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Laura Stacey

2035

Bold Points

18x

Nominee

1x

Finalist

1x

Winner

Bio

I am going back to school to pursue a career path in research that supports the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups. Along with this I plan to study religious fundamentalism and the influence it has on a personal, social, and political level.

Education

University of Colorado Boulder

Bachelor's degree program
2020 - 2025
  • Majors:
    • Psychology, General
  • Minors:
    • Religion/Religious Studies

American High School

High School
2005 - 2007
  • Majors:
    • Kinesiology and Exercise Science

Miscellaneous

  • Desired degree level:

    Doctoral degree program (PhD, MD, JD, etc.)

  • Graduate schools of interest:

  • Transfer schools of interest:

  • Majors of interest:

    • Psychology, General
    • Religion/Religious Studies
  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Research

    • Dream career goals:

      Non-profit leader

    • Research Assistant

      University of Colorado Boulder
      2022 – Present2 years
    • Mental Health Clinician

      Community Reach Center
      2021 – Present3 years
    • Team supervisor

      Native edge landscaping
      2017 – 20192 years
    • mental health support worker

      the bridge of central massachusetts
      2018 – 20191 year
    • barista

      starbucks
      2009 – 20178 years

    Research

    • Psychology, General

      Renee Crown Institute — Research Assistant
      2023 – Present
    • Behavioral Sciences

