In a first for the UA, graduate students Ian Ellasante and Mel Ferrara have been named Point Scholars for their work in scholarship and advocacy for the LGBTQ community and beyond. The Point Scholarship is the nation's largest LGBTQ scholarship-granting organization and facilitates mentorship and leadership development for its awardees. Ellasante and Ferrara, both trailblazers in activism and academia, are current doctoral students in College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the UA.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves, your research, and your advocacy work.
IAN: I've been in Tucson about nine years now, and for eight years of that time I have worked directly with LGBTQ youth. I started that kind of advocacy work at Wingspan, the former LGBT community center here and we had a drop-in center. The drop-in center is still active, Eon Youth Lounge, and I managed that program for a while and then moved over to the UA, and since then have been coordinating a few federal grants that the UA has had for LGBTQ youth and young adults.
MEL: I actually just moved to Tucson this past August to start a med program in the Gender and Women Studies department. So my research is around the medicalization of trans and intersex communities. In terms of advocacy and activism, thus far I've largely been involved in campus advocacy. So I co-founded the Gilbert Transadvocacy Coalition at my undergrad college and I'm looking to kind of start doing similar work at the UA.
Can you both tell me a bit about the Point Scholarship, and what your goals are as Point Scholars in terms of activism and making change happen?
MEL: What I think's particularly interesting about it is it's largely focused on community interaction first of all, and also interaction between different disciplines. If you look at all of Point's incoming class years, the students are doing all sorts of different things. So I think its really all over the map, and from what I can tell even thus far, there's a lot of encouragement to interact with people who are outside of what you would normally be doing and to try and combine methodologies.
So would you say that's what your goals are in your research and in your advocacy work, to kind of create this tolerant and welcome space for everybody to kind of talk and be interdisciplinary and learn more about each other and kind of open up dialogue that way?
IAN: I think that's one of the goals of Point for sure. They really worked very hard to create camaraderie among those of us who were finalists, and I feel like that's kind of the spirit moving forward. Mel mentioned the interdisciplinary approach that you can tell they want us to have together, and they're doing a lot of things to build community among us as awarded scholars.
Where do you think the intersection is between scholarship and activism?
IAN: For me it's very important because I feel like my scholarship is meaningless unless it does something. Unless it affects positive change. There are particular issues that I'm more passionate about mostly because they impact my life and the people that I care most about.
MEL: I think that that's one of the largest problems particularly within fields like gender studies and critical studies, critical theory, where you're sitting in a classroom coming up with all these really incredible ideas, theorizing and theorizing, and that's great, but again, like Ian said, what does that matter at the end of the day when you know in the "real world" you have all these issues going on. Why are we seeing academia outside of the real world, and why aren't we discussing the amoebae zone that really helps create that wall?
IAN: I agree, and I want to add that as scholars, we need to more often see ourselves within communities rather than outside of communities and observing and researching communities. We should situate ourselves and think about the ways that we are part of communities, and use our position within those communities to use the access we have available to us as scholars and as people in the academy to cause some good things to happen.
What do you want to see changed as Point scholars and as academics and as activists?
MEL: I think that when it comes to LGBT activism broadly speaking, I think a lot of the energy and focus goes into a lot of the "nice issues." However, I think that a lot of times, some of the more pressing issues and the issues that are on a day-to-day basis affecting peoples lives and causing rifts in peoples lives are things that we don't like to think about and we don't like to talk about, and that aren't fun to rally around. I think, for me, looking forward with LGBT activism it's looking more at the nuances there. It's looking more at what are the specific issues and what are the issues that we tend to be ignoring and why?
IAN: I agree with everything Mel said, that's so awesome. And I feel like for me, in my scholarship and activism, its so important to center the most marginalized among us, and when we think about, really on any scale, trans women of color are the most marginalized among us. And so when we center the folks who are most marginalized we can create a safer society for all of us—safer and more affirming society for all of us.