Faculty mentor: Dr. Shelby McDonald
Department: Social Work
In a nutshell: We collect data from LGBTQIA+ people aged 15-21 about their lived experiences and, if applicable, their relationships with their pets.
In a bigger shell: LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual and gender minority identities) youth and emerging adults are a diverse group of young people facing stigma, victimization and discrimination at levels that impact their well-being. There is growing evidence that social support is a crucial protective factor that attenuates the impact of LGBTQ-specific stressors (i.e., victimization, discrimination) on mental health; however, to date, studies examining social support among LGBTQ+ youth and emerging adults have been limited to exploring the impact of relationships with other humans. We are collecting data from youth ages 12-21 years to understand whether and how pet ownership relates to well-being in LGBTQ+ young people (ages 12-21 years), and whether human-animal interaction (HAI) operates as a protective factor in this population. This study involves collaboration with four organizations serving LGBTQ+ youth in Virginia: Side by Side, Nationz Foundation, Planned Parenthood Virginia League and Health Brigade.
End of year goal: In the long run, the hope is to improve quality of life for LGBTQIA+ youth by understanding whether close relationships with animals can protect these youths from some of the effects of discrimination.
A tip for others: In some cases your relationship with your mentor may be more important than your overall interest in the project regarding how much you enjoy the work and how much you learn from the experience. If your relationship with your mentor is poor, you’re not going to have a good time.