As Miles Christen neared the end of the Bachelor of Social Work program at MacEwan University, he began to notice an absence of academic literature on gender non-conforming populations within the queer community.
“As a Métis transgender person who is white-male passing, I felt it was my duty to use what privilege I have to start conversations about populations that are often neglected.”
So when a research opportunity was part of Amber Dion’s SOWK 411: Advanced Social Work Practice with Indigenous Peoples course, Miles decided to look at barriers two-spirit people face when trying to access housing and health care. That single project ignited an interest in research that he plans to continue after graduation, with help from a MacEwan Undergraduate Student Research Initiative (USRI) project grant.
MacEwan University is celebrating student research with an ongoing series of stories that look at subjects our students were investigating throughout 2019/20. Many students who were planning to present at the 2020 Student Research Day have submitted their papers, posters and presentations to the university’s research repository, RO@M.
Title of work: A hate not our own: Health and housing impacts for two-spirit people
About the research
Miles reviewed articles and reports, along with recommendations and statistics from several Canadian health reports to explore different barriers two-spirit people face when trying to access housing and health care. In the process, Miles says he discovered that policy does not always equal practice.
“Introducing inclusive policies doesn't ensure that those policies are integrated into front-line practice,” says Miles. “Even shelters and health-care centres that welcome two-spirit and trans people all too often demand performances of gender – a transgender woman might not 'appear feminine enough,' for example – and treat trans people as a threat to cisgender residents even though trans people are statistically more vulnerable and at risk of harm.”
It’s something Miles hopes social workers and other helping professionals will consider when serving this population.
“While our profession claims to uphold the dignity and inherent worth of all persons, it is evident that we don’t always do this and that there is still much to be done to support two-spirit folks in their struggles,” he says. “Top-down policies are not enough to ensure that two-spirit people are safe when they seek health and housing services.”
Although Miles has always nurtured his curiosity, it wasn’t until he took an introductory research course as a third-year Bachelor of Social Work student that he believed research wasn’t just for graduate students.
“Research suddenly felt like something I could do. I was equipped with skills to legitimize my work, and got support from faculty members to design my own research projects.”
Miles Christen plans to continue research focused on the queer community.
Miles is planning to continue research that focuses on the queer community, but with a slightly different focus. He will use the USRI project grant funding he received to begin looking at the the lived experiences of transgender ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, and then more broadly explore the intersection between transgender identity and fundamental religion.
“I’d love to be one of the first scholars in this area,” he says. “I’m currently working in transitional housing in a fundamentally queer, not-for-profit setting, and I hope to one day enter a master’s program and maybe even a PhD program. I am so happy that I haven’t had to choose between front-line social work and my work as a queer researcher.”
Share your work
There are many ways to share – and celebrate – work you're proud of, including MacEwan's Student Research Day and a range of on-campus or online student conferences and forums.