Amelia León, a master’s student of epidemiology at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, is the winner of a 2021 Out to Innovate $8,000 graduate scholarship, made possible by an Innovation Generation grant from the Motorola Solutions Foundation. The scholarship is awarded to talented LGBTQ students in STEM fields.
León, who goes by pronouns they/them/their, researches experiences of intimate partner violence in transgender and cisgender women at the Southern HIV & Alcohol Research Consortium (SHARC) Lab. They are also the lead organizer for Reflect Collective, an organization that raises awareness of sexual assault within the LGBTQ community and supports survivors.
“This scholarship means multiple things to me because I am a trans queer student, and also because I’m a survivor working for survivors through my nonprofit,” León said. “It honestly shows me that they care about LGBTQ students and that they want to help us and support our work.”
In 2019, León graduated from FIU with a bachelor’s in biological sciences and was also recognized as a World’s Ahead Graduate for their achievements at the university. However, many may not have known that in their last semester before graduation, León experienced intimate partner violence that left them feeling violated and alone.
“I almost lost my life, but I’m here. I survived,” León said. “The worst thing wasn’t the actual violence, it was the aftermath. I had a horrible experience at the rape center. I was misgendered and not taken seriously—it was dehumanizing.”
Despite the struggles they endured, León walked out of the hospital with a sense of purpose and yearning to do what they could do to support sexual assault survivors.
“I enrolled in my master’s degree in epidemiology to study the epidemiology of sexual assault, the underlying causes and how to prevent it and treat it if it does happen,” León said. “I don’t think that current treatment methods used today are appropriate or humane, in my opinion.”
León will graduate in 2022 and has their eyes set on medical school.
“My ultimate goal is to become a physician-scientist and open up a research clinic for LGBTQ sexual assault survivors so that we can treat them, conduct research, and have LGBTQ trauma-informed care,” León said.
“We are so proud of Amelia for channeling their own experience to help other survivors that may have gone through similar devastating experiences,” said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, chair of the epidemiology department at Stempel College. “They have a bright future ahead of them and I have no doubt in my mind that they will continue to make a tremendous impact in the lives of many.”
Stempel College’s School of Public Health is ranked 44th among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more about a degree in Epidemiology.