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Valerie Newman

Creating a Safe Place for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Teenagers Within and Beyond Therapy; Exhibiting for Social Change

          During the time I worked on this thesis project, the 2003-2004 school, year I was an art therapy intern at a Chicago public high school. I worked with students individually and in the context of a group I co-facilitated that addressed violence in students' lives.

           This thesis addresses issues of safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in schools (LGBT).  It examines the question of whether an installation that serves as a visual and narrative commentary can stimulate dialogue and aid in transforming an unsafe environment into a place of both physical and psychological protection.  

            Upon walking into the installation, it appeared like a typical classroom.  On closer examination, the viewer found one desk covered in rubber, and the others littered with derogatory names queer students regularly hear in school.  The title of the exhibit, "I'm Rubber," referenced the saying "I'm rubber, you're glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you."  This childhood aphorism, with its lighthearted tone, belies a serious topic that has a powerful impact on queer adolescents in schools.

           The installation addressed the violence that affects all LGBT adolescents in schools.  The violence may be physical, verbal, or emotional and can affect students who are a target, as well as those who are witness to the violence.  Finding a safe place within an environment where one has experienced or witnessed violence on a regular basis can be a difficult task.  These teenagers have the additional strain of belonging to a group of people who are not fully accepted.  As an art therapist, one of my roles was to help students find physical or emotional safe havens in threatening environments.  Through my work with the students, I realized the importance of raising awareness in the general public, to lighten some of the burden from the survivors of violence and direct responsibility back onto the societal context from which the violence had grown.

           In my thesis project I explored the role of the art therapist as social activist.  I recognized that LGBT students are often unable to find physical and emotional safety within an institution or community that responds to them in un-accepting, threatening, or dangerous ways. The intention of the installation I created was to inspire a public dialogue about how schools can become places of greater safety for LGBT teens. 



          Valerie Newman received a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona. During her studies at SAIC, she worked with disadvantaged youth, adults and youth who have survived violence and sexual assault, men living with HIV or AIDS, and women experiencing homelessness.


Thesis Advisor: Catherine Moon, Assistant Professor, Art Therapy

Second Reader: Donna Addison




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