Studying Religion's Impact

October 1, 2018

Ivelis ColonIvelis Colòn ’19 is combining her social work and religious studies majors as she puts the finishing touches on her summer research: discovering how religion affects incarcerated women who are part of the LGBTQ community in a project called A Woman’s Worth.

Colòn teamed up with Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (LA CADA) to survey and interview women at one of the center’s residential facilities. Seven women volunteered, most of whom were of Protestant or Catholic faith.

Colòn said she entered the study feeling “a little intimidated.” But after sitting down with them in a focus group, their confidence and their hope left her in awe.

“They wanted to share their stories,” Colòn said. “That is the point of my study: to give a voice to those who are often voiceless.”

People have varying, personal ways of negotiating their faith and their LGBTQ identity, Colòn said. Most commonly, she found women who enjoy spirituality and accept God, despite the chance of ostracization.

“Some studies show that a religious community is the best when it comes to ‘rehabilitation from substance abuse,” Colòn said. She determined from her study that “when you’re a substance abuser, part of the LGBTQ community, and in prison, usually an individual relationship with a higher power who is more accepting than a religious community is sometimes the best.”

Colòn’s project emerges from a genuine effort to understand the relations between religion, incarceration, LGBTQ identity, and the transition out of prison, said Associate Professor Jason Carbine, the C. Milo Connick Chair of Religious Studies.

“Justice and incarceration, religion and sexuality, are complexly related matters; when they converge in the lives of LGBTQ women (and others), they can be profoundly transformative in both positive and negative ways,” Carbine said. “Ivie’s project tries to see how and why this is the case.”

Colòn, who has a heart for social work, discovered a passion for research at Whittier College that has shaped the course of her life. The enthusiasm in her voice is impossible to miss as she describes the questions that arose in her mind as she formulated her study, and the further avenues she could take her research.

“It’s that one thing that I have a burning passion for. So I had to do it. Now that I did it, I already know what my next one’s going to be. I really want to study pregnant women in prison, and then injustices when it comes to them,” she said.

After graduating this May, Colòn intends to pursue a master’s in social work, gain more real-world experience in the workforce, and ultimately earn her Ph.D. in social work to continue her research.

Colòn’s study with LA CADA was supported by the Alianza de los Amigos Martin Ortiz Fellowship, which gave her the financial support to stay in L.A. for the summer to conduct her research, instead of returning home to Chicago.

Colòn’s impressive knowledge, enthusiasm, and synthesis of her dual majors helped win her the fellowship award, said Office of Equity and Inclusion Director Jenny Guerra.