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Robert Marx

Doctoral Student, Department of Human and Organizational Development

Program: Community Research and Action
Admission Year: Fall 2014

I am an interdisciplinary scholar, and my community-engaged research and practice focus on reframing dominant visions of queer young people and young people of color, so that we no longer view them as deviant, damaged, or at-risk, but rather as the gifted, complex people they are. I deploy a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods, including critical youth participatory action research and meta-analysis, to better understand and promote marginalized youth’s development. As a former high school English teacher, I approach this work from the intersection of educational studies, developmental psychology, and critical pedagogy, and my work encourages young people to see themselves as producers of knowledge and as change agents.

My research focuses on shifting the conversation from focusing on individual ‘underperforming’ young people to creating and enhancing spaces that draw on their strengths and assets. For example, I partnered with Urban Word and the New York City Department of Education to conduct a grant-funded mixed-methods evaluation of spoken word poetry in low-performing New York City middle schools. My findings demonstrated that by including culturally relevant pedagogy in English Language Arts classrooms, young people can access their own wealth of knowledge to see themselves as creators and artists, cultivating a sense of self and resilience. As a Community Engaged Research Core Scholar, I implemented a youth participatory action research project with transgender youth of color in Nashville to film a documentary that demonstrates the strength, resilience, and humor of trans youth of color. This film will be used as an instructional tool and will provide practitioners, administrators, and researchers important context in their work with young people who are so often seen only as deficient and damaged.

My grant-funded, mixed-methods dissertation, “‘And Why Are You Here?’ An Exploration of Youth’s Involvement in Gay-Straight Alliances” examines individual and structural factors that influence queer adolescents’ participation in school-based organizations intended to promote mental health. Most studies of queer youth focus only on the damage they experience—substance use, depression, or suicidality, for example—omitting the strengths and assets that these young people gain as they navigate an often-hostile world. My dissertation expands our conception of these young people. Through partnerships with researchers at Boston College, New York University, and San Diego State University, as well as the non-profit Child Trends, I analyzed qualitative data to examine students’ motivations for participation in youth-run programming and used multilevel modeling to explore the individual and structural moderators that may buffer queer youth from potential hostile school environments.

As an educator, I combine my research and practical experience to ensure that all students, especially those traditionally disenfranchised by biased educational practices, see themselves reflected in the curriculum and understand themselves as both consumers and producers of knowledge. Having taught at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate level, I work to balance the integration of student voice in the classroom with the provision of a solid grounding in foundational and critical texts. I also structure my courses so that my students are not passive receptacles for information but are actively generating knowledge about the world. As such, I incorporate research into all levels of my courses: undergraduate students conduct life story interviews to inform their understanding of lifespan development, graduate students conduct systematic, methods-focused literature reviews that contribute to knowledge in their field, and pre-service college teachers collect data to shape their teaching practices. My commitment to mentorship, equity, and education led me to be named Outstanding Instructor in the department.