“Try celebrating us, not our trauma”: the community building and resistance strategies of first-generation, low-income queer and transgender undergraduate students in the neoliberal academy



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This critical ethnographic dissertation utilizes a queered and liberatory conceptual framework to understand the ways that first-generation low-income queer and transgender (FGLIQ) undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin make sense of the neoliberal cultures and policies that provoke trauma, and in turn, resist in those same spaces. Employing arts-based ethnographic methods to ask participants to curate an artifact, I engaged in deep conversation with four participants who speak to the cisheteronormative culture of the institution. They share a narrative of a cycle that gaslights students into believing they should learn to navigate the resources on their own despite the lack of institutional support, leading them to question their safety and the value of policies intended to create inclusivity. As they continue the cycle and attempt to find resources, participants share that they are consistently let down by the performative nature of the University, and in turn do not feel supported. This cycle is coupled with their inherent resistance to the overarching culture, which stems from their community-building and self-love strategies, and ability to recognize the ways various systems of oppression intersect to curate these environments. The dissertation concludes with recommendations brought forth by the participants, such as including intersectional frameworks in both practitioner and faculty approaches, providing additional resources on gender, sexuality, and the impacts of experiencing poverty to student affairs services, faculty, and Title IX offices, and explicitly having FGLIQ mentors available to students as a call to action for institutional leaders, student affairs practitioners, and policy makers.


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