Reflecting on my involvement in the STEP Study

Just over a year ago, I had just finished completing my application for becoming a young researcher for the STEP Study.

I first heard about the work the STEP Study was doing from a work experience I attended with the REACH (Resilience, Ethnicity and AdolesCent mental Health) study. Whilst at this work experience, I was introduced to many research projects but to me, the STEP Study stood out as it was aimed at tackling a very big problem within schools and day-to-day life. In reality, most people know about the prevalence of Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic (HBT) bullying within the school environment and many would agree that it is wrong and needs to be tackled. However, at least from my experience, action against HBT bullying has either been non-existent or has been insufficient and I wanted to help change this. For example, in my early years at secondary school, I used to witness people getting physically and verbally abused because of their sexual orientation. Teachers tried to combat this by sticking posters in the corridors but these displays were quickly vandalized and ripped apart. The worst thing was that teachers didn’t seem to care about students’ suggestions to fix this issue.

Growing up, I thought that teachers had the answers to everything but as I got older, I realised that they don’t and sometimes they could benefit from the insight of young people who are currently experiencing school life themselves. Coincidentally, the STEP Study provides exactly that by getting the views of young people through focus groups and interviews whilst getting similar information from teachers and training providers as well. This fine blend of experiences and opinions is analysed and fed back to schools and training providers alike. As a result, I saw the STEP Study as an opportunity to make my mark and try to improve the experiences of younger generations in schools. Moreover, this opportunity was rare and if I haven’t taken it, I probably may not have found a role so fulfilling and important at my age. I also wanted to actively be part of the solution instead of waiting for someone else to make a change.

Being a young male, conventionally, I wasn’t expected to undertake such a role as they are seen by some as a ‘girl’s job’, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to have such a diverse team when conducting a research project as everyone has something special to offer.

I also believe that representation incites a change for the better so being part of the STEP Study, I hope to inspire other young males out there who want to get their points across but feel constrained by society’s norms.

Not only is this opportunity helping me make a change, but I believe that I have gained so much knowledge and skills such as qualitative analysis, communication and the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes.

If you would have told me a year ago that I would be co-leading interviews with strangers, I wouldn’t have believed you!

I used to be so shy but I have changed immensely due to my involvement with the STEP Study.

I hope that opportunities like this one become more readily available in the future for young people as the effects of work like this are felt through generations. For instance, I have been thrilled to see the environment in my school change to become less hostile during my time at school and I am more thrilled to know that I was part of that change.

It is impossible to eradicate 100% of all forms of discrimination in schools but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for that and the more young people that are involved in research, the faster a noticeable change can come about.