      LifeSkills Training — Research assistant
      2022 – Present

    Public services

    • Volunteering

      Out Boulder — Support roles
      2021 – Present

    Future Interests

    Advocacy

    Volunteering

    Philanthropy

    LGBTQ+ Wellness in Action Scholarship
    As a queer individual growing up in the Jehovah's Witness community, I learned at a young age to hide aspects of my identity. Admitting my attraction for women, or dressing in a way that was considered too masculine would result in "spiritual counsel." Were I to engage with these aspects of my identity "unrepentantly" I risked being "disfellowshipped," or expelled, from the community. Eventually, leading this double life took a toll on my mental health. In my early teen years, I developed a depression that would continue to worsen, culminating in severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid-twenties, I found mental health support that helped me to manage my depression. This allowed me to think critically about my faith and my identity for the first time. As a result, I decided to leave the Jehovah's Witness community, despite fearing the consequence of being shunned. Ultimately, this did result in me being "disfellowshipped" and cut off from my friends and family, but it allowed me to develop an honest and healthy relationship with myself for the first time. It has been 7 years since I have spoken to anyone, including my family, who is a part of the Jehovah's Witness community in which I spent the first 26 years of my life. I still think about them every day. However, I do believe that leaving that community saved my life. In the time since leaving, I have worked very hard to know myself and develop a relationship with my own emotions and motivations, a relationship that I am incredibly grateful for. My experience in the Jehovah's Witness community taught me that circumstances play a huge role in our mental and physical health, especially when we are young. While there are often limits on how much we can change our circumstances, I have learned through this experience how important it is to be willing to look inward and be honest in your examination of your feelings and drives. This examination played a critical role in my decision to pursue a bachelor's degree as a non-traditional student. Being a low-income student without the financial support of my family has brought its own challenges, but unlike those I experienced as a Jehovah's Witness, I see the benefit that comes through enduring them. However, it remains equally important to maintain the connection that I have developed with my feelings and needs. Though working as a full-time student means that time is limited, I have learned to prioritize rest to the extent possible. And while pursuing a bachelor's in my thirties also comes with unique challenges, I am grateful for the knowledge I have gained of myself and my needs that are helping me navigate this exciting journey as a student in a way that prioritizes my mental health.
    Gender Expansive & Transgender Scholarship
    My identity as a queer, nonbinary student and my academic goals were greatly impacted by something that happened to me seven years ago. At that time I was shunned by my family and the Jehovah's Witness community in which I was raised. Though this was among the most difficult, tumultuous times of my life, it gave me the freedom to get to know and love my authentic self. Upon leaving this high-control religious group I threw myself into research to understand the dynamics of this and other fundamentalist religious groups. I realized, for the first time, how sheltered I had been and how one-sided my understanding of the Jehovah's Witness community was. It also allowed me the freedom to expand my understanding of what was possible for me. This led me to move across the country to Colorado, a place I had never been. Starting in a new place after losing my family and community left me feeling incredibly alone. Slowly, though, I began to find a new community. Through this process, I came to embrace my queer identity and the queer community as a whole. My understanding of what love and community can be began to change. For the first time, I felt love and acceptance that was unconditional. I found that I could disagree with those who loved me without fear of reprimand. As I pushed into these boundaries, I discovered a community so different from the one I had known. My experience of being shunned by my family and the Jehovah's Witnesses has left my trust in the safety of community wounded. Despite this, the love and support I have been given have afforded me the strength to slowly rebuild that trust. Through this process of loss and regrowth, I came to understand how important learning and research have been in my journey. With this realization, I decided that I would begin my pursuit of higher education. Today, I am a queer, nonbinary, non-traditional student at the University of Colorado Boulder. I am majoring in psychology and minoring in religious studies. When I began this journey, I knew I wanted to explore the intersection of psychology and religious belief. Specifically, I wanted to better understand fundamentalist thinking and motivations. However, I didn't know the form that this journey would take. As I have progressed through my studies, this understanding has changed. I am no longer satisfied with the soon-approaching acquisition of my bachelor's degree. I now have plans to further my academic research, first in a master's program in religious studies followed by a Ph.D. program in social psychology. I wouldn't be where I am today without the community that I have built. Expanding my understanding of myself and the world through learning has been an essential part of my healing process. With this education, through teaching and research, I hope to help other queer folks like myself who have felt rejected by their family and community. The LGBTQ+ community embraced and welcomed me when my family wouldn't. They provided a sense of safety that allowed me to explore my own queer identity. They not only allowed me to ask questions that I once would have been reprimanded for asking but encouraged it. I know without a doubt that I am where I am today, I am who I am today, because of the love and support of this community, my chosen family.
    PRIDE in Education Award
    My identity as a student and my academic goals have been greatly impacted by something that happened to me seven years ago. At that time I was shunned by my family and the Jehovah's Witness community in which I was raised. Though this was among the most difficult, tumultuous times of my life, it gave me the freedom to get to know and love my authentic self. Upon leaving this high-control religious group I threw myself into research to understand the dynamics of this and other fundamentalist religious groups. I realized, for the first time, how sheltered I had been and how one-sided my understanding of this community was. It also allowed me the freedom to expand my understanding of what was possible for me. This led me to move across the country to Colorado, a place I had never been. Starting in a new place and having lost my family and community, I felt incredibly alone. Slowly, though, I began to find a new community. Through this process, I came to embrace my queer identity and other like-minded queer folks. My understanding of what love and community can be began to change. For the first time, I felt love and acceptance that was unconditional. I found that I could disagree with those who loved me without fear of reprimand. As I pushed into these boundaries, I discovered a community so different from the one I had known. My experience of being shunned by my family and the Jehovah's Witnesses has left my trust in the safety of community wounded. Despite this, the love and support I have been given have afforded me the strength to rebuild that trust. Through this process of loss and regrowth, I came to understand how important learning and research have been in my journey. With this realization, I decided that I would begin my pursuit of higher education. Today, I am a queer, nonbinary, non-traditional student at the University of Colorado Boulder. I am majoring in psychology and minoring in religious studies. When I began this journey, I knew I wanted to explore the intersection of psychology and religious belief. Specifically, I wanted to better understand fundamentalist thinking and motivations. However, I didn't know the form that this journey would take. As I have progressed through my studies, this understanding has changed. I am no longer satisfied with the soon-approaching acquisition of my bachelor's degree. I now have plans to further my academic research, first in a master's program in religious studies followed by a Ph.D. program in social psychology. I wouldn't be where I am today without the community that I have built. The LGBTQ+ community embraced and welcomed me when my family wouldn't. They provided a sense of safety that allowed me to explore my own queer identity. They not only allowed me to ask questions that I once would have been reprimanded for asking but encouraged it. I know without a doubt that I am where I am today, I am who I am today, because of the love and support of this community, my chosen family.
