The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Now More Than Ever, Title IX Coordinators Need Greater Institutional Support

Dhanya NageswaranSage Carson was raped by a graduate student in her sophomore year of college. In an article for VICE in 2018, she recounts the grave trauma she endured as a result. Unable to transfer schools and experiencing a steady decline in her GPA, Carson was on the verge of dropping out. Who played the biggest role in helping her graduate? Her Title IX coordinator, who connected her with free counseling, helped her get extensions on her school work and issued a no-contact order between her and her rapist.

The rights of students laid out by the Title IX Education Amendments Act of 1972 remain a contentious topic in American higher education, as one in four women and one in 16 men experience sexual assault during their college career. In 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos first announced her intention to overhaul the guidance on Title IX policies issued by President Barack Obama, which she described as "skewed against the accused." After reviewing the whopping 124,000 comments on the proposed Title IX guidelines posted in late 2018, the Department of Education released its new guidelines and policies on May 6, 2020.

The content of the regulations themselves is controversial, but no matter how the rules have changed, the individuals responsible for ensuring compliance with Title IX — Title IX coordinators — still strive to do their challenging jobs. Title IX coordinators are responsible for implementing rules that prohibit gender-based discrimination and harassment, and they coordinate the investigation of all Title IX matters, including sexual assaults. Depending on the college or university, they may conduct the investigation themselves or rely on others within their institution or outside it.

Following a wave of student-led activism in the early 2010s and Title IX guidelines newly issued by the Office of Civil Rights in 2011 and 2014, many campuses reviewed and modified their procedures for responding to complaints of sexual assault of college students. But to this day, Title IX coordinators work to end sexual assault on campus while grappling with the sometimes conflicting goals of institutional efficiency and legal compliance. It is argued by some that unnecessary bureaucratic procedures may interfere with the ability of Title IX coordinators to achieve justice that is both fair and prompt. Moreover, some Title IX coordinators are hampered by efforts to protect their college or university from negative publicity.

Recent reports indicate that two-thirds of Title IX coordinators have held their positions for less than three years — many for less than one year. The research I have worked on with Senior Research Scientist Linda Williams, Ph.D., at the Wellesley Centers for Women supports this assessment of the high turnover of Title IX coordinators and, more importantly, that many of them are not getting the support they need. Programs designed to prevent sexual assault have been significantly underfunded across the country, and we found in the course of our research that Title IX coordinators view support from institutional leadership as critical to their success. Such support includes resources, the visibility of the office, and an approach that legitimizes the importance of Title IX activities (reporting, investigation, and adjudication, as well as prevention) as part of an institutional commitment to respond to campus sexual assault.

For many, serving as a Title IX coordinator provides a great deal of satisfaction. They see the work of educating students about sexual assault as meaningful and essential. But implementation of Title IX requirements is a heavy burden, particularly if Title IX coordinators are not sufficiently supported by their institutions. Without that support, ending sexual assault on college campuses — in the midst of a pandemic, and with new regulations to follow — is an extremely difficult goal to achieve.

As institutions work to implement these new guidelines, equipping their Title IX coordinators with more resources is in the best interest of the safety of all campus communities. Now is the time when strong support by institutional leaders is critical to guarantee that no one is excluded from education because of sexual harassment or sexual assault, and that the ultimate goal of ending sexual assault on campus is achieved.

Dhanya Nageswaran is a member of the Wellesley College class of 2021 who is double majoring in Economics and Political Science. At the Wellesley Centers for Women, she was awarded the Linda Coyne Lloyd Student Research Internship for the 2019-2020 academic year, which supported her work with Dr. Linda Williams on the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault on college campuses.

