This blog is the expansion of the research experience of our small group. We would like to involve more people in it. So in this post we would like to share our research experience started February 2013. It is an on-going research study, but not a traditional one. It is not about a lot of people, not about numbers and statistics. Numbers are important, but personal stories are also to explore, to understand by research, and this inquiry is about stories of young LGBQ students.
I (Gyuri, the project leader) am an ethnographer (someone who studies people’s life by participating in it somehow). Some years ago, I did school ethnography to explore youth culture in school: I was present in a classroom of 17 year-old students for 6 months day by day participating in classes, school life and some extra school meetings of the students (in pubs, at parties, in an excursion). This kind of research can offer a deeper understanding of processes and everyday life in school than questionnaires. Then, I thought that I should do a similar inquiry about the life of young LGBTQ teenagers in school. However, it is very problematic to study LGBTQ students in this way in school settings. So I had the idea that students might be researchers collecting their everyday school experiences as young ethnographers (with my help), and at the same time they could share their insights in a Facebook group: constructing a common knowledge on being LGBTQ in schools. After an announcement, I found some young participants and started the group in February. I integrated other methods into the inquiry process: a questionnaire at the beginning of the study, off-line meetings, group interview with the participants, a personal diary of mine. After a certain time, the original idea had to be changed, because the young ethnographer concept didn’t work. However, the group has become a place of sharing and knowledge construction, and now we can present interesting “results”. The students are not observed by me as a researcher, but they have an active role in the whole process. The group is purposely small; we are 12, in order to facilitate personal sharing and constructive group dynamics. The numbers are not important in this study; I didn’t want to collect a lot of data, rather to deeply understand personal stories, and to generate discussion, conversation.
I think that we could create a safe digital and real environment and community where everyone can freely share their experiences, questions, opinions and even problems. And with our communication and discussion, we started to develop some common ideas as well.
Now as the leader and facilitator of the group (with the contribution of the participants), I am telling our readers the main positive and problematic aspects of this special research process so far (focusing not on the content, the ‘results’, but on the way, on the research and group experience).
It’s taken some months, but now we have a really positive community environment where everyone is appreciated, acknowledged and invited to contribute. We have a feeling of belonging, and we define ourselves as a group, a community that is eager to expand somehow in the nearest future, offering a place/community for young LGBTQ teenagers. We have had some constructive discussions but no flames, offensive comments and such. For some of the members, the group has given concrete help in their journey of self-acceptance and identity building. We have discussed a lot of school related issues, and we have something to say to a greater audience now. We had some group meetings, where we shared even deeply personal stories and opinions, and we are eager to organize more. The members are more and more active, for example we organised together our workshop during Budapest Pride week (see the previous post). From certain points of view we are a quite diverse group: with students from different kind of schools (public, denominational, drama oriented school and normal high school, alternative school, professional school), from different places of Hungary (Budapest and other cities and villages).
However, we have had some difficulties during the process. First of all, for some participants it wasn’t really clear what the purpose of the group and the research study was, in the beginning. So some of them didn’t really participate in the life of the group, and after a certain time they left. It is very problematic that we don’t know exactly whe two of the members left, and I can’t reach them. Nevertheless, seemingly nothing bad happened with them in the group. We are now 12 people: mainly gay guys, one bisexual boy, one lesbian girl, and one boy who defines himself queer, I am gay, too. This is not a problem in itself, the one lesbian girl likes being in the group, but it would be better to have more diversity. Unfortunately, I had tried to find more girls, but I didn’t manage to do so, and I didn’t find transgender students either.
The Facebook group is a very good way to involve participants from different parts of the country, and maintain a continuous process of online conversation (of course a’ la Facebook J!), but it has its disadvantages. The activity of the members varies very much (for different reasons; for example somebody might be very busy with other stuff in their life), group life is not always interactive and personal. Sometimes, someone shares a post, and only a few members react in spite of the importance of the raised issue. Some of the members are more silent for a certain time, others have been away from the group for weeks without effective activity and sometimes without checking the posts. This is good, too, because everyone can be free to contribute or not, but in this way, Facebook doesn’t really facilitate active participation. I can often see on Facebook that some members are active in other groups or on their own timeline while they don’t post anything in this group. When I raised this issue during one of our meetings, I received a very reasonable answer from the others: “In other groups we feel that we can share everything, this group is more serious. We must think about what to share.” It’s been clear that off-line, real-life meetings offer better opportunity for active conversation, but we haven’t been able to organize any meeting with everybody of the group. We had several meetings, but only with some of the members.
We had a very serious technical problem too that jeopardized the whole research study. For some time (more than a month), only the last three posts were visible on the timeline of the group and it almost stopped group life. Fortunately, this problem was solved.
The members are generally more active now, but not everyone, and it is still difficult to promote longer contributions or time-consuming activities in the group: for example while preparing the workshop, I wanted to involve the students into searching interesting experiences posted in the group, but I didn’t really succeed. Only a few members wrote some personal comments, confessions and I added some other texts posted previously in the group. It came out good in this way too, but I (as the leader) saw that it was difficult to share “research responsibilities”. It might change later. I hope that in the future members can even write blog posts on their own. Actually, I write them, and they read and comment them in the group before posting.
Despite all these difficulties we think that this research experience is nice, nurturing and encouraging. We will continue and we are eager to receive comments from others. We have shared these problematic aspects of this research only because we want to be honest about our experience (and they are part of it) and would like to help others if they want to do similar activities so that they may learn from these lessons.
We will post some concrete experiences, problems and questions soon, and we will wait for reactions from the readers.