By Kate Clark
Fifteen students will board a flight to Barcelona this August as part of the University of Washington’s first LGBT-focused study abroad program.
The program, “Spain: Advancing Queer Policy Throughout the World?” is designed to encourage students to question international LGBT policy and whether or not marginalized communities are included in various political dialogues.
Jen Self, affiliate faculty with UW School of Social Work and the director of the UW’s Q Center, an on campus resource center focused on gender and sexuality, and Jaimée Marsh, co-director of the center, will review applicants, conduct interviews, and then travel with the selected students in late August.
“The question mark is purposeful,” Self said. “I want students to question the way that LGBT politics are being advanced, who are leading those charges, and how they are impacting people who maybe don’t have as privileged a voice within those countries.”
The UW is not the first program to offer an LGBT focused study abroad program. Last year, the University of Louisville took a group of students to Europe to study queer politics in Greece. However, the majority of Universities who list programs relevant to gender and sexuality studies are not faculty-led programs. They are programs hosted and led by third-party organizations, like the Council on International Education Exchange.
Self and Marsh were able to completely design their program’s curriculum because it is faculty-led. Their curriculum revolves around students choosing policies that interest them, and then conducting in-depth research into the histories and trajectories of those policies.
Marsh wants students to make comparisons of the policies researched and discussed in the five-credit course to parallel American policies.
“Spain touts itself as the most progressive country in the European Union in terms of LGBT policy,” Marsh said. “We are interested at looking at how their policies in particular, like their marriage policy, compare to policies here, how they impact other LGBT movements within Spain, and how those are also playing out in the U.S.”
Spain legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. In the United States same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states. According to the Pew Research Center’s study in 2013, Global Acceptance of Homosexuality, 88 percent of Spaniards believe it should be accepted, the highest of any country.
In the fall, Marsh took a five-day “familiarization” trip to Barcelona with CISabroad, an independent company that offers study-abroad programs and international internships. Marsh met with representatives of numerous Spanish organizations she hopes to visit with students.
“[CISabroad] is the structure in place that provides the support for us to be able to do this since neither one of us had been to Barcelona before,” Marsh said. “It is important to that we know students are going to a place with people that are familiar with it and are going to be supported – that everything is going to be sorted out.”
CISabroad plans each day, finds class space and housing for the students and leaders, and plans weekend excursions. Marsh and Self have already agreed to a weekend-trip to Sitges, which is just an hour Southwest of Barcelona, and are hoping for a Madrid excursion as well.
According to Self and Marsh, Sitges is a gay mecca, calling itself the international gay capital of the world.
“I am sure a lot of places say that,” Marsh said. “But it is pretty well known in the international gay community.”
In addition to working closely with CISabroad, Self and Marsh collaborated with Lauren Easterling, manager of faculty-led programs in the UW’s international programs and exchanges office (IPE), and other IPE staff to draft a program proposal. Marsh says the process was intensive, but well worth it.
The program is one of 85 faculty-led programs that will depart in the next academic year, and will cost each student approximately $4,500. Applications are being accepted until March 16. According to Easterling, it is programs like this that help IPE accomplish one of their main goals: access.
“It’s about getting students out into the world that maybe would have never done that before – whether that is because their family never traveled, they don’t think they could afford it, or they just don’t totally feel comfortable for whatever reason,” Easterling said. “This program really helps us accomplish our mission.”
Both Self and Marsh hope that students complete the program with the realization that these issues and policies are complex and variable.
“There will be some very clear differences in the way that gender and sexuality have been formed or conceptualized here and in Spain,” Marsh said.