    VNutrition & Wellness’ Annual LGBTQ+ Vitality Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until the age of 25, I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life but also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts about my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in a freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology at work within these groups. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically and go on to work in a social psychology lab as a college professor studying the psychology behind fundamentalist thinking. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point where I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome, estrangement from god and ultimately, death. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. Diving into research and joining the academic community at the University of Colorado at Boulder have been instrumental in my healing process. I hope that as a professor I can share the healing and empowering force of education with others. I especially hope to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, including members of the LGBTQ community like myself who are often most affected. My experience growing up as a queer Jehovah's Witness left me behind and disadvantaged academically in many ways. Yet it is these experiences that drive me forward and leave me with little doubt that I will go on to enter a Ph.D. program upon completion of my undergraduate studies. What I have accomplished since leaving that community has and continues to provide me with proof of what I am capable of. I will continue to find a way to prioritize my studies and find the funding necessary to make them possible as I continue to work 30+ hours a week. I am grateful beyond words for the generosity and kindness of those who have provided funding to me and others who do not have the financial resources available.
    DRIVE an IMPACT Today Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until the age of 25, I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life but also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts about my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in a freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology at work within these groups. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically and go on to work in a social psychology lab as a college professor studying the psychology behind fundamentalist thinking. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point where I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome, estrangement from god and ultimately, death. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. Diving into research and joining the academic community at the University of Colorado at Boulder have been instrumental in my healing process. I hope that as a professor I can share the healing and empowering force of education with others. I especially hope to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, including members of the LGBTQ community like myself who are often most affected. My experience growing up as a queer Jehovah's Witness left me behind and disadvantaged academically in many ways. Yet it is these experiences that drive me forward and leave me with little doubt that I will go on to enter a Ph.D. program upon completion of my undergraduate studies. What I have accomplished since leaving that community has and continues to provide me with proof of what I am capable of. I will continue to find a way to prioritize my studies and find the funding necessary to make them possible as I continue to work 30+ hours a week. I am grateful beyond words for the generosity and kindness of those who have provided funding to me and others who do not have the financial resources available.
    Elijah's Helping Hand Scholarship Award
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until the age of 25, I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life but also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts about my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in a freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology at work within these groups. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically and go on to work in a social psychology lab as a college professor studying the psychology behind fundamentalist thinking. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point where I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome, estrangement from god and ultimately, death. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. Diving into research and joining the academic community at the University of Colorado at Boulder have been instrumental in my healing process. I hope that as a professor I can share the healing and empowering force of education with others. I especially hope to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, including members of the LGBTQ community like myself who are often most affected. My experience growing up as a queer Jehovah's Witness left me behind and disadvantaged academically in many ways. Yet it is these experiences that drive me forward and leave me with little doubt that I will go on to enter a Ph.D. program upon completion of my undergraduate studies. What I have accomplished since leaving that community has and continues to provide me with proof of what I am capable of. I will continue to find a way to prioritize my studies and find the funding necessary to make them possible as I continue to work 30+ hours a week. I am grateful beyond words for the generosity and kindness of those who have provided funding to me and others who do not have the financial resources available.
    Evan T. Wissing "Choose a better life" Scholarship
    I moved to Colorado four years ago after being shunned by my family and the religious community I was raised in. Since leaving that community, I have tried to waste no time in this life, pursuing my interests and passions. Moving to Colorado opened vast opportunities to pursue interests that I didn’t once have the freedom to explore. Some of these interests include climbing, hiking, and pursuing higher education. I once viewed the pursuit of higher education as a trap, one that the devil could use to influence my thinking. Today, however, I see that it is a way to expand my mind and critically examine my thoughts and ideas and those held by other people around the world. Through these pursuits I have come to a better knowledge and understanding of myself, free of the influence of a high-control religious group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, it was expected that I would devote most of my time to things that were considered “spiritual pursuits” and avoid “worldly pursuits,” which include higher education. This meant that I was to put off various desires and interests that took time away from “spiritual pursuits.” The justification I was given for these sacrifices was that this “system,” the world as we know it, is soon ending and God is going to bring in the “new world,” a paradise earth where all his followers will dwell. I believed that now is the time to devote myself to God’s work, putting off any other interests until paradise earth is made a reality by God. Once that paradise became reality, I could pursue these other interests. However, in my mid-twenties, growing doubts about this belief system led me to leave this community. Doing so led to me being shunned by my friends and family. Since then, I have thrown myself into the interests that I wasn’t free to pursue, including climbing and exploring the vast system of trails that Colorado has to offer. As I’ve explored these interests, I’ve come to know and love aspects of myself that were not acceptable in the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One such aspect is my queer identity. In my time since leaving that community, I have committed myself to research and understanding the psychology at work within high control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Beginning my pursuit of a bachelor’s in psychology is one step in a journey that started soon after leaving the community in which I was raised. I hope that this education will lead to me being involved in research to better understand the psychology of undue influence and coercive control. I hope to spread this knowledge to help current and potential victims of high-control systems and dynamics. I know that I will continue to pursue this research throughout my life, but I believe that doing so in an academic setting will allow me to help others with the knowledge that I gain.
    Maverick Grill and Saloon Scholarship
