The growth of campus LGBTQ organizations, and what it means for the future of gay, lesbian, queer and transgendered students in higher education, piqued the interest of Jess McDonald ’12 and led to her research on the topic, funded by her Lumen Prize scholarship.
Through her research under the guidance of Professor Mary Jo Festle, McDonald, a history and sociology double major, combed the archives at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill for contemporary newspaper accounts and minutes from both student group and administrative body meetings. She also reached out to alumni who attended college during the 1970s and ’80s, conducting interviews with several figures from the early years of the LGBTQ groups.
The campus evolution reflects the national movement. In the beginning, it really was about ‘there are other people like me on this campus,’” McDonald said of the movement’s origins. “A lot of emphasis through the ‘80s was showing that gay people exist and that they’re not evil or sick.”
For McDonald, the research is more than academic. It’s personal. As president of Spectrum, an awareness and advocacy organization for Elon University’s LGBTQ community, understanding the origins of similar organizations helped shape her own perceptions of why gay, lesbian and bisexual groups evolved the way they did. And as McDonald explains, by using the Lumen Prize to conduct her research, she has demonstrated to her parents that being queer is part of her identity.
“Lumen has been helpful in starting conversations with my parents about this,” she said. “They take me more seriously and realize it’s not a ‘phase,’ and that I’m doing serious research.”
McDonald said she plans to take a year off after her graduation from Elon University in May before pursuing a master’s degree in the field of student affairs in higher education, hopefully at UCLA.
“I want to focus on diversity and LGBT issues,” she said. “Ideally, I’d like to work in a center somewhere.”