My Beyond the Classroom experience, which centered around the Franke GLI theme of Public and Global Health, began at the University of Montana where I joined Dr. Greg Machek’s psychology research lab. He guided me through my own research project exploring differences in childhood bullying and mental health outcomes between folks with different sexual minority identities. This became quite a large project because I had so many questions I wanted to ask, and a large database to dig through to find some answers. I felt very fortunate to have a mentor who supported my curiosity and encouraged me to push myself as a student and beginner researcher. I also had opportunities to assist with other research being conducted by Dr. Machek and the students in his lab. Their research looked at cyberbullying on a college campus during COVID. It was great to be in a lab learning about something that I would not have otherwise explored, and to learn from my mentor and other students.
Doing research on the LGBTQ+ population was very eye opening for me as a member of that community. I previously heard that LGBTQ+ folks had higher rates of bullying and mental health concerns, and that inspired me to tackle this topic for my Beyond the Classroom experience and senior thesis. My research taught me that some subgroups (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer) within the LGBTQ+ population are more vulnerable to bullying and negative mental health outcomes than other subgroups. For example, participants who identified their sexual orientation as bisexual, queer, pansexual, asexual, or ‘other’ reported being bullied more often during their youth and were more likely to experience suicidality than gay or lesbian participants. Understanding that helped me to see the importance of LGBTQ+ mental health research that looks at factors within the LGBTQ+ community, instead of just comparing LGBTQ+ folks to the straight, cisgender population.
After a year of working on my project, I submitted my research findings to be presented at three different research events. First, I presented part of my study at the University of Montana Conference on Undergraduate Research in April 2022, and I was awarded best Humanities oral presentation! Next, I traveled to Chicago in May 2022 to present another portion of my study at the Association for Psychological Science Convention where I had the chance to listen to psychology researchers from around the world.
Finally, in August 2022, I presented more of my findings at the American Psychological Association Convention where I had several great conversations with other students conducting LGBTQ+ mental health research. It was amazing to be able to travel across the country to share my findings and connect with people who share my passion for mental health. I am so happy I joined the Franke Global Leadership Initiative as a freshman, and even more grateful for the support of the Franke Global Leadership Initiative Fellowship which made these opportunities possible for me!