    I moved to Colorado four years ago after being shunned by my family and the religious community I was raised in. Since leaving that community, I have tried to waste no time in this life, pursuing my interests and passions. Moving to Colorado opened vast opportunities to pursue interests that I didn’t once have the freedom to explore. Some of these interests include climbing, hiking, and pursuing higher education. I once viewed the pursuit of higher education as a trap, one that the devil could use to influence my thinking. Today, however, I see that it is a way to expand my mind and critically examine my thoughts and ideas and those held by other people around the world. Through these pursuits I have come to a better knowledge and understanding of myself, free of the influence of a high-control religious group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, it was expected that I would devote most of my time to things that were considered “spiritual pursuits” and avoid “worldly pursuits,” which include higher education. This meant that I was to put off various desires and interests that took time away from “spiritual pursuits.” The justification I was given for these sacrifices was that this “system,” the world as we know it, is soon ending and God is going to bring in the “new world,” a paradise earth where all his followers will dwell. I believed that now is the time to devote myself to God’s work, putting off any other interests until paradise earth is made a reality by God. Once that paradise became reality, I could pursue these other interests. However, in my mid-twenties, growing doubts about this belief system led me to leave this community. Doing so led to me being shunned by my friends and family. Since then, I have thrown myself into the interests that I wasn’t free to pursue, including climbing and exploring the vast system of trails that Colorado has to offer. As I’ve explored these interests, I’ve come to know and love aspects of myself that were not acceptable in the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One such aspect is my queer identity. In my time since leaving that community, I have committed myself to research and understanding the psychology at work within high control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Beginning my pursuit of a bachelor’s in psychology is one step in a journey that started soon after leaving the community in which I was raised. I hope that this education will lead to me being involved in research to better understand the psychology of undue influence and coercive control. I hope to spread this knowledge to help current and potential victims of high-control systems and dynamics. I know that I will continue to pursue this research throughout my life, but I believe that doing so in an academic setting will allow me to help others with the knowledge that I gain.
    Sean Allen Memorial Scholarship
    In 2016 two life-changing things happened in my life: I was shunned by my family and the Jehovah's Witness community in which I was raised and I discovered my love for climbing. Climbing became my outlet, something I could focus on and to some extent control as life as I once knew it crumbled around me. It was within the walls of the local climbing gym that I found my strength and my new community. It was climbing that prompted my decision to move to Colorado when I decided that it was time for a fresh start. And it was once again within the climbing community near Boulder Colorado where I began to build my community once again. As a non-traditional and financially independent full-time student, I must juggle my work, study, and class responsibilities, a juggling act I am still learning to master. Despite this hectic schedule, I am still found at the local climbing gym a few times a week when I can squeeze in an hour or more. Though it takes away from the time I could be spending on school work and my other responsibilities, I believe that climbing contributes to my performance in other areas of my life along with bolstering my mental health. When I enter the climbing gym, I can focus on the problem before me and the constant hum of the frenzy of my hectic schedule fades into the background. As my body moves up the wall, I hone in on the minute adjustments that will make the next move possible, and the next move, and the next move. Climbing forces me to slow down, something that doesn’t come easily to me. It reminds me of how far I’ve come and the family that I’ve built since losing my community 7 years ago. It reminds me of my strength and my capacity to persevere, something I have had to draw on time and again as a non-traditional full-time student. As the end of my undergraduate studies gets closer, I have set my sights on higher levels of education with plans to go on to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. It’s impossible to know where I would be today had I not found climbing at a time when my foundation was crumbling. However, I am certain that it has played an essential part in getting me to where I am now, a junior in college, working towards a degree in psychology and the belief that nothing can stop me from achieving the goals I have set for myself.
    Elizabeth Schalk Memorial Scholarship
    I don't remember how old I was the first time my mother went away for days or even weeks to a program designed to help her with her mental health struggles but it soon became a recurring pattern. Whether it was for her eating disorder, suicidality, or alcoholism, my mother would be gone for long periods throughout my childhood and into my teenage years. Casseroles made by supportive friends filled our fridge and freezer during these stretches. My father, worn out from his full-time job and caring for her, had little energy to devote to my brother and me. We quickly learned to fend for ourselves, throwing some leftover casserole in the microwave and settling in in front of the television for the evening. My brother quickly mastered the art of shutting down, numbing his mind with video games whereas I struggled with the chaos that enveloped our home life. Around the age of 12 or 13, I got my first glimpse of what would become my years-long struggle with my own mental illness. It was at this time that I began to feel depressed and anxious for the first time. I went from getting As and the occasional B to getting Ds and the occasional C in my classes. Yet, the energy required for my father to care for my mother's mental and physical health, meant there was little left to care for my changing mental health needs and my struggles went largely unnoticed at home. Despite my worsening symptoms over the years, my depression went largely unaddressed at home up until I moved out of my parents home at the age of 19. I moved in with a close friend a few states and a four hour drive away from where I had been living with my parents. The loneliness and isolation that came with this change gave me little to distract me from the dark thoughts that filled my mind and I began to seriously consider suicide at this point. After about a year of living alone my suicidal thoughts culminated in the first of multiple suicide attempts. Fortunately, this attempt and future attempts were not successful. Despite a strong resistance to the idea, I decided to give medication a try and it saved my life. It lifted the cloud of depression and suicidality enough to allow me to see clearly some of the circumstances in my life that were working against me and my mental health. The clarity provided by these antidepressants was such that I was able to make changes in my life that would ultimately enable me to function and thrive without these medicines. These changes included leaving the Jehovah’s Witness community I had been raised in and moving to a new state where I could pursue my passions including rock climbing, hiking, and entering the world of academia at the University of Colorado Boulder. With the help of antidepressants, I was able to make changes in my life that allowed me to navigate the depression and anxiety that had left me crippled. Though I was able to come off of these medications and have found the tools that best support my mental health, I am still someone who struggles and sometimes suffers from depression and anxiety. Today though, I see these facets of my mental health differently than I once did. Whereas I once viewed them as a weakness, I now see that they enhance not only my sensitivity to pain, but to joy and beauty and for that, I am grateful.
