SIA students present research in Puerto Rico

Penn State School of International Affairs students Natalie Hanson and Leisha Santiago Bello presented research at the Second Annual Academic Popular Culture Conference, which was held April 1-3 at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.

Hanson’s study, “The Mechanisms of Homophobia in the Global South,” addresses constitutional reforms and protections and the lack of them for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens in South Africa and Uganda.

“I chose these two countries because of the vast extremes between them,” Hanson said. “South Africa was one of the very first countries to adopt constitutional reforms for LGBT citizens, and Uganda tried to pass the death penalty for LGBT citizens.”

Her research addresses the larger issue of LGBT identity, globally viewed as a western concept, which non-western countries often use as propaganda to promote western alienation and to distract citizens from other issues affecting their country.

“The label LGBT was developed in the West, but the actual occurrence of same-sex behavior and attraction has existed in cultures all over the world. Oftentimes cultural spaces were created for such behavior, it just didn’t have the LGBT label. However, with the rise of the LGBT label out of the West, its become synonymous with Western culture, which in turn can result in hostility due to the West’s extensive history with colonialism and imperialism.” Hanson said. “Governments use this alienation to distract from actual issues in the local community since it presents an easy outlet. ”

Hanson studied Psychology with a focus on human sexuality and English at the University of Washington, but after she received her bachelor’s degree came to SIA because she wanted to pursue a career to help promote lasting change and global government protections for the LGBT community.

Santiago Bello’s study, “The Formation of Nationalist Youth Identity in Puerto Rico Through the Independent Rock Music Scene,” addresses how independent bands in Puerto Rico created music as a tool of government protest. The main findings show that these groups, formed by Puerto Rico’s young adults, became their own culture, not just with their politically charged music, but by the way they dressed and where and with whom they socialized.

“This topic has been my brainchild since I was an undergraduate student,” said Santiago Bello, “but I didn’t have the tools to make it a full research paper until I came to SIA.”

In addition to the increased ability and understanding of using scholarly research, Santiago Bello credits SIA professor Sophia McClennen with individual mentorship and support. This personal academic relationship with faculty was one of the reasons Santiago Bello chose to attend SIA.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Santiago Bello was honored to present her research at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, as she is an alumna.

“I feel privileged to go back to my alma mater as a representative of SIA,” she said before her presentation. “Many of the authors I cite in my research will be in attendance, so it gives me the opportunity to discuss the topic with people who were pioneers in this subject to polish my analysis.”