Dr. Paul Kwon is Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. He grew up in a suburban area of New York/New Jersey, attended Penn State’s Psychology program for graduate school and has been teaching at WSU since 1996. His research interests include studying resilience, but not just looking at factors that make people depressed, anxious, etc., butlooking at how people overcome different obstacles in their lives. According to Dr. Kwon there’s a lot of research on the problems of sexual minority people but very little research or conversation about the strengths that the community has to overcome obstacles they face.
“The role of an ally is to, in my particular case, to study things in a way that will help the sexual minority population. But I think it’s also to, and this is the harder part, I think there’s a responsibility to not be silent about issues of prejudice affecting sexual minorities, to not remain on the sidelines if you encounter things that are wrong.”
“For me, the most important thing that I can do is forge really good relationships with my students who are sexual minorities. I think there’s nothing that really replaces close relationships in terms of overcoming whatever stigmas or stereotypes we all have about folks. And then also to not be afraid to speak out when there are things that are wrong or unfair that’s going on.”
“I remember as a kid, there was a prominent news story in which a man named Terry Fox was running across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer. He had bone cancer which resulted in partial amputation in his leg. He went on this campaign to run across Canada to raise money and even as a young kid I wondered what does he possess to allow him to do that? In his darkest hour facing such an obstacle- what allows him to do something so constructive with that? I saw other people with smaller obstacles just fall apart. I've always been interested in that issue- what allows people to overcome things? A part of that was self-interest, just having to overcome issues of not only being marginalized but being incredibly shy as a kid. There’s a lot I had to overcome and I could've chosen safer routes. I could've chosen routes that would have protected me from having to socialize, but I thought I really need to confront this and do things in my personal growth to force myself in a sense to overcome a lot of these issues that I was wrestling with. It’s a natural extension to then better understand that process in other contexts and try to promote things that people can do to overcome whatever their obstacles are.”
“I think WSU is inclusive of sexual minorities, that’s my impression, but I have an insular view so I don’t know for sure. I don’t know what it’s like to be a faculty member who’s LGBT. I don’t know what it’s like for students who are LGBT.”
“The one really important recommendation would be to never go through things alone. There’s so much research out there showing that social support is one of the strongest resilience factors for sexual minorities and I imagine for most folks going through any obstacle. Even if people feel alone and feel that people close to them have rejected them. Find some sources of social support. Here at WSU there are those channels for people who seek them out. That’s so important.”