    NE1 NE-Dream Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until the age of 25, I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life but also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts about my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in a freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology at work within these groups. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically and go on to work in a social psychology lab as a college professor studying the psychology behind fundamentalist thinking. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point where I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome, estrangement from god and ultimately, death. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. Diving into research and joining the academic community at the University of Colorado at Boulder have been instrumental in my healing process. I hope that as a professor I can share the healing and empowering force of education with others. I especially hope to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, including members of the LGBTQ community like myself who are often most affected. My experience growing up as a queer Jehovah's Witness left me behind and disadvantaged academically in many ways. Yet it is these experiences that drive me forward and leave me with little doubt that I will go on to enter a Ph.D. program upon completion of my undergraduate studies. What I have accomplished since leaving that community has and continues to provide me with proof of what I am capable of. I will continue to find a way to prioritize my studies and find the funding necessary to make them possible as I continue to work 30+ hours a week. I am grateful beyond words for the generosity and kindness of those who have provided funding to me and others who do not have the financial resources available.
    Glider AI-Omni Inclusive Allies of LGBTQ+ (GOAL+) Scholarship
    Growing up as a queer non-binary Jehovah's Witness, I always felt out of place. I learned from a young age that these fundamental aspects of my identity are flawed and sinful. For this reason, I kept these parts of myself hidden until I finally left this community at the age of 26. In fact, I never got the chance to come out to my family as they started shunning me once they learned that I was no longer a practicing Jehovah's Witness. This experience left me wanting to understand the psychology at work in groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses and other fundamentalist religious sects. What could inspire a parent to shun their child? What could drive someone to ignore their fundamental human nature? I began this research journey on my own but soon began to entertain the possibility of pursuing higher education to enable me to continue this research and help others who have been marginalized and ostracized because of their identity. This drive led me to begin my pursuit of a bachelor's in psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder. I am now in my sophomore year and am working to do all that I can to set myself up to enter a PhD program once I graduate. My time at the University of Colorado Boulder has shown me what I am capable of and made me realize how much I love academics. It has, however, been disheartening to see how the academic community and the research produced by it are often so far removed from the general public, in effect cut off from those it has the potential to help. It is my aim, therefore, to find a way to use the research that I am a part of to support the LGBTQ+ community and others who have been similarly marginalized, remaining diligent to never forget the way it felt to be a part of a community that wasn't accepting of my identity. I am grateful today to have found a family and social network that are accepting of and nourish my queer identity. Yet there are so many who, for varying reasons, do not have that same support. I am determined to provide support to these communities and be involved in research that can help us work towards a more inclusive society and that will support programs that can help those who have felt as I once did, alone and isolated. There is much work to be done and I hope that my education enables me to play a small part in creating these changes.
    Pettable Pet Lovers Scholarship Fund
    Bold Bravery Scholarship
    At the age of 26, I left the community of faith in which I was raised and was shunned by my family and friends for doing so. Though I was afraid of what leaving that community would mean, I knew that I could not live the life demanded by that community if I did not have absolute conviction in the "truth" I had been raised to believe it had a monopoly on. My own research done in secret left that conviction shattered. Losing my family and community in this way left my foundation shaken. However, since that time I have been determined to build myself back up. The first step in this process was getting to know myself outside of the confines and expectations of a strict religious community, which meant accepting and learning to love my queer identity. As I got to know myself I began to realize how important learning is to me. In fact, learning is a journey that I intend to spend the rest of my life pursuing. In order to do so though, I had to confront the fears I had learned as part of my religious upbringing. For most of my life, I believed that higher education is a tool used by the devil to pull God's people away from him. I could see the error in that teaching but the fear remained present, along with the idea that I would always be an imposter in spaces of higher learning. Despite this, I was determined to prove to myself that I deserved to be in those spaces and I put in my application for the undergraduate program in psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder. This Fall I will be entering my second semester as a sophomore.
    William M. DeSantis Sr. Scholarship
    I grew up in the Jehovah’s Witness organization, a high-control group that demands strict obedience to its tenets. These rules include zero tolerance for homosexuality and anything else that falls outside of a strictly defined standard of acceptable love and sexuality. This standard comes from the Bible and any unrepentant deviation from that standard results in consequences ranging from “spiritual” counseling as a form of corrective action to the extreme of ex-communication. Being raised in this environment meant that I quickly learned to suppress the parts of myself that betrayed my identity. This led to me developing severe depression that would ultimately lead to suicidality and multiple stays in psychiatric wards before I finally accepted the help of mental health professionals and psychiatric medication. Receiving this help gave me the clarity of mind to critically examine my faith system. One of the teachings I reevaluated was their strong warning against seeking higher education. The Jehovah’s Witnesses portray this stance on higher education as a protective measure against “satanic influences” that could corrupt my privileged status as one of God’s chosen people. I came to recognize though, that the true motive was to shield Jehovah’s Witnesses from developing the critical thinking skills that are encouraged in a college environment. I eventually left the community and was shunned by my family and the community in which I had spent my entire life. Since leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses five years ago, a big part of my healing process has been seeking out information, honing my critical thinking skills, and becoming and remaining open to the people I once judged as condemned to die at Armageddon. As an extension of this goal, I have begun my pursuit of a degree in psychology and I hope to ultimately go on to pursue a Ph.D. in this field. With this education, I hope to help expand our general knowledge of the psychology used by these high control groups as well as to help others who have been negatively affected, My personal research has led me to the conclusion that information is the most powerful tool I have in shielding myself and helping others to shield themselves from the manipulation and coercion employed by high-control groups. I fully intend to continue my pursuit of such knowledge throughout my life and hope that my acquisition of a bachelor’s in psychology is just one step of many in this journey.
    Lo Easton's “Wrong Answers Only” Scholarship
    1. I deserve this scholarship because I'd rather not work while I am a student. I just got a Playstation 5 and having to work while enrolled in classes would really eat into my gaming time, and that would be such a bummer. 2. My academic goals are focused around excelling at standardized tests as that is the mark of a truly gifted student. Such a course will allow me to enter the world of capitalism and effectively perpetuate the cycles that are lengthening the wage gap and ensuring the need for inequality that keeps the capitalist system thriving. 3. I stubbed my toe as I was getting into my car this morning. My frustration led me to drive too fast on my way to work and subsequently get a ticket for 1200$. I am now short that amount on my fall 2022 tuition. Winning this scholarship would allow me to overcome this obstacle and continue my education journey.
    Bold Deep Thinking Scholarship