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A Research Internship that Expands Horizons

Neha LundI never knew that I would have the opportunity to do social science research as an undergraduate until I got to Wellesley College. Towards the end of my first year, with my academic interests starting to gravitate toward Sociology and South Asia Studies, I knew I wanted to connect the concepts I was learning in the classroom to action-oriented research that produced tangible results for communities that I cared about. Through the helpful guidance of my peers, professors, and mentors, I discovered that I could get that opportunity by working at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

WCW’s social justice-oriented mission and reputation for providing meaningful collaboration opportunities for Wellesley students drew me to attend a networking event with students and WCW research scientists. This is where I first met my soon-to-be research mentor, Dr. Linda Charmaraman — little did I know that our conversation would be the beginning of a year full of support, learning, growth, and mentorship. Through the Sophomore Early Research Program (SERP), which provides funded research opportunities to underrepresented students in scientific and social science research, I have been a full-time research assistant to Linda in her Youth, Media & Wellbeing Lab this school year.

As a first-generation student, the idea of entering the world of academic research with no experience was definitely nerve-wracking. However, having such a passionate, dedicated, and encouraging mentor as Linda (who is also a first-generation woman of color in academia) has made all the difference. Linda has not only taught me mixed-methods research skills such as data analysis, transcription, coding, and conducting literature reviews. She has also shown me that there is space in the academy for scholars who look like me and who value the same social justice principles that I do. My SERP experience has opened up the door of academic research as a possible future career path, something I am so grateful for at this point in my academic career.

The main project I have been working on with Linda this year is co-authoring a journal article that explores the blurred boundaries between middle school students’ social media use in the context of school and home. Especially in the era of COVID-19, when learning is increasingly dependent on social technologies, we believe it is crucial to facilitate collaborative, complementary partnerships between educators and parents to best support students’ social media use. One of my favorite parts of the research process has been utilizing concepts and frameworks I have been learning in the classroom, such as in my sociology class on schools and society, in order to add to our article from my unique perspective.

Having the opportunity to contribute to this project as an undergraduate student has allowed me to develop a sense of pride in my work, connecting my liberal arts education with my passion for meaningful practical applications. Our lab at WCW values working together with schools, community organizations, and families, which shows how academic research has the potential to be accessible and change-provoking when created with the intent of contributing to social wellbeing. My experience as a research assistant this year has complemented my Wellesley education through providing me with avenues to exercise my intellectual agency and collaborate with other students and faculty in our lab. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to conduct mixed-methods research so early in my Wellesley career, and it has truly shaped my trajectory going forward. More than ever, I understand how many different ways my education has the potential to contribute to positive change, and I am excited to continue my work in the lab going forward.

Neha Lund is a member of the Wellesley College class of 2022 who is majoring in Sociology and minoring in South Asia Studies. Through the Sophomore Early Research Program, she is also a full-time research intern at the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Reflections from an Undergrad at APA Convention

Dr. Jennifer Grossman and Wellesley College student Anmol Nagar at 2019 APA convention.My name is Anmol Nagar and I’m a junior at Wellesley College, originally from the California Bay Area. Over the past year I’ve done research at the Wellesley Centers for Women with Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., through The Class of 1967 Internship Program. Our research was a qualitative analysis of how teens talk with their extended family members about sex and relationships. As a psychology minor and an older sister to a young teen, this topic is incredibly relevant and personal to me and our research has been highly rewarding.

In early August, I had the opportunity to go to the American Psychological Association convention in Chicago, IL, because Dr. Grossman’s and my research was chosen to be presented in a symposium called Enhancing At-Risk Teens' Resilience -- Extended Family's Role in Promoting Teens' Sexual Health. Dr. Grossman, Dr. Judith B. Cornelius of UNC Charlotte, and Dr. Emma Sterrett-Hong of the University of Louisville shared their research at the symposium.

2019 American Psychological Association panel speakersAt the end of the presentation, Dr. Gary W. Harper, another prominent researcher in the field at the University of Michigan, gave a summary statement. Then, a Question and Answer section allowed the audience to give their thoughts and ask questions. One question about the applicability and implementation of the work was particularly interesting and sparked questions about policy making and action programs -- potentially a space for future collaboration!

