in – intersectionality, stigma, identity, intimacy, etc…I’ve been learning a lot from working with everyone in EDIT.
In a lot of ways, the speakers at the 3rd Annual ISGMH Symposium, which was held a couple of weeks ago on August 15th and titled “Illuminating the Intersections of Race and LGBTQ Health”, verbalized and illuminated these issues that I’ve slowly become aware of as I seek to enter the world of academia. (Also, it was just so cool to hear and actually see one of the authors I had been reading on for a paper I’m working on now with Dr. Lauren Beach at ISGMH. How surreal.)
Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1990s, but really a perspective that was already voiced all the way back in 1851 by Sojourner Truth in her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” intersectionality is at the core of feminist, gender, and legal studies, as a way of understanding the ways in which individual experiences “within” and “across” social identities act together according to social and cultural contexts.
Within these specific contexts, there is a certain “ebb and flow” in how “privilege and penalty” are located in bodies, according to the social power structures at play. In this sense, identities that define and intersect in each and every person are reflective of social structures, systems, and institutions that lie beyond the individual level, at the level of public policy, social norms, and cultural practices. And in each person’s meshwork of identities, some identities become more noticeable than others depending on which social power is dominating in any given situation.
When considering how this framework can be used to de-center the viewpoint from dominant social groups and focus on the experiences of under-served, marginalized populations, Dr. Lisa Bowleg spoke in her powerful keynote presentation about how intersectionality, as a social justice theory, can and should inform research in the social sciences and push back against the environment of academia at large, where intersectionality is not taken into account enough.
We saw some examples of how an awareness of social power structures can influence research questions in the panel on “Intersectionality, Sexual Intimacy, and Health” with James Wages and Drs. Gregory Phillips II and Héctor Carrillo. Although the individual as a primary unit of study should guide research in order to remain aware of the social realities that impact real people, Dr. Bowleg described a shift in focus onto those larger social processes.
However, in never forgetting the individual, we must also never forget or discount the strength and resilience that allows marginalized groups to persist and resist in the face of disempowerment. In our second panel on “Community Health” with Kristiana Rae Colón, Dr. Aymar Jean Christian, and Erik Elias Glenn, we heard about how organizing and building alliances works in the community. While it is ~ cool and fresh ~ that social sciences research is catching on with the idea of intersectionality, the scope of knowledge and real experiences outside of the academic bubble have always been involved in this work.
The call-to-action these panelists voiced emphasized the need for researchers to investigate questions that the community wants and needs to learn. Personally, as someone who’s just dipping their toes into research and academia, this was so important to hear, recognize, and hopefully drive any future work I do or am involved in.
As a happy coincidence to this symposium, ISGMH’s Evaluation and Community Collaboration Conference (EC²) was held last week in Chicago, creating more opportunities for community engagement and the exchange of ideas between community leaders and researchers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it, but I hope you all did and I can’t wait to hear about it!
*Note: The IMPACT program and the EDIT program are both part of ISGMH.
SMART project members from the University of Puerto Rico and Northwestern University at San Juan Pride, June 3rd, 2018.
Written by David Moskowitz, PhD, Research Assistant Professor and Project Director for SMART. David has his PhD in health communication.
A couple of weeks ago, some of us from the SMART Project, an online HIV prevention and sexual health promotion program for teens, flew to San Juan to meet with colleagues from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and to attend San Juan Pride on June 3rd. The SMART team went to the Pride Parade to recruit participants and to record videos for our project. The SMART Project is a bilingual program available online that provides the queer sex education that teens don’t receive from high school. Our team at Northwestern University is responsible for creating the English version and Dr. Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz and his team at UPR are responsible for adapting and translating the project into Spanish. I won’t bore you with the administrative details of the meetings we had, because I’m sure you want to hear about San Juan Pride, the first Pride event since Hurricane Maria swept through as a Category 5 storm, decimating the infrastructure of the island.
Let me back up a moment—in the days leading up to our arrival in San Juan, many of us were not sure what it would be like flying to Puerto Rico for the first time, post-Maria. Would there be power? Would there be palm trees strewn across the streets? Would getting around be easy or even possible? I mean, considering the mainland US news reports over the past months, these were real concerns. We had been in constant contact with our UPR counterparts (Dr. Rodríguez-Díaz and his team) during and after Maria. They indicated that things were fine for visitors but the devastation is still impactful on a daily basis for those living in San Juan and around the island.
Landing into San Juan and driving to the hotel, there were indicators of Maria everywhere. There were skeletons of commercial signs where only the metal scaffolding was still standing. A majority of the trees were now supported upright by timber planks bolted to the ground and trunk. The once-thriving tourist area was dotted with empty storefronts where those businesses and restaurants starved without sellable products and consistent food shipments and, of course, the tourists to buy them. Our team wasn’t sure what this would mean for the turnout during the pride event.
Fast forward to Sunday morning, June 3rd—Half of the team from Northwestern marched in the parade with the UPR team and the other half helped staff from UPR set up at the Parque del Tercer Milenio (where the parade would empty into and where the pride festival would be held). The parade started mid-morning and as floats from different organizations, drag queens, and other groups started making their way down Avenida Ashford, there was a noticeable sense of resiliency, fearlessness, and momentum. Our own group, joining underneath Dr. Rodríguez-Díaz and his staff adorned t-shirts that said, “ORGULLO ES PROTESTA,” or “PRIDE IS PROTEST.”
I think that summed up the spirit of the event. The LGBT Puerto Rican people were not just marching because of “gay pride;” they were marching for Puerto Rico—for pride in their land, in their spirit, and in their resurgence. They were marching to protest the mainland’s misconceptions of their struggles. They were marching to protest feeling like second-class Americans. It was that abundance in pride springing from the people’s duality that made this the most impressive and awe-inspiring Pride that I’ve ever been to.
More photos that the SMART team took during San Juan Pride, including attendees posing with the SMART owl mascot, “Owlejandro:”
To learn more about SMART and how to join, click here or check us out on social media.