During the 2019-2020 academic year, Wellesley College student Jessica Abowitz ’22 was awarded the Shirley R. Sherr Student Internship through the Class of 1967 Internship Program at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She worked alongside WCW Senior Research Scientist Nan Stein, Ed.D., as her mentor, studying student activist movements against sexual harassment in K-12 schools. 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 with the Wellesley Centers for Women and I'm here interviewing Jess Abowitz and Nan Stein about the internship that Jess did with Nan this year. Jess, could you please introduce yourself?
Jess Abowitz: Hi, I'm Jess Abowitz. I'm a sophomore, class of 2022. I'm majoring in international relations, political science, and I'm working with Dr. Nan Stein.
MC: Thank you. And Nan, could you introduce yourself as well, please?
Nan Stein: Hi, I'm Nan Stein. I'm a senior research scientist, since 1992 when I joined the Center, so that's getting to be 28 years ago. I work on issues of sexual harassment and gender violence in schools and do both practical application of research-based interventions as well as a lot of work on curriculum development for schools on sexual harassment and gender violence.
MC: Thank you. And can you tell us a little bit about the project that Jess worked on with you this year?
NS: My larger goal that I came to this year, and it's going to go on for a while, is looking at how the making of the social movement of sexual harassment in K-12 schools got created. So what were all the forces and the people's activities that went into that? Everything from feminist lawyers to families and middle school kids who instigated lawsuits in federal court about the sexual harassment that their child was enduring. So I'm looking at a whole sweep of this creation of the social movement about sexual harassment in schools and what Jess was going to look at or has been looking at is the role that students actually played in the creation of this social movement. So Jess will be able to talk more about that.
MC: Thank you. Jess, please tell us a little bit about the work that you did on the project.
JA: I'm currently finishing a research paper on student activism against peer-to-peer sexual violence in high schools. We've been collecting articles from local and national news sources on high schools in rural and urban settings across the country. We're studying the success of these student movements, organization methods, and why students are turning to public protest to address sexual violence. I'm particularly interested to find that there were a number of highly organized protests with specific demands such as training for teachers on how to deal with complaints, conversations with administrators and the establishment of the student body to monitor progress and represent student concerns, and curriculum changes including workshops, mandatory classes, and incorporating sexual violence awareness into lessons on consent.
MC: Can you tell us a little bit about how you became interested in doing an internship with the Wellesley Centers for Women and why you wanted to work with Nan as your mentor?
JA: I saw the email about an upcoming information session pop up in my inbox in my first year, and I had just taken a writing course taught by Nancy Marshall. And then when I went to the information session, I heard Nan introduce her research and she mentioned that she had just read the book on Parkland. And I had just written a paper for my writing course on adolescent hegemonic masculinity and school shootings. So Nan's research seemed particularly compelling to me, and although my own research had been more adjacent rather than closely related to Nan's research, I was really excited about the opportunity to be mentored and the opportunity to learn about a new subject.
MC: Thanks. So I'm sure the internship is ending in a totally different way than it started because you started out on campus, probably meeting in person quite often. And you've now had to switch to remote learning, remote meeting. Can you tell me a little bit about how you've managed that change?
JA: I really miss the community at WCW. My internship is a lot more independent work now, and I definitely miss bouncing around ideas in Nan's office. But my current project has allowed me to explore different areas for analysis, and I find that our weekly meetings are very productive and fulfilling.
NS: Since we're at the writing stage, it has really focused our meetings. And so particularly since I finally got my computer, my home laptop, which is ancient, to work, I can do track changes and send Jess back my comments in a draft document as opposed to scribbling it. But we have spent a lot of time working on the outline and the sections and we're really working on making this a publishable article.
So, it's going to get embedded into my larger project, looking at the making of the social movement. Now we have a component of it, and Jess's article — and she will get credit in the article should it be published or when I submit it — putting that into another framework to talk about the way students have contributed to making a social movement. Jess, say the name of the paper because it's a wonderful name.
JA: Making a Fuss in Public: Taking the Fight Against Sexual Violence to the Streets.
MC: Well I think that's one of the really cool things about this internship program is that students get the chance as undergraduates to contribute to journal articles, potential journal article, which is pretty exciting. Was that something that you were particularly excited to work on?
JA: When I read the overview of all the different internships when I was considering applying, one of the things that really stuck out to me about Nan's overview of the internship was the idea of possibly attending a conference or contributing to co-written work. That was extremely exciting for me.
NS: Several of my students have attended academic, scholarly conferences with me. And one of them, Gena Hong, in 2012, I think it was, at Law and Society. Both students have gone to Law and Society. Gena was the youngest person on the program, and they gave her a standing ovation. It was a small breakout room, but they gave her a standing ovation at the end of her presentation. My hope is always to take students to conferences, because that's a more public sphere, than simply writing an article. But that's where we ended up this year, trying to write because all the conferences are canceled.
MC: And, Nan, can you tell me a little bit about how the work you do at the Wellesley Centers for Women benefits from working with students like Jess?
NS: Well, I actually made a list because I have, you know, I've been very lucky and have had interns most years, ever since it started. I'm going to go from sort of the more trivial to the loftier. First of all, my students have taught me how to make PowerPoints. They've urged me into new technologies, particularly around what computers can provide. And they've taught me more things about how to use the web.
But I'll say that what's really been fundamental in the last couple of years, and Jess has really pushed it as well, is to help me look beyond the standard academic journals and citations, to look at social media. And particularly when you're dealing with protest movements, and let alone by adolescents. Social media is prime. I mean, these kids are not writing academic articles about their activities. Jess has found a lot of things from that realm to contribute. And I've had other students who've done that, too.
That has really been eye-opening for me. I cannot just reside in the world of published articles or even the press. We've spent a lot of time looking, Jess and I, and in the past, at articles by legitimate journalists in standard media outlets. But in doing this, Jess has really gone beyond and looked a lot in social media. So my students have contributed a lot.
MC: As you are finishing the internship, do you think it's had any influence over what might want to do after Wellesley as a future career path or academic goals?
JA: So when I applied to the program as a first-year, I already knew that I wanted to pursue international relations for my major, but I'm naturally curious about a lot of different areas in the social sciences. So while I may be doing research of a different kind, I find that learning about gender studies issues provides a new lens and new perspectives to study the impact of social institutions and international relations. I was able to pursue my passion for research. And I'm really considering working for think tanks and sort of going into the research side of international relations careers.
MC: Is there anything you would say to Wellesley students who are considering applying for our internship program?
JA: I would say that the internship has definitely been one of my most rewarding experiences so far in coming to Wellesley. And the atmosphere at the WCW is so empowering, warm, and the research is incredibly important to approaching the current social climate. My internship has developed my enthusiasm for research and analysis and helped improve my writing skills in the social sciences. And I would say to those students who, even if you weren't initially inclined towards an experience like this, you'll take the skills and perspectives you learned and apply them to your own studies. And the relationships you form are so meaningful.
MC: Thank you so much. It's really been great to hear from both of you about the internship, what you're studying, how the experience evolved.
May 28, 2020