Experiences of belonging

30 Jul 2020

LaurenShay_SocResearchSummer2020A sense of community is something both rural and urban centres typically strive for. Mount Allison University sociology and women’s and gender studies and psychology student Lauren Shay is examining belonging and community this summer from a perspective not widely discussed — that of queer individuals in rural areas.

Her summer research project, Experiences of belonging for queer individuals in rural Nova Scotia communities, is part of the University’s Independent Summer Research Grant program and has received support from the Class of 1946 Summer Student Research Scholarship.

“I’m looking to learn more about how belonging is structured in spaces. Rural communities provide a different sense of belonging compared to urban centres, particularly for underrepresented groups such as queer individuals,” she says.

Shay’s project supervised by Dr. Leslie Kern (Geography and Environment, Women’s and Gender Studies) and Dr. Krista Johnston (Canadian Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies).

“Lauren’s research is part of a growing body of work challenging the overwhelming urban focus of most research on queer spaces,” says Kern. “To date, very little is known about non-urban queer experiences in the Atlantic provinces."

Shay says this topic is something close to her, drawing from personal experience as a queer individual growing up in rural Nova Scotia.

“This topic is one that is very personal for me,” says Shay. “There is not a lot of research done in this area around rural environments. A lot of work focuses on urban ones but key differences can exist, especially around education and resources available in the community.”

Shay is listening to individuals’ experiences in several rural communities across the province. She had originally planned to recruit interviewees for her study through community notices and posters but had to move her work online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wasn’t able to go to Nova Scotia for the first two months of my research,” she says. “I changed my plan and moved online, primarily using social media to recruit participants.”

As part of her summer project, Shay is also completing a literary review. While the interview portion of Shay’s study is just getting started due to the pandemic, she says people seem excited to share their experiences. She has heard from individuals across the province of various ages.

“My goal is hear from queer individuals about their experiences in rural communities but also gain insight on what is being done in terms of support and hear ideas about what could be added to this supports, things like education and resources,” she says. “There is an importance around rural life and what kind of support systems small communities can offer.”

Outside of her studies, Shay is President of the Mount Allison Sociology Society and a member of the Women’s and Gender Studies Society. She also worked as the Opinions editor for the Argosy, Mount Allison’s independent student newspaper.

“Working with these societies, and the paper, gave me some valuable experience when preparing for this research project,” says Shay. “You learn a lot about research and relationship management in these roles.”

Shay plans to pursue Master’s studies, building on this research, following Mount Allison.

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