READ Grant is a win-win for NIU

The Research, Engagement and Academic Diversity (READ) grant provides research funding for topics related to social justice, diversity, social innovation and social entrepreneurship projects. The grant also encourages the diversity of students engaged in research, artistry and experiential learning by providing up to $5,000 per grant to fund undergraduate student compensation and supplies, travel or other associated costs tied to the project.

Amanda Littauer

Amanda Littauer, NIU associate professor, department of history and Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, was one of three professors to earn the grant for the 2018-2019 academic year.

“The READ grant allowed me to continue working with students Ronan Kaiser and Gabriel Sonntag on my Queer Youth History Project,” Littauer said. “Both Ronan and Gabe are history majors and LGBT Studies minors who had worked diligently to develop skills in historical research and interpretation.”

Working on the project was compelling – and important – for all involved.

“All three of us identify as members of the LGBTQ community,” Littauer said. “Finding and constructing historical sources to support the first generation of historical scholarship on the lives of same-sex desiring and gender nonconforming youth is deeply meaningful and compelling work.”

Littauer said historians of LGBTQ people and communities have written remarkably little about children and youth.

“I didn’t come out until college but my teenage daughter identifies as a lesbian and I teach LGBT history here at NIU, so I am aware of how hungry queer and transgender kids and teens are for historical narratives that include people like them in the story,” Littauer said. “I’ve been amazed at how many primary sources speak to the experiences of LGBT youth in the second half of the 20th century.”

Ronan Kaiser and Gabriel Sonntag present their research findings during Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day.

As part of the research, Kaiser and Sonntag transcribed dozens of letters from young people writing to advice columnists, lesbian public figures and others in the 1970s and ’80s. Littauer recently published an article based on her analysis of those titled “Your Young Lesbian Sisters’: Queer Girls’ Voices in the Liberation Era, 1970-1986.”

“The sources are there and I am honored to bring stories of queer youth survival, persistence, resourcefulness and creativity to light,” Littauer said.

Sonntag shared the sentiment.

“Because of the READ grant I was able to work on history that I am passionate about,” Sonntag said. “As a queer person, it is important to understand and study the history so that I can understand the context behind contemporary queer politics and be connected to my community.”

Mission accomplished.

“The work that Ronan and Gabriel completed substantively aided my research,” Littauer said. “Even more importantly, perhaps, it allowed us to practice intergenerational queer community-building and collaboration.” 

The READ grant is offered in partnership with the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships and the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Applications for the 2020-2021 academic year open in August and can be found online. If you have additional questions regarding the READ grant, contact ugresearch@niu.edu.

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