Faculty Spotlight: Elizabeth Olson
The first time that she learned about the real challenges faced by “young carers,” Global Studies joint faculty member Elizabeth (Betsy) Olson was working in Glasgow, Scotland, on a research project about youth spirituality based out of the University of Edinburgh. Through a participatory filmmaking project, Betsy partnered with a group of young people who had caregiving responsibilities at home for family members or relatives with chronic or acute illness, disability, or other medical condition. Though being a young carer can be rewarding, it can also be physically and mentally exhausting, with many children providing more than two hours of care every weekday and more than five hours every weekend day. In the UK and other countries, young carers are recognized by governments and charity organizations as vulnerable youth, and receive essential social supports. But in the US, ‘youth caregivers’ are unrecognized by the government or the wider society, with some very modest exceptions.
Since moving to the US in 2012 as an associate professor in Geography and Global Studies, Betsy has established a national collaboration linking researchers and advocates for youth caregivers, and is part of an effort to create an international network for research. “People often ask me why this is Geography,” Betsy comments, “and I always explain that we have a long history in my discipline of trying to understand how things like social, political and economic inequality are produced at a range of scales, from the body to the globe. As a geographer who works with young people, both as an educator and a researcher, I am constantly thinking about how alternative perspectives help us understand ‘the global’ in new ways.”