    If we don't address the climate change crisis, the coming generations will not have a planet to call home. We no longer have the luxury of being casual about the effect that our consumption has on this planet. It is imperative that we act now to end the harm that we are doing and then do what we can to reverse the damage that has already been done. While the actions of each individual are important in this process, it is imperative that large corporations and government take the lead in this fight, for it is the impacts of industrialization and mass production that are the leading cause of the damage being done and the potential for the future of human life on Earth. Governments around the world play an important role in this fight as they are in a position to put regulations in place to ensure that those who are making profits off of harmful practices are held accountable for their actions through fines and penalties. They are also in a position to incentivize the type of innovative and creative thinking that is needed to push the human race out of our reliance on fossil fuels. More than ever, we need forward-thinking individuals to be working to find new ways to support the growing human population through more sustainable forms of energy production, curbing waste production, and the degradation of the massive waste that is polluting our lands and oceans. It is up to current leaders and politicians to ensure that our children and grandchildren will have a viable planet to call home.
    Snap Finance “Funding the Future” Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until about the age of 25 I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life, but it also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts around my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in a freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology of these groups. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically so that I can help others who have been through a similar experience. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point that I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. I hope to use my education to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, especially members of the LGBTQ community who are often the most affected. I believe I can offer a different perspective to the academic research that is being done in this field. I also hope to be involved with non-profit groups that are helping members of the LGBTQ community who are being oppressed due to their sexuality. I know that I will find varied and evolving ways to use my experience and the knowledge I gain to help others who have gone through a similar experience.
    Shine Your Light College Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until about the age of 25, I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life, but it also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts around my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology of these groups. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically so that I can help others who have been through a similar experience. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point that I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. I hope to use my education to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, especially members of the LGBTQ community who are often the most affected. I believe I can offer a different perspective to the academic research that is being done in this field. I also hope to be involved with non-profit groups that are helping members of the LGBTQ community who are being oppressed due to their sexuality. I know that I will find varied and evolving ways to use my experience and the knowledge I gain to help others who have gone through a similar experience.
    Patrick Stanley Memorial Scholarship
    I was 17 when I finished high school. I look back now and I am proud of myself for this accomplishment because, from the age of 12, I began to struggle with depression and my identity as a queer individual. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was raised in a homophobic community. My depression and overall mental health would worsen over the next 15 years. For these and other reasons, I didn't see much academic potential in myself and wanted to finish my high school journey as quickly as I could. Therefore, after my sophomore year in public high school, I decided to finish my last two years in a homeschooling program. However, it was left to me to ensure that I finished my schooling as I wasn't receiving any encouragement or prodding from my parents. I almost didn't finish at all as my worsening depression made it hard to find the motivation to do so. Somehow, though, I found the drive to complete my coursework. My poor performance and lack of motivation during my high school years left a lasting impression on me. For nearly a decade after graduating, I maintained the impression that I wasn't a good student and couldn't see myself pursuing a college degree. This perception was worsened by the fact that the community in which I was raised strongly discouraged the pursuit of higher education. However, I had an insatiable curiosity. I was always reading and teaching myself new skills. Slowly, my perception of myself began to change. I began to see academic potential within myself. Through my own reading and research, I developed a passion for psychology and realized that I did want to pursue higher education. Finally, in 2020, at the age of 32, I began my pursuit of a bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Today my perception of myself has completely changed. Starting this journey has made me realize that I am an academic. I have come to see that it was my struggle with my mental health and my identity as a queer individual that contributed to my struggles in school when I was younger. It was not due to a lack of intelligence or drive. In fact, I feel driven in a way I have never experienced in devoting myself to my schooling and getting as much as I can out of this education. This drive is such that I plan to pursue a Ph.D. as soon as I finish my undergraduate program. My pursuit of a degree at the University of Colorado Boulder has been both incredibly challenging and incredibly awarding. I don't have financial support from my family as I was cut off from them when I made the choice to leave the community in which I was raised. For this reason, as a full-time student, I have also had to work over 30 hours a week. This means that I often have just one day a week that doesn't include classes or work. Time management has been an essential skill throughout this time. Though it has been challenging I am determined to continue prioritizing my studies and taking advantage of the minutes and hours I have between other obligations. Any financial support will go a long way in easing the burden of working as a full-time student.
    Bold Great Books Scholarship
    My favorite book is "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Jonathon Safran Foer manages to make you laugh and cry throughout this book. He uses beautiful poetic language to tell a multigenerational story beginning with the story of a young autistic boy who is on a mission that brings him closer to his deceased father who was killed on 9/11/01. Along with his story, you learn about his father and his grandparents, who are Jewish and must flee their country during World War II. The book is a touching story that beautifully portrays the span of the human experience and the uncertainty that exists between right and wrong.
    Deborah's Grace Scholarship
    Anyone who meets me today may have a hard time believing it when I tell them that I once had reached the point of wanting to die, and had attempted suicide multiple times. In hindsight, I am able to see many of the factors that contributed to that dire state. In those moments, that spanned over many years, though, I blamed no one but myself. The internal rhetoric went something like this: "I'm no good. I'm not spiritual enough. I don't trust in God enough. I am doomed to become my mother" (who has always struggled with mental illness). Today I have a different perspective. