The Fulbright Application

The following are excerpts from my Fulbright Application. The purpose is to provide everyone with a deeper context of not just what led to my decision to apply, but an understanding of what I plan to do when in the Netherlands.

The title read “Two Dads”, my Mom handed me the hardcover as she explained to me that many families looked like ours. My first experience with homosexuality was watching it end the family that I deemed normal, and replace it with two Dads, and a single Mom. My parents divorced when I was five, and my Dad began a 13-year relationship with a man. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area one would assume acceptance to an alternative family structure. “He isn't dating that man is he?” I shook my head vehemently, not understanding the discomfort I felt, but knowing that it was the response they all wanted to hear.

After my parents’ divorce, my Mom remarried, and I followed my step-brother’s lead, immersing myself in sports. I used my passion for hockey as an escape from growing up in a low-income neighborhood, with my blended family of seven in our 1,000 sq. foot home. My junior year in high school, I was recruited to play Division One hockey.

In my first year at Cornell, I struggled academically and recognized the shortcomings of attending school in a low-income neighborhood. Throughout college, I pieced together the mosaic of my own identity, realizing that although I was never systematically oppressed for the color of my skin, I was not academically prepared for the rigors of an Ivy League institution.

In my senior year I came out as a lesbian. However, as a white lesbian woman, from a low-income neighborhood, I slide by as an invisible minority, exposing my authentic self to only those I trusted. Because I identified with the inequity of entering college unprepared, I applied for Teach for America, clicking “no preference for region” on my application. TFA’s model of providing novice teachers to low-income schools is not a sustainable solution to closing the achievement gap, but I undertook the experience so I could develop a lens to analyze the education system. I was accepted into TFA and placed in the rural Mississippi Delta.

The children I taught in the Delta were both brilliant and inspiring. I watched my LGBTQ students struggle with their identities, get thrown out of their homes, and bullied in their school. As a feminine presenting lesbian, I held both the privilege and burden of not disclosing my sexual orientation. Although I felt the need to stay in the closet for my own safety, I yearned to be a visible ally for my students.

After moving to Brooklyn, I was able to actively create safe spaces for LGBTQ students. I now advise the Gay Straight Alliance and focus my work in my Master’s program on LGBTQ education. I recognize now I have two goals as an educator, to build educational spaces that are equitable, and simultaneously deconstruct heteronormativity.

What is the single most compelling reason we should award you this grant?

American LGBTQ youth have up to six times the rate of attempted suicide compared to their straight peers (GLSEN). I hope to study the role educators have in creating safe spaces in schools. These methods need to be brought to American soil, and shared with our teachers to change the narrative for LGBTQ students.

Despite the recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States, crimes against LGBTQ people have continued. America has not created a system that supports all students successfully, and there is a need now, more than ever before, to educate teachers how to deconstruct heteronormativity and build inclusive educational experiences.

The Netherlands legalized gay marriage in 2001 and established the oldest extant organization promoting civil liberties for LGBTQ individuals. The Dutch have positioned themselves as revolutionaries in structural and pedagogical practices that promote inclusion of sexual diversity. The United States must learn from the practices of the Netherlands and mandate teacher training to promote the acceptance of all students.

Every moment a student spends fighting off bullies, and any ounce of effort exhausted hiding their true identity, is energy that could be used to achieve their full academic potential. America cannot afford to let a population of students continue to be subjected to the intolerance that ultimately results in the increased dropout rates, tragic suicides, and homicide of LGBTQ people.

What questions do you plan to answer and what are the goals of your project?

The Dutch continue to lead the world in the LGBTQ rights movement. In 2012, the Ministry of Education took a stand to promote inclusive education of all students when schools became required to educate on sexual diversity. The Right to Education mandate calls for support and research interventions to diminish the bullying of LGBTQ students. Deconstructing Heteronormativity: How the Dutch Teach Tolerance, will examine what can be learned from the implementation of the Right to Education Act. This project will analyze two questions:

-How do structural and pedagogical features within a school (the hidden curriculum) encourage the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ students?

-How do specific features of the curriculum used to teach sexual diversity encourage the inclusion of LGBTQ students?

The project will provide an ethnographic analysis of practices that create safe spaces for LGBTQ students at the Amsterdam International Community (or another school leading in the implementation of the Right to Education mandate). The ethnography will be synthesized from five months of observations, twenty teacher interviews, and a historical review of the LGBTQ community in the Netherlands. The project will also construct a five session professional development module that addresses best pedagogical practices for education on sexual diversity to be used in teacher preparation networks across the United States.

Please describe how your project will reach underserved populations in your home country.

Shots are heard as bodies lie on the floor of an Orlando club, another headline reads that a transgender woman was beaten to death in Brooklyn, a mother receives a phone call that her lesbian daughter committed suicide—there is no shortage of tragedies in the LGBTQ community. Making educational spaces safe for LGBTQ people is not a choice, but a requirement to stop the death toll. The work that needs to be done to stop this violence starts in schools. The micro aggressions, incidences of bullying and exclusion of LGBTQ students shape their most formative years. With the recent election results, and potential for anti-LGBTQ policies, teaching tolerance and creating a safe space in schools for all students is imperative.

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