During the 2019-2020 academic year, Wellesley College student Dhanya Nageswaran ’21 was awarded the Linda Coyne Lloyd Student Research Internship through the Class of 1967 Internship Program at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She worked alongside WCW Senior Research Scientist Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., as her mentor, studying the ways colleges and universities respond to sexual assault on campus. In this video, Megan Cassidy, director of marketing and communications at WCW, interviews the pair about their experience. The transcript of their conversation below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Megan Cassidy: Hi, I'm Megan Cassidy, director of marketing and communications at the Wellesley Centers for Women. And I'm here with Linda and Dhanya who are going to talk about their internship experience at the Centers this year. Dhanya, can you please introduce yourself?
Dhanya Nageswaran: My name is Dhanya Nageswaran. I'm a junior. I'm originally from Singapore, and for my Wellesley Centers for Women internship, I've been working with Linda Williams and Mary Frederick.
MC: Great, thank you. And Linda, can you introduce yourself as well?
Linda Williams: Hi, I'm Linda Williams. I'm a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women and I direct the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative.
MC: So when we do these internships with Wellesley College students, sometimes the students will work on an existing grant-funded project at the Centers, sometimes they work on their own project. Linda, was Dhanya working on a specific grant-funded project with you? Can you tell us a little more about that?
LW: Yes. Dhanya came to work with us when we were just completing our National Institute of Justice funded project on sexual assault on college campuses. And we had just been interviewing Title IX coordinators. So Dhanya jumped right into the work we were finishing up, helping us to analyze the interview information and understand more about the challenges that Title IX Coordinators face. She also did a literature review and brought us up to speed on a lot of things.
MC: Dhanya, can you add a little bit more about what you worked on?
DN: For the first half of the internship, I was supporting Dr. Williams' research for the National Institute of Justice report on the adjudication and investigation of sexual assault on college campuses. So, helping with literature reviews, like finding articles. And for the second half of the internship, I was able to start working on a paper on my own about Title IX coordinators specifically, and how they can benefit from more resources and greater support. So the focus shifted towards their roles, their responsibilities, and what can be done to aid them.
MC: So you're working on this project and then just this week or just last week, the new rules for Title IX implementation were rolled out by the Department of Education. So what has it been like to work on this topic for so long and then have this major change come into that space?
LW: We knew these rules were being changed. It was about halfway through the project that the new administration, and Betsy DeVos, decided that their rules needed to be changed and that perhaps the current operation wasn't sensitive to the accused. And so people have been waiting for them. This had kind of a dramatic impact on the project and also the Title IX coordinators' considerations of how they are going to accommodate these new rules. We did learn that the Title IX coordinators were always very sensitive to balancing the rights of the complainant and the respondent. But we'll see where it goes from here.
DN: Well Dr. Williams has obviously been working on this a lot longer than I have, but I think it's really interesting that you mentioned that because what got me interested in sexual assault and this whole project was that I wrote a paper on the proposed changes that DeVos came out with in 2018, for my American studies class. And then for the past year and a half now, we've been waiting to see what's going to happen because that was the proposal and they obviously garnered a lot of comments and garnered a lot of attention. And we were curious to know what was going to come of that, whether she was going to stick with it or make significant changes. So, it's a really exciting time to be working with Dr. Williams even though the academic year is coming to an end because I almost feel as though my interest in the project started with the proposed rules coming out and now they're ending with the rules actually being released, which is really interesting.
MC: Was that one of the reasons that you wanted to work with Linda specifically, because of that paper that you had done and your existing interest in the topic?
DN: Yes. I think that paper was what piqued my interest. In Singapore when I was in high school, I was volunteering with the Singapore Committee for UN Women on an ad hoc basis, and throughout high school. So I had exposure to gender equality issues, but that paper was what really made me want to work with Dr. Williams at the Wellesley Centers for Women to dig deeper into the issue.
MC: It sounds like you guys were matched up really well to be able to work together on that topic. So I imagine now that you're basically on opposite sides of the world, it's been difficult to keep this internship going. Can you tell me a little bit about what you've done to move the internship into a virtual space?
LW: The first thing is, we're 12 hours apart in time zone. So, the virtual reality part has been okay. We have techniques and tools for that, but it's 9:30 AM on the East coast and 9:30 PM in Singapore. That has been a challenge to find the times to be face to face. But here we are.
DN: I would echo what Dr. Williams just said. I think that it's hard for me to do the more spontaneous things that I was doing while I was at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Even though we had our regular weekly meetings, sometimes I would come in on a Friday afternoon to do some extra research for my project, and to look through the archives of the interviews that Dr. Williams had conducted when she was doing her research. So I can't do that. That spontaneity is not there because of the time difference. I think that's been a little challenging, but it's also been great to still keep up with our weekly meetings, even though things happen out of nowhere. Like one day, one cell phone provider section of Singapore had people completely out of wifi and we didn't have power for an entire day, and it happened to be the day of our meeting. But you know, here we are. So we just find ways around it.
MC: Linda, one of the benefits we hear about the internship program is that it's great to involve undergraduates in the research. Can you tell me how your research and your work at the Centers benefits from working with students like Dhanya?
LW: Students not only bring a fresh view and a fresh set of eyes to the work, but they've had exposure to different things than we have. And so we learn from the global context as well as the courses and different academic strengths that the student brings. I didn't study the same things that Dhanya is currently studying. So it really does bring a refreshing, new, and an important aspect to our work.
MC: Dhanya, one of the things that people are always interested to know is, now that you've completed this internship, did it help you get any clarity about what you might want to do after Wellesley? What kind of career path or educational goals you might have for yourself?
DN: Yeah, absolutely. I'm an economics and political science double major. And one of my major areas of interest has been public policy. I think my experience at the Wellesley Centers for Women has only solidified that interest. I think it's been a huge privilege and a huge honor to be able to dig so deep into one specific issue and to learn from Dr. Williams who's been doing research on this topic for so long. And I think it's also wonderful that even though people say, oh, in small liberal arts colleges, there aren't as many research opportunities. I mean I really don't see that as the case. I think I've had some fantastic research opportunities, the Wellesley Centers for Women being one of them. And that's something that I know has definitely informed my interest in public policy and development.
MC: Well that's great to hear because that's always what we hope to offer through these internships. I'm really glad to hear that. Dhanya, is there anything that you would say to Wellesley students who are thinking about applying for this internship program?
DN: I would say wholeheartedly go for it. I think it's rare for undergraduates to get paired with a mentor who is willing to give you individual attention and is willing to spend time with you to teach you their expertise. And to give you guidance throughout your own research. I think that's really valuable. I think the relationship that I've built with Dr. Williams will last for our lifetimes. I hope to keep in touch with her long after I graduate from Wellesley and long after I finish at the Wellesley Centers for Women. And I think it's amazing exposure. In the classroom, we learn things by the textbook, and you learn in a more academic sense, but here is a real-world opportunity sitting right in front of you. So just take it.
MC: Thank you. Do either of you have anything else we didn't touch on that you want to add?
LW: One of the challenges with the internships that is always difficult, bittersweet at this point in time is, yes, as Dhanya said, we will continue the relationship, but it would be great to have a way to extend the collaboration. And I felt that way with many of the interns that we've worked with. Certainly with Dhanya. We need to do more work and hopefully, we will.
DN: I would echo that. I would love to find a way to continue working with Dr. Williams and to in some way, shape, or form continue to work on sexual assault specifically and the challenges with investigating and adjudicating sexual assault on college campuses because I think that's an issue that's going to remain important to me for the rest of my life. So I think if there are ways for us to extend that collaboration, that would be great.
May 29, 2020