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Michael Clark

College: CUNY Baccalaureate Degree
Awards: Fulbright U.S. Student Program, 2017

LGBTI Research on Refugees in Kenyan Camps

In 2014, Uganda passed a virulent anti-homosexuality law that, as a local advocacy group says, harnesses "the full force of the State … to hunt down, expose, demean and suppress Uganda's LGBTI people." Thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have since fled Uganda for the continent's overburdened refugee camps.

Michael Clark, who has a CUNY Baccalaureate in health and human rights from Hunter College, will use his 2017 Fulbright fellowship to document their impact on the more hospitable country of Kenya. "I seek to immerse myself in the refugee communities to better understand the role that sexual orientation and gender identity have on forced migration and what the implications are for the public health of Kenya," says Clark.

He had applied for his Fulbright last fall from Uganda, where he was conducting similar research into the plight of gay Congolese refugees. It was found "that discrimination in Uganda was just as bad, if not worse." That research was supported by a federal Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the nonprofit Fund for Education Abroad.

Clark, now 43, the first person in his impoverished family to attend college, approaches his research with a depth of experience. A Native American from California, he was forced out of an ROTC college scholarship some 20 years ago because he was gay. He became a combat medic in the U.S. Army Reserves, a safe-sex educator, a personal trainer focusing on clients with chronic diseases and an advocate for the rights of HIV-positive people.

"I realized you can only get so far without a degree, and it was always dragging on me," he says. "I saw one of those [CUNY] posters on the subway - one of the Fulbright ones - and thought that's really cool. I want to do that." He started at Borough of Manhattan Community College and later transferred to the CUNY Baccalaureate program with Hunter College as his home base.

His research in Uganda led to a 70-page paper and a great deal of data, which he is analyzing with School of Public Health associate professor Christian Grov. After his Fulbright, Clark intends to pursue a doctorate in public health.

In his Fulbright application, he underlines his personal connection with his research. In a Ugandan camp, "an Acholi elder singled me out and asked: ‘You are obviously older than the other students; what motivates you to be here?' … My answer came without hesitation. ‘My grandfather experienced catastrophic conflict not dissimilar to you [the U.S. government uprooted him and a burial ground from Achomawi tribal land to build a highway]. Two generations later, the effects of that event still impact my life. My motivation for being here is to understand the generational trauma of conflict so that, hopefully, your grandchildren are not affected, as I am, by displacement.'"