URI Fulbright grant awardee Meg Jones, awarded fellowship to continue research in Finland

Jones will further their work on LGBTQ+ inclusive practices in teacher preparation programs thanks to American-Scandinavian Foundation fellowship

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 27, 2022 – University of Rhode Island doctoral student Meg Jones, who last year was awarded a prestigious Fulbright grant to work alongside faculty at the University of Helsinki and its AGORA for the Study of Social Justice and Equality in Education Group, will be returning to Finland to continue their research. Jones has received a fellowship from the American-Scandinavian Foundation enabling them to complete their doctoral research on global approaches to queer and trans inclusion in teacher preparation programs.

Jones’ focus is on queer and trans inclusive practices within the broader context of the Finnish educational system – specifically, how teacher education addresses queer and trans topics and how these topics are addressed in educational research. Jones chose their topic to learn more about how one of the best education systems in the world is doing to push the boundaries of what is typically thought of as inclusion.

Jones presenting part of their work in Helsinki as a recipient of a Finland Fulbright Foundation grant.

What they have found in the past year is a motivated group of educators – both educators in training and those now practicing – who had been through similar experiences growing up as the students they would be teaching. While not all who participated in Jones’ study were Finnish, the majority were European.   

“While my study was open to everyone, an overwhelming proportion of the educators who chose to participate were queer or trans themselves,” said Jones. “Growing up, they didn’t see themselves represented in the classroom. They weren’t aware of any trans or out educators and there really was this common sense of not feeling as though they belonged as young people. Their experiences from their youth are driving them to possibly be more out as educators and to break the common stereotypes of what an educator is.”

Jones on a trip abroad to present part of their work in Oslo at the Nordic Youth Research Symposium.

Representation matters. In the United States, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Yet even in Finland, a nation with one of the most highly regarded education systems in the world, queer youth when surveyed relay they face similar percentages of discrimination, mental health issues and suicide ideation as their U.S. counterparts.

Echoing this, Jones was recently in Norway presenting one small finding from their overall study at the Nordic Youth Research Symposium. In interviewing Finnish pre-service teachers who were also queer or trans-identified, participants shared how their experiences as young people in the Finnish education system impacted their identity development in relation to gender and sexuality and how that has helped to solidify their intention to act as inclusive, out, representative teachers in the future. While there is a commitment among many educators, in Finland and elsewhere, to be more inclusive there is still work to be done worldwide.    

Jones notes their work has been well received. They have been invited to present at several conferences and events and collaborate on papers. The fellowship will enable them to finish their dissertation and continue some of the work they have been involved in that is both related to and in addition to their research – including providing training and lectures for the faculty in the Education Sciences Department at the University of Helsinki on queer and trans inclusion, working with faculty at local high schools to assist them in meeting curriculum requirements related to queer and trans topics, as well as assisting the International Red Cross to work with young Ukrainian refugees on their literacy skills. 

They hope their additional time in Finland will enable them to continue collaboration with their Finnish counterparts as well as open up the possibility for them to collect more longitudinal data. In addition, they have been able to extend their visiting researcher contract with the University of Helsinki and will be joining the department’s equity group and its subcommittee focused on providing professional development and training.  They also hope to open the lines of communication between URI and some of the groups they have been working with in Finland – particularly on ways to make sure student voices are heard and amplified.

“Integrating myself into this community of scholars and starting to understand the culture and nuance of Nordic educational research has really been a highlight for me,” said Jones. “Being able to attend these conferences and share my work, spreading the URI name and sharing this message of queer and trans inclusion in a space where it has been assumed for a long time, but never directly addressed has been exciting. Seeing the work resonate and hearing from fellow scholars that these are issues we need to talk about more has been extremely gratifying.”

The American-Scandinavian Foundation supports cultural and educational exchange between the Nordic region (Denmark, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway, Sámpi and Sweden) and the United States. Their fellowships are awarded in all fields and help further academic scholarship and scientific research and encourages expression in music and the creative arts. URI students and recent graduates who are interested in applying should contact the URI Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities for more information.