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Nonbinary Gender: Scholarship and Experience

    Dr. Amy Brainer: The idea for this group came out of a need. LGBTQ+ studies is a quickly growing field. En route to the certificate, many students want to do an independent study to explore a new idea or advance knowledge about a topic of importance to them professionally or personally. The number of students looking for this experience exceeds the number of faculty available to supervise them. When Zenon came to me with a proposal to study nonbinary identities, I recognized this as an important topic and one that many students care about. So, I pitched the idea of inviting more people to join us. I figured this would make the discussions more interesting and diverse – and I also was thinking, as program director, of meeting the independent study needs of more students in one go. I have to say, the outcome of their collaboration totally blew me away. They were so organized, driven, and thoughtful about their work. We were able to cover more ground in the literature with multiple people gathering and sharing sources. And, everyone put their unique stamp on the podcast. For me, this kind of student team-driven project melds the best of both worlds – the intensive faculty-student cooperation and focus of an independent study, and the collegiality and diversity of thought we find in the classroom.

    Zenon Sommers: Creating and completing this independent study was a really powerful experience. I got to see just what can happen when students and faculty with a common interest come together to create knowledge. The project began when I asked Dr. B if she could help me find a faculty member with whom I could complete and independent study about nonbinary gender. I was excited when Dr. B offered to sponsor this independent study herself. When Dr. B invited other students to participate, the project blossomed into a collaborative environment where four students explored primary research on nonbinary gender and gathered each week to teach each other what they were learning. From the outset we had planned to conduct a panel to hear directly from nonbinary folks about their experience to supplement our reading of the scholarly literature. As this panel approached, we realized that audio recordings from the panel could form the basis of a podcast that integrates nonbinary folks’ experience with the scholarly literature while making both more accessible to the general public. The final product of this collaboration was astounding even to everyone who worked on it. Creating this project with my classmates showed me that a small group working toward a common goal can achieve truly spectacular things.

    Payton Filkins: When I found out about this unique chance to complete an independent study, I knew I had to get on board. I was interested in what academia had to say about this increasingly prevalent topic in today’s world. Additionally, I was also beginning to look deeper into my relationship with my own gender and expression, so I had a bit of a personal stake in my research. Dr. Brainer is a professor who truly understands the importance of encouraging students to follow their visions and passions, and I don’t think this project would’ve been the same without her facilitation. Our weekly meetings were filled with camaraderie and an energy that I’ve never felt in a class before. This project solidified my appreciation of courses that are structured to invite thinking outside the classroom. I had never taken an independent study before, so being part of the process to create my dream syllabus with a group of equally driven students was wonderful! I hope every student has an opportunity to create a learning environment like this one at some point in their educational journey.

    Phoenix Sky Dimauro: This project was really unique for me, On one hand, it was an independent research project, so it was very self-driven and unrestricted, but it was also a group project, so we got to really utilize each other’s skills, research, and perspectives to make something that we couldn’t possibly have accomplished individually. I’m really impressed with our end product, and I’m proud of all of us for how dedicated we were to each other. having Dr. B’s guidance as a resource that we could utilize freely was great. It was a different experience than a traditional student-professor dynamic, where you use your professor’s help to apply research within a framework that they have applied. In this project, we were able to have Dr. B help us apply our work to realize our own goals, and that made it a very passionate endeavor. It’s very cool to see all the hard work we put into this continue on after the semester ended. In that way it feels very alive. This podcast wasn’t just a grade; it’s going to continue to be listened to and be a resource to others. That’s a really encouraging thought for me.

    Lauren Wilson: As an early childhood educator, I want to be inclusive and sensitive to gender development in my teaching philosophy and curriculum. I knew I wanted to utilize and make actionable the knowledge this independent study group gathered on nonbinary identities. The small group aspect made it easy to connect with each other’s findings. I really appreciated the intimacy and empathy this environment offered. As for the podcast, we recorded everything in about two and a half days, a true labor of love, and collaborated on each aspect. This process allowed us to share our work and make it accessible beyond the academic community. It’s surreal to have friends and family (and strangers!) listening to it. More importantly, they are communicating what they’ve learned as well as expressing their anticipation for the next episodes. It has opened the door for friends to talk about their gender journey and share the information with others. I’m grateful for the work we dedicated, the partnerships that formed, and the opportunity to share aspects about the lives of nonbinary people. I hope it equips listeners with knowledge and strategies to be better allies as it has for me.

    Nonbinary Gender: Scholarship and Experience is a 10-part podcast series produced by four UM-Dearborn students pursuing LGBTQ+ Studies Certificates. This project is the culmination of research and interviews collected during the Summer 2021 semester for an independent study of nonbinary identities. The podcast released weekly throughout the Fall 2021 semester, and all episodes are now available. Click here to be taken to the podcast streaming site.