Rhode Island College seniors Jeremi Evangelista and Felix Benzant are engaged in research that asks us to rethink assumptions about identity.
A psychology major, Evangelista is researching stereotypes among members of the LGBT community around masculinity and femininity.
“Stereotypes come in many forms,” she said. “One common stereotype is the belief that you can know a person’s sexuality based on how they present themselves. For example, it’s assumed that lesbians are more masculine and that gay men are more feminine.”
She interviewed 10 LGBT students at RIC, ages 18 to 24, and asked them if they defined a person’s sexual identity based on their gender presentation. She found that the students she surveyed saw gender expression as fluid. “So, even if I’m very feminine, it doesn’t mean that I’m not lesbian,” she said.
Evangelista is a member of the McNair Scholars Program at Rhode Island College and has worked on her research for over a year under the tutelage of a faculty mentor. All McNair scholars work with a faculty mentor and enroll for two semesters in a Research and Professional Skills course that introduces them to key components of the research process. They learn how to develop a research proposal, create a successful research presentation and enter their research in a scholarly journal.
McNair scholar Felix Benzant
McNair scholar Felix Benzant, a philosophy major, is researching how personal identity manages to survive despite the ravages of time.
“We assume we are the same person we were as children,” he said, “but philosophers ask, ‘How are we the same person? If our physical features are lost as we age and our psychology also changes, how is it that we continue to be the same person over time?’”
“Some philosophers think our identity is tied to our physical bodies,” he said. “Others think identity is tied to our psychology. My research negates both views.”
On April 19, Benzant and Evangelista presented their research at the First Annual Undergraduate Research Showcase for First-Generation and Underrepresented Students at Rhode Island College.
Hosted by the McNair Scholars Program, the event included all of their McNair peers and students from four other higher education institutions: Providence College, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University and the University of Rhode Island.
“The purpose of the showcase was to create a space for our McNair scholars to engage with other students like themselves from across Rhode Island,” said McNair Scholars Program Project Director Brianna Edwards. “I felt it would be an extremely beneficial way to extend their support system.”
From left, McNair scholar Jeremi Evangelista and McNair Scholars Program Project Director Brianna Edwards
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the McNair Scholars Program is a TRIO program that began at Rhode Island College in October 2017. The goal of the program, Edwards said, is to increase degree completion among first-generation and underrepresented students in higher education and to prepare them to earn doctoral degrees through involvement in undergraduate research and graduate school enrollment.
They also have the opportunity to travel (all expenses paid) to McNair Scholars Research Conferences throughout the country and present their findings or to share where they are in their research.
Benzant attended a conference in New York and has presented his work at three conferences at Rhode Island College. A first-gen student, he intends to further his education through graduate and postgraduate studies in the fall and eventually become a philosophy professor.
Evangelista noted how the McNair program was critical in covering her graduate application fee to Providence College, where she will major in counseling and educational psychology.
“When the McNair program started in 2017, we had three seniors in the program, and all three went on to graduate schools at Boston University, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island,” said Edwards. “This year we have 12 seniors in the program. Already, five have been officially accepted into graduate programs at Assumption College, Brown University, Harvard, Providence College and Rhode Island College.” Other McNair students are still in the process of applying.
“It’s really nice to see that, not only do our students complete amazing research, they’re going on to graduate programs. That was the goal. I’m super proud,” said Edwards.