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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Queering PYD- Queer Youths' Experiences with Positive Youth Development Theory (PYD) in the Kentucky 4-H Program
by Hilpp, Ike, Ed.D., Northern Kentucky University, 2021, 142; 28149903
Abstract (Summary)

This research is written with no beginning, middle, or end. The content is split into four stories that are equivalent to five chapters in a traditional dissertation and placed in relation to the definitions of belonging, independence, generosity and mastery. I have chosen this approach as a way of truly exploring and embodying this work at the intersection of Queer Theory (Jagose,1997) and action research (Herr & Anderson, 2014). It also honors the Indigenous knowledge that positive youth development (PYD) (White, Scanga, & Weybright, 2018) is built on (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 2019).

Within Queer Theory lives the qualitative method of Queer Witnessing. In this methodology, knowledge and research are presented as collective stories that are past, present, and future all at once (McCormack, 2014), inviting folx to engage in this research as if it included their own stories. Gray, Johnson, and Gilley (2016) even argue that knowledge can only be truly understood and felt when a story is told from the perspective of those individuals on the margins. This collective presentation of stories and the process as part of Queer Witnessing mean my own stories are woven into the stories shared, and the language of the dissertation is collective as a reflection as such. This concept of past, present and future being intertwined is known as Queer Time (McCormack, 2014); it is the idea that you can choose to begin by reading any of the four stories and end with any of the four stories. This is a truly Queer dissertation, and so you do not receive all the information in the linear format you have grown to expect in academic writing. The discomfort of the unknown is part of the process of learning from the lived experiences of Queer Folx.

The other component of Queer Witnessing is the act of witnessing itself. As the person sharing this story, I am a witness to a story I do not own, but I must ethically share it such that others can have a multisensory experience with the story (McCormack, 2014). This methodology was based on engaging in interviews with folx and putting the stories collected at the forefront of the research (Butler, 2004). By doing so, the experiences of the participants are put first and the “academic knowledge” second. It is a practice that values the experiences of Queer Folx over academic information.

This storytelling approach to research challenges one to be undone as an individual and remade into part of the collective story. It is impossible to tell a Queer story unless you allow yourself to be part of the collective, as we are all part of the story, and it is not any individual’s story but a story that belongs to all Queer Folx. As a practice in Queer Time with its focus on the perpetual present, this is a story of our collective past, present and future. I am undone as an individual to become part of the whole story – a process that requires a great deal of vulnerability, honesty, and the laying bare of my own fears as I moved with Queer Folx through this work.

We collectively share these stories through my writings. As such, I am intertwined in this work and my own reflective journaling finds a life within the stories shared. As they relate to the perpetual present that exists in Queer Time, my own reflections are included as quotes within the work. I attribute these quotes to myself to provide clarity to you, the reader, that I (Ike), through the process of being undone have become part of this work. The inclusion of self is contrary to the heteronormative approach to research, and it is intentional. A process that lives in Queer Witnessing and observes Queer Time must also reject heteronormative structures that seek to limit, confine, and marginalize the experience of Queer Folx as they navigate a hostile world.

The research question appears in each story. The results of this research are the stories told by Queer Folx about their experience with PYD in Kentucky 4-H, coded and presented in chunks as they relate to the four over-arching principles of 4-H: belonging, independence, generosity and mastery (White et al., 2018). These four parts were selected because they are considered the essential elements of 4-H (White et al., 2018). These essential elements were adopted by 4-H from the Circle of Courage, a term used by the authors of Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope For the Future (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 2002) when describing Indigenous childrearing practices and the resiliency of Indigenous youth. The concepts outlined in the Circle of Courage were generally adapted for supporting at-risk youth and specifically adopted by the national 4-H program for the overall development of all youth. The root of this knowledge being Indigenous for me means that it is impossible to do this study without honoring that root.

Each section seeks to share part of the story of Queer youth in the Kentucky 4-H program as part of the whole story of PYD. None of these stories can start or be complete without reading the others; they do not flow from one story into the other so much as exist before, after, in and around each other, creating the larger whole. As Indigenous knowledge tells us, we exist at the center of the Circle of Courage as it expands out in each direction (Brendtro et al., 2019). This dissertation mirrors this concept as well. Consider yourself existing at the center of the dissertation, with each section extending out in different directions, fully encircling you as you experience the story of PYD for Queer youth. A traditional second chapter contains a full literature review. The nonlinear format demands that the literature review be broken apart and woven into the sections as it applies to what is being presented. This nonlinear format also demands that the references to academic work appear at the end of each story, giving you the opportunity to start or end with any story you choose, while decentering the academic work by always placing the references after the Queer experiences, always in the background as support for Queer Folx, while not binding them to heteronormative expectations of linear time and format.

I chose to place an honoring, definition, and experience of Queer Folx at the beginning of each story. This layout centers the experience of Queer Folx and provides an anchor point for readers, signaling that the beginning of any story could be a starting point (McCormack, 2009).

I have placed the academic work and implications for 4-H in the four stories based on the stories of Queer Folx that were shared with me. Each story contains different aspects of the academic work, and implications placed there because it aligns with the Queer definition of belonging, independence, generosity or mastery. While you can receive parts of the work in any story to receive all the wisdom of both these Queer Folx and the works that have come before, you have to read the complete story of PYD for Queer Folx.