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, a group that insists on exercising control over nearly every aspect of its followers' lives including who they love. I never fit into the feminine "norm" that was expected of me as a Jehovah's Witness woman. I learned that homosexuality was a sin and quickly learned to associate shame with sexuality. When I remember the struggles of going through my teenage years, the emotions that have left the greatest mark in my memory are shame and guilt. This environment led me to deny, to myself and others, the truth of my sexuality. By the time I reached my early twenties I was thinking about suicide, a lot. I was certain though, that if I trusted more in God, committed myself more fully to doing his work, that my depression would let up. This logic also led me to the conclusion that my worsening depression must therefore be due to a shortcoming on my part. This and other fears led me to refuse the help of medication until I was 25. By then, I was in and out of hospitals frequently. I finally followed the recommendation of a psychiatrist who wanted to help me and began taking medication. Doing so changed my life. It gave me just enough relief from the constant barrage of dark thoughts to assess my internal and external environment. It gave me room to consider honestly, how I felt about the community and belief system I had always known and it gave me room to get to know myself. Over the course of a couple of years, I would come to the realization that I could no longer follow this belief system, and would ultimately be shunned for leaving it. Through that process and into today, I have gotten to know and love myself. Along with this, I have learned to trust my thoughts and feelings in a way I could have once never imagined. I have gained confidence in my ability to accomplish what I set my mind to. My experience growing up as a queer Jehovah's Witness has inspired me to pursue further education to study the psychology of such high-control groups and hopefully, help some who have been affected by them. Coming from that place of darkness to a place where I love and accept myself spurs me on in this pursuit despite the new challenges that come with it. Being cut off from my family and the community in which I was raised has left me with no financial support. Therefore, I must work 30-40 hours a week while completing my studies as a full-time student. Though it feels near impossible at times to juggle it all, I have never felt such determination. I am committed to making whatever sacrifices necessary to achieve my academic goals and any financial support goes a long way to ease the burden of working as a full-time student.
    Pride in Diversity Scholarship
    Winner
    SkipSchool Scholarship
    My favorite scientist is Stephen Hawking. Despite having a debilitating disability, he went on to change the world of physics and was passionate about making it accessible to all. He is an example of defying the odds in pursuit of your dreams.
    Education Matters Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until the age of 25, I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life but also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts around my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those that are within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology at work within them. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically so that I can help others who have been through a similar experience. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point that I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. I hope to use my education to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, especially members of the LGBTQ community who are often the most affected. With these goals in mind, I hope to complete my degree in psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder and go on to pursue a Ph.D. My personal journey of research has taught me the importance of education and I hope that my pursuit of a bachelor's in psychology is just one step in a lifelong pursuit of knowledge.
    Cat Zingano Overcoming Loss Scholarship
    I lost my family at the age of 28. It wasn't in death that I lost them, rather it was through shunning, a practice that is encouraged in the religious environment in which I was raised. I desperately feared this eventuality as I began to question this religious belief system in my mid-twenties. For this reason, I tried to keep my waning faith a secret from my family and friends. Ultimately though, they would find out and I was promptly informed that I was no longer considered a member of the family. Leaving that high-control environment came at great cost, but it also brought great rewards. Away from that environment, I have found the freedom to get to know myself and pursue many of the passions that I didn't once have the freedom to explore. This loss has awakened within me a drive to better understand high-control groups like the one in which I was raised and help others who are trapped within them. It has also sparked a desire to better understand the aspects of human psychology that make people susceptible to the types of manipulation and coercion employed by high-control groups or people. Lastly, this loss has made me grateful for each day that I have to enjoy the life I have now. Ultimately, the loss of my friends, family, and community has played a huge part in my decision to pursue a degree in psychology so that I can continue to study high-control groups and the psychology at work within them. Though I must work full time to support myself as a student, this drive has enabled me thus far to achieve a 4.0 in my studies and focus on my academics. Managing this balance between work and academics has been difficult, but I am determined to do whatever I must to make the dream of going on to pursue a Ph.D. in this field a reality. Any financial assistance will go a long way in easing the financial burdens I must bear while focusing on my studies.
    Unicorn Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until about the age of 25 I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally are seen as shameful. This led me to develop a worsening depression that led to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life, but changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I could no longer ignore doubts around my belief system that had been growing for years. Ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in a freedom to be myself and to think critically. Once I began to acknowledge these doubts, I quickly threw myself into research. Starting with the Jehovah's Witnesses, I began researching high-control groups to better understand the psychology at work. Starting this process helped me to get to know a side of myself that I had learned to silence for so long. This process showed me that I wanted to get to know myself more fully and explore the interests I had learned to push aside. I began to try new activities such as climbing, hiking, and drawing. Slowly my feelings towards myself began to shift away from guilt, shame, and hatred, towards pride, love, and acceptance. These changes happened slowly, but from time to time I look back and I can see just how far I have come from where I was as self-hating Jehovah’s Witness. I am no longer trying to force myself into a mold that I could never fit within. Today, I am excited to continue the process of getting to know myself and exploring the interests that I didn’t once have the freedom to explore. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point that I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. It also gave me the space I needed to get to know my true self, and I found that I quite like this version of me. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. I hope to use my education to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, especially members of the LGBTQ community who are often the most affected.
    JuJu Foundation Scholarship
    I moved to Colorado three and a half years ago after being shunned by my family and the religious community I was raised in. Since leaving that community, I have tried to waste no time in this life, pursuing my interests and passions. Moving to Colorado opened vast opportunities to pursue various interests that I wasn’t able to pursue before, including climbing and hiking. My pursuit of a bachelor’s in psychology is in line with this drive to follow my passions. I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. As a Jehovah’s Witness, it was expected that I would devote most of my time to things that were considered “spiritual pursuits” and avoid “worldly pursuits,” which include higher education. This meant that I was to put off other desires and interests. The justification given for this to Jehovah’s Witnesses is that this “system,” the world as we know it, is soon ending and God is soon going to bring in the “new world,” a paradise earth where all his followers will dwell. I believed that now was the time to devote myself to God’s work, putting off any other interests until the paradise earth was made a reality by God. Once that paradise became reality, I could pursue these other interests. However, in my mid-twenties, growing doubts about this belief system led me to leave this community and thereby be shunned. Since then, I have thrown myself into my interests that I wasn’t free to pursue, including climbing and exploring the vast system of trails that Colorado has to offer. In my time since leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have also come to realize that one of my passions is researching and understanding the psychology at work within high control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Beginning my pursuit of a bachelor’s in psychology is one step in a journey that started soon after leaving the community in which I was raised. I hope that this education will lead to me being involved in research to better understand the psychology of undue influence and coercive control. I hope to spread this knowledge to help current and potential victims of high control systems and dynamics. I know that I will continue to pursue this research throughout my life, but I believe that doing so in an academic setting will give me an opportunity to help others with the knowledge that I gain.
