Accepting Identity and Privileges
Senior Montana Filoteo is pursuing a double major in gender, women, and sexuality studies and urban studies, along with a minor in social justice. They appreciate the holistic approach that this suite of programs offers them. GWSS offers a powerful complement to the urban studies courses that Filoteo recalls feeling initially frustrated with. For instance, they "talked about public transit and how it can be improved, but with no critique of gender or race or disability or class," which Filoteo recognized as an important part of the equation.
When they aren't juggling the demands of a double major, Filoteo spends their time volunteering, researching, and working at the UMN Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) on the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota, a public-private partnership working to create policy change to support Minnesota girls and young women. They conduct research utilizing "action research," which means that the research is conducted in collaboration with the community that is being studied. Filoteo and many others prefer the action research method to traditional research methods, which they feel is not committed to making any structural changes and is often not a good experience for the studied community and individuals involved.
The project was called "Mapping the Demand," and Filoteo was introduced to it through UROC. Throughout the study, they aimed to understand the demand side of sex trading and trafficking while supporting the sex workers themselves, which can be a very challenging feat. Because of their interest in this topic and involvement in the project, Filoteo was able to present research on LGBTQ+ trauma in commercial sex trading at the International Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference in Toledo, Ohio in September 2016. This is one of many experiences that led Filoteo to say that they've learned how to not only organize, but actually create change for people outside of the university setting.
In addition to their academic life, Filoteo feels a deep connection to their heritage. They were inspired to write an impressive senior thesis on Filipino transnationalism and diaspora, or what has been lost in culture and identity because of being away from the homeland, the Philippines. A child of an immigrant, Filoteo writes of their own experiences learning from their grandparents and stringing together bits of values and beliefs from interactions with them. In their thesis, they describe how they are torn between two cultures, American and Filipino. They write about how that tension damages cultural knowledge and creates gaps in personal identity.
Filoteo feels that their studies, their heritage, and their experiences in work and research have helped them come to terms with their identities and privileges. The GWSS department has given them a more holistic understanding of the disparities and policies that marginalize various groups. "It's pushed me to be a lot more humble and maintain my humility; and know that I don't know everything, I'm not absolved of any privileges." Filoteo is looking forward to graduating in December, after which they hope to get back into art and activism and continue working with UROC.