Within the story of belonging, I placed the definition and story of belonging given to me by Queer Folx, and the section named is “How we belong,” which is an examination of how Queer Folx create and experience belonging within 4-H and what the organization can learn from these individuals. It is followed by the history and connection between PYD, 4-H and the Circle of Courage to show how the three are tied together in a way that cannot be divorced or examined separately and to show why the experience of Queer Folx belongs in the larger story of PYD. The section I call “Choices in Words” is found in this story because of my effort to use inclusive language and remove oppressive language. This approach is intended to both center Queer experiences and create a space that is inclusive of all those who are in the margins (Barker & Scheele, 2016). The next section that exists in the story of belonging is “My belonging and undoing,” which is followed by sections called the “Statement of the Problem and the Research Question”. These two sections reinforce the belonging of Queer experiences in the story of PYD. The last section lists the references that support the wisdom of Queer Folx in the story of belonging.

The story of independence has six sections beyond the honoring, definition and Queer story. These sections include a section on exerting independence, PYD and Independence, the question I am asking, how I interpret and utilize Queer Theory, my personal reflexivity statement and references. The section called “Exerting Independence” examines the patterns that have emerged from the stories of Queer Folx as well as my own experience with this story and methodology. I follow this section by presenting PYD as it relates to independence to provide context for the story being told. The examination of the question I am asking lives within this story because the Queer Folx who gave their story approached this work as an act of independence, as they chose how to interact with their experiences and use them to create a better future for the Queer community as a whole. I have included Queer Theory in this section because it explores my own interpretation and agency (Barker & Scheele, 2016). The reflectivity statement showcases my own experiences and views and how these affect my approach to research (Capper, 2019), and it will show the connection between myself and the stories through experts of my own reflective journaling. The last section includes the references that support the experiences of Queer Folx in relation to independence.

Within the story of generosity, after the honoring, definition and Queer story of generosity, I have sections titled as follows: “How We Give”, “PYD and Generosity,” “Queer Witnessing,” “Ethical Considerations,” “Folx Who Gave Their Story” and “References.” Each section relates to generosity within the context of the Story of PYD of Queer Folx. The section titled “How We Give” is an examination of how Queer Folx perceive their responsivity when providing generosity to other Queer Folx in the Kentucky 4-H Program. Meanwhile, “PYD and Generosity” provides context for what PYD views as generosity and background for the story shared by Queer Folx. “Queer Witnessing” in this story is an exploration of the methodology of Queer Witnessing.

The section on ethical considerations is an exploration of my own grappling with being given this story as well as how I give it to others. It also explores the process I went through to appropriately honor the Indigenous knowledge upon which PYD is based. The section that exists in this story is titled “Those Who Gave Their Story,” and it outlines the participants who took part in this work and how I connected with them. Lastly, the Resource section provides the resources that support the story of Generosity for Queer Folx.

The story that appears last in this dissertation is the story of mastery. After the standard start of honoring Indigenous knowledge, defining the word mastery and exploring Queer stories in PYD, this story includes sections titled “How We Can Do Better,” “PYD and Mastery,” “After the shift,” “Storytelling,” “Interview Questions,” “Journaling,” “Positioning of you, the reader,” “Mastery within PYD,” “Connection to Action Research” and “References.” The section called “How We Can Do Better” shares recommendations for improvement from the Queer Folx themselves. In “PYD and Mastery,” there is an examination of how PYD perceives and encourages mastery. Within the section titled “After the shift,” I explore my own experience with mastering this work through the Queer perspective of mastery. The section titled “Storytelling” provides insight into the mechanics of the work, explaining that this was a qualitative study done through the interviewing of seven Queer Folx who completed the Kentucky 4-H program as youth. I used the terms belonging, independence, generosity and mastery as a priori codes to organize the interview responses. This section also addresses the need for member checking. I then provided the interview questions and edits made to the questions as this work unfolded in the section “Interview questions” and provide context for your position and approach to reading this work in the section “Position of you, the reader.” The section titled “Mastery within PYD” explores the way PYD has excluded Queer experiences with efficiency. The next section in this story names a connection between this dissertation and action research. This section points out that the very existence of this dissertation would not be possible without action research. Centering these Folx experiences and presenting their story is a form of research that only exists within this approach. The last section called “References” provides the references that support what Queer Folx share as mastery.

You will notice that there are sections that repeat themselves in this work in each story. I have chosen to do this because these are parts that not only exist in each story, their absence also makes the story seem incomplete. These sections are intentionally the same to highlight the organic flow of Queer academic work juxtaposed against the often mechanical feel of heteronormative academic work. It is the intent that you read starting from any story and ending with any story. In this same practice, you will find the discussion that comes out of this work in each story and not in its own separate section. The discussion of findings cannot be taken out of the stories and removed from folx who provided the story. For me, doing so would be an act of taking away. In my mind, I perceive it as I do the coal companies in the mountains I call home taking the product of the spaces and labors of people and removing it from those spaces and people and using it for the benefit of others.

As I shared earlier, there are some sections that will appear in the stories that align with the Queer definitions given to us and those sections will be after Queer stories are shared. This is notably different from the linear flow of writing. The information that provides justification and logistical details of this work will not be presented to you until you have read the Queer story. Just as Queer Folx must often experience the story before they have context to make sense of it, so must we if we are to truly witness this story. I invite you to cast aside linear time, accept the discomfort of the unknown and embrace the centering of Queerness as you move into this dissertation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tosolt, Brandelyn
Commitee: Jones, Melissa, Farrell, Antomia
School: Northern Kentucky University
Department: Education Leadership
School Location: United States -- Kentucky
Source: DAI-A 82/9(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: LGBTQ studies, Education, Sexuality
Keywords: 4-H youth development, Circle of courage, Queer Theory, Queer witnessing, Positive Youth Development
Publication Number: 28149903
ISBN: 9798597014272
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