    AMPLIFY Mental Health Scholarship
    I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Until about the age of 25, I believed wholeheartedly in this belief system. I gave my time to it in worship, study, and countless hours of volunteering. However, I am queer, and I learned quickly that various aspects of who I fundamentally am were to be suppressed. Through my teenage years and into my 20’s I lived with a worsening depression that led me to severe suicidality. Finally, in my mid 20’s, I accepted the help of a psychiatrist and started taking medications for my mental health. Accepting that help not only saved my life but also changed it forever. With the help of medication, my depression and anxiety began to lift. With this newfound clarity of mind, I found myself unable to ignore the doubts around my belief system that had been growing beneath the surface for years. It was a process that spanned multiple years, but ultimately, I would leave the Jehovah’s Witness faith and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. Though this was one of the most painful experiences I have endured, it resulted in the freedom to be myself and to think critically in a way that high-control groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suppress. Upon finding the freedom to ask the many questions that I had learned to ignore for so long, I quickly threw myself into research. I first researched the side of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and organization that is hidden from those within the group. I then began researching other high-control groups to better understand the psychology of these groups. Through this search, I have come to realize that I want to continue this process academically so that I can help others who have been through a similar experience. As a queer person, growing up in this environment led me to the point that I was ready to die. In that weakened mental state, the option of leaving this group was not even a thought in my mind. I had been led to believe that such a course would lead to the worst possible outcome. Yet it was leaving that environment along with the help of medication that saved my life. I know that many queer folks are suffering in a similar environment. I hope to use my education to help those who are caught in these high-control environments, especially members of the LGBTQ community who are often the most affected. I believe I can offer a different perspective to the academic research that is being done in this field. I also hope to be involved with non-profit groups that are helping members of the LGBTQ community who are being oppressed due to their sexuality. I know that I will find varied and evolving ways to use my experience and the knowledge I gain to help others who have gone through a similar experience.
    Sander Jennings Spread the Love Scholarship
    Anyone who meets me today may have a hard time believing it when I tell them that I once had reached the point of wanting to die, and had attempted suicide multiple times. In hindsight, I am able to see many of the factors that contributed to that dire state. In those moments, that spanned over many years, though, I blamed no one but myself. The internal rhetoric went something like this: "I'm no good. I'm not spiritual enough. I don't trust in God enough. I am doomed to become my mother" (who has always struggled with mental illness). Today I have a different perspective. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, a group that insists on exercising control over nearly every aspect of its followers' lives including who they love. I never fit into the feminine "norm" that was expected of me as a Jehovah's Witness woman. I learned that homosexuality was a sin and quickly learned to associate shame with sexuality. When I remember the struggles of going through my teenage years, the emotions that have left the greatest mark in my memory are shame and guilt. This environment led me to deny, to myself and others, the truth of my sexuality. By the time I reached my early twenties I was thinking about suicide, a lot. I was certain though, that if I trusted more in God, committed myself more fully to doing his work, that my depression would let up. This logic also led me to the conclusion that my worsening depression must therefore be due to a shortcoming on my part. This and other fears led me to refuse the help of medication until I was 25. By then, I was in and out of hospitals frequently. I finally followed the recommendation of a psychiatrist who wanted to help me and began taking medication. Doing so changed my life. It gave me just enough relief from the constant barrage of dark thoughts to assess my internal and external environment. It gave me room to consider honestly, how I felt about the community and belief system I had always known and it gave me room to get to know myself. Over the course of a couple of years, I would come to the realization that I could no longer follow this belief system, and would ultimately be shunned for leaving it. Through that process and into today, I have gotten to know and love myself. Along with this, I have learned to trust my thoughts and feelings in a way I could have once never imagined. I have gained confidence in my ability to accomplish what I set my mind to. This ongoing journey has inspired me to pursue further education to study the psychology of such high control groups and hopefully, help some who have been affected by them. Coming from that place of darkness to a place where I love and accept myself spurs me on in this pursuit.
    Elevate Mental Health Awareness Scholarship
    When I was around 12 years old, just as I entered puberty, I was hit by a depression that would continue to worsen for over a decade. Looking back now, I see many factors in my life that contributed to the worsening of this depression. I was being raised by my parents, both of whom were unwell mentally, in a high-control group, the Jehovah's Witnesses. On top of this, I am queer and the Jehovah's Witnesses are not accepting of homosexuality. These, along with other factors, greatly contributed to my worsening depression and the crumbling of my self-esteem. By the time I was 25, I was struggling to get to work regularly and had been hospitalized many times due to my depression and multiple suicide attempts. It was at this time that I finally allowed myself to seriously consider trying medication for the first time. Doing so changed my life. Finding a medication regimen that worked for me gave me a clarity of mind that I hadn't known in years. It was this newfound clarity that allowed me to assess my life and the belief system that had been governing it up to that point. I realized that various doubts had been building for years and I could no longer ignore them. Ultimately, I would leave this belief system and would be shunned by my friends and family for doing so. This may not sound like a happy ending and in many ways, it wasn't. However, it was not only an ending, it was the beginning of my life. Up until then, my life hadn't been my own. It was governed by this belief system, the only one I'd ever known, and the depression that had been in the driver's seat for over a decade. For the first time, I had the freedom to get to know myself and open myself up to those around me without the reservation and judgment that I had been taught to approach outsiders with. With this freedom, I began to build a positive relationship with myself for the first time as well as positive, unconditional relationships with others. I realized that friendship can be built on a foundation other than shared belief. It is an ongoing process, but I have learned to trust myself and others in a way that wasn't possible in the high-control environment in which I was raised. A leading cult researcher, Steven Hassan, has come up with a model to identify such high-control groups. It is called the BITE model. This acronym stands for behavior control, information control, thought control, and emotional control. These groups exercise control over nearly every aspect of their follower's lives. In hindsight, I can see how this environment negatively impacted my mental health. If it weren't for the help I received from mental health professionals, I don't know that I ever would have found the clarity of mind to assess my belief system and, ultimately, to leave it. It is my experience of growing up in this environment and coming to understand its impacts on mental health, that motivates me to pursue a degree in psychology and eventually go on to pursue a doctorate studying the psychology of high-control groups. I believe that it is only by shedding light on the tactics and emotional manipulation used by such groups that we can help people avoid being governed by them. Those years of dealing with such crippling depression were the hardest years of my life, but they have left me with a drive that I can not ignore. Now, I will use that drive to pursue my studies in psychology so that I can limit the effects that these high-control groups can have.