Jake Sullivan ’20 possesses a sense of self-awareness that motivates him personally, inspires him academically, and is helping him shape his professional future.
“I’m proud of being a first-generation college student,” he says. “I am proud of being gay, and I am proud of coming from a low-income family of hard workers and compassionate people.”
“I enjoy studying gender, sexuality, and identity development through an intersectional lens,” Sullivan says. “Focusing on queer studies has been empowering, but it has also shown me how much more work needs to be done to represent populations such as queer people of color, and transgender and nonbinary individuals.”
Sullivan works at AIDS Project Worcester, which gives him the opportunity to learn about youth work and the city’s LGBTQIA+ community. What began as an internship has turned into a job offer to become a peer leader for SWAGLY (Supporters of Worcester Area LGBTQIA+ Youth) HEARRT (Health Education and Risk Reduction Team).
“My job is to develop and co-lead LGBTQIA+ youth group meetings through multimedia activities on topics like identity, representation, healthy relationships, and self-care,” he says. “I offer youths support as they go through emotional and sensitive situations, help to develop a sense of community, and connect them with guest speakers and community resources.”
Sullivan is working with his faculty adviser, psychology Professor Abbie Goldberg, in her Diverse Families and Sexualities research lab. Goldberg studies gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples who have built their families through adoption, and is conducting a second study that deals with transgender and gender-nonconforming students’ experiences with their colleges.
“Dr. Goldberg is one of the most thoughtful and inclusive professors I have ever had in how she leads her classes and approaches teaching,” Sullivan says. “She constantly asks for feedback, which makes you as the student feel as though you have more agency in your education. I credit her a lot for furthering my hunger to learn and to pursue my interests.”
Next year, Sullivan will complete his honors thesis on how social media has influenced the development of queer identities in youth, and how one’s offline and online expressions of queerness align and differ. He notes that people are struggling to reconcile their sense of self amid the various influences and stresses they receive through online networks.
“This opportunity has already taught me how to formulate questions and identify gaps in pre-existing literature,” he says. “It’s also taught me a lot about my own determination to help amplify queer voices that are too often marginalized in academia.”
After graduating from Clark next spring, Sullivan plans to either pursue a master’s degree in community development and planning through Clark’s Accelerated B.A./Master’s Program, or seek a master’s degree in social work elsewhere.
“Regardless of what I do, I would love to end up in a big city like New York or Washington, D.C., doing something connected to the LGBTQIA+ community, youth, and low-income families,” he says. “I want to continue to spend as much of my time as possible listening to new perspectives and meeting new people to inform my work.”
No matter what path Sullivan chooses, Clark has given him the knowledge and confidence to make the most of all of the experiences presented to him.
“The people here constantly push one another to grow,” he says, “so Clark has helped me become comfortable with change, and become more adaptable in an evolving world.”