By Abby Weingarten
In early June (Pride Month), when LGBTQ+ rights hung in the balance of the courts, rising fourth-year Benjamin Valen was embarking on a research project about transgender identity.
A psychology/art history student, Valen was chosen to spend their/his summer in the highly competitive Psychology Research Experience Program (PREP), sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) Department of Psychology. They/he is working on a project called Mechanisms Leading to Transphobic Behavior.
“Given that most of my current research focuses on LGBTQ+ individuals, I am super excited to conduct an empirical project around transgender identity,” Valen said. “Being a first-generation college student and experiencing many obstacles throughout my life, I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in PREP.”
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), PREP allows undergraduate students from various underrepresented backgrounds like Valen’s to work on empirical projects that integrate data science and psychology principles. Valen is collaborating with graduate student Megan Bruun in the Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Lab of Psychology Professor Patricia Devine, Ph.D.
“Megan, Dr. Devine and I are examining the active mechanisms that lead people to act out in transphobic ways toward transgender individuals,” said Valen, whose New College psychology professors (Catherine Cottrell, Ph.D. and Steven Graham, Ph.D.) encouraged them/him to participate in the program. “We are identifying and investigating various active mechanisms (like endorsement of gender roles and right-wing authoritarianism) as possible predictors of transphobia using a large-scale sample of participants.”
The researchers aim to examine the data to find clusters of individuals who endorse different mechanisms and engage in transphobia in various ways.
“Through this work, we hope to not only fill a current research gap, but also set the foundation for future research tailoring bias reduction interventions for these groups,” Valen said.
Valen plans to graduate from New College in 2021, and their/his undergraduate thesis is currently entitled Gay and Going to Church?: Intergroup Perception and Lived Experiences of LGBTQ+ Individuals in Openly-Affirming Churches.
In August 2019, Valen presented one of their/his papers, The Impacts of Church on LGBTQ+ Identity, at the International Association for the Psychology of Religion conference in Gdansk, Poland. This put Valen among eight Novo Collegians who earned Margaret Bates Awards earlier this year (annual honors given to students whose exceptional work was accepted for presentation at academic conferences).
They/he also presented Out of the “Closet” and Christian?: Self-Reported Feelings of Acceptance of LGBTQ+ Individuals in Openly-Affirming Churches at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology 21st Annual Meeting in Louisiana in February. And Valen plans to present their/his piece, Comfort with Public Displays of Affection: Effects of PDA Intensity and Sexual Orientation, at the International Association for Relationship Research 10th Biennial Meeting in London, England in the summer of 2021.
Beyond their/his presentations, Valen completed an Independent Study Project (ISP) called Research on LGBTQ+ Identity and Christianity, and was an outreach intern for ALSO Youth (a nonprofit dedicated to LGBTQ+ teens and young adults in Sarasota). Valen is the co-president of the New College Psychology Club and a former Student Ambassador of the Year.
“Through my current program, I will continue to grow my research, writing and analytic skills within my field,” Valen said. “And I’ll get closer to attending a Ph.D. program in social psychology.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.