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Tomás Boatwright

Tomas Boatwright headshot

Affiliation: Doctoral Student
Program: PhD, Teaching and Curriculum
Education: BA, Occidental College (Sociology, with a minor in Education)
Career Goal: Educational researcher, scholar, and college professor

When he wanted to know more about a topic that was brought up in school but not, in his opinion, sufficiently covered, Tomás Boatwright headed to the library or scoured the Internet for more information.

These days, as a doctoral student in teaching and curriculum, he is focusing his research on how educational experiences outside school walls impact students routinely discriminated against and alienated—particularly those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning (LGBTQ).

“I’m a person of color and a first-generation American, I grew up in the working class, and I identify as queer, so I understand historically marginalized identities,” says Boatwright, who is black and Mexican. Citing the high incidence of suicide, dropout rates, homelessness, and bullying among the LGBTQ population, not to mention the trials often faced by those in the other social groups to which he belongs, he continues, “Statistically I shouldn’t have made it, I’ve been fortunate. I like the idea of beating the odds.”

Boatwright notes that standard textbooks and research both typically use a “victimization framework” when referencing the LGBTQ population, instead of exploring ways in which people thrive despite facing tough challenges. Positive references, he adds, are usually limited to a mention of the Stonewall riots during instruction of the Civil Rights Movement.

Wanting to change that, Boatwright is conducting qualitative research at a youth center for LGBTQ students, documenting how students use the space to fulfill their natural curiosity about themselves and their world. He appreciates that there is no one interpretation to qualitative research, that it allows for expansive thought—just as the youth center does.

“Youth centers are fabulous alternative education spaces because knowledge is happening there,” he explains. “It’s being constructed and dissected and built upon because everything is informal and organic. It provides exciting opportunities for students to really get at things they want to know.”

Over the past year, Boatwright has developed a rapport with the students he observes during a peer-led leadership group on Monday afternoons. He can relate, which is why he believes so strongly that highlighting resilience will go a long way toward changing preconceived notions of gender, race, class, and sexual preference.

“A lot of my research is a reflection of who I am, where I come from, and where I am now,” he says. “I know that if we focus more on the strengths of the marginalized, we can find better support to help them make it through.”