After the symposium, the presenters discussed potential connections and room for future collaboration. Besides our symposium section, Dr. Grossman and I attended a couple of other presentations about aging and dementia and explored the different booths. I had the opportunity to talk to interesting people about everything ranging from graduate school options to healthcare technology working to improve mental health diagnoses.

Apart from the conference, I was able to explore Chicago on my own for a couple of hours! I walked along the waterfront, saw the very famous Bean, and sat in Grant Park for a while. It was my first time in the city, and I can definitively say that Chicago pizza is the best.

Overall, my experience was an exciting chance for me to see the research that I’ve worked so hard on make it to the “big stage” and talk to people who were interested in similar things. I also learned so much about the plethora of post grad options to continue in this field and similar ones. I’m so grateful to the Lloyd family and the Class of 1967 for funding my internship at the Wellesley Centers for Women and for making it possible for me to attend this conference!

Anmol Nagar ’21 was the Linda Coyne Lloyd Intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women during the 2018-19 academic year. She studies economics and psychology at Wellesley College and will be studying at the London School of Economics for her junior year.

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Reflections on a time in Cabo Verde

Cabo Verde Flag

This article was originally posted by Natália Marques on her Medium blog on June 4, 2018.

I landed in Cape Verde on June 17th. I’ve been here for a while already, but as someone who has just spent the last four months away from home, I know that the adjustment period to living in a foreign country lasts essentially the entire time you are there.

I’m here as part of an internship with the Center for Research on Women and Families (CIGEF). My internship involves participation in a much larger project of labor inclusion for the young women of the community of Bela Vista, Praia. As an intern, I will be conducting workshops on the topic of women’s empowerment, and gender-based violence, as a way to contribute to the end goal of including the women of Bela Vista in the formal labor force. Luckily, I will not be working alone, I will be partnering with Mira, a student studying English at the University of Cape Verde (UNI-CV). Together, we will be researching gender-based violence and leading these workshops.

Last week, I visited Bela Vista. It does not look radically different from other parts of Praia, apart from a larger prevalence of spontaneous settlement housing. Those who cannot afford regular housing will stake their claim to a plot of land by building a tiny, one-room structure, and then slowly adding on to it as they are able. This type of housing often lacks basics such as running water and bathrooms.

Many members of the community, notably the women, are employed in the informal sector. This means that the women that I pass by every day on my way to CIGEF, selling fruit, candy, or cigarettes on the sidewalk, might be from the community of Bela Vista, and might be the women who I end up working with closely.

Based on what I have learned so far, Bela Vista has been characterized as an underserved community. But there is always so much more to a place than it being “underserved”, and I am eager to learn more about Bela Vista’s people and their celebrations, past-times, diversity, food, apart from only their struggles. I was very glad to visit Bela Vista’s community center last week, where I will be holding the workshops.

That being said, I also do want to focus on the struggles of the people of Bela Vista in a more productive way, as in, are there community leaders that are currently fighting for better conditions for the community? Who are they, and what exactly are they concentrating on?

Especially as I am doing research and leading workshops on the issue of gender-based violence, which from what I hear is a prominent issue in Cape Verde. How to the women of Bela Vista understand gender-based violence as an issue in their lives? How do they understand gender, as it applies to them? Do they see obvious, unchanging biological differences between men and women? Do they see a need for women to be liberated?

I am extremely curious to know how these women conceptualize the world around them, as it relates to issues of gender. And I have started reading critical pedagogy, and an important principle that stood out has been that there are no new ideas that I can introduce as an educator. I am not here to teach these women anything new about their lives, I am not here to tell them that they are oppressed, that they must memorize and regurgitate the latest gender theories that I learned in college. I am here to “lend theoretical coherence to available evidence” (as Theodore Mills Norton states). If a theory is valid, the evidence of it is out there in the world. If the women of Bela Vista are deeply affected by gender-based violence, and this violence is mass violence that has the potential to poison an entire community from within, and the only way this violence can be combated is through a radical feminist understanding of the world, then these women and I can work cooperatively to stitch together the evidence that proves this to be the case. If this cannot be done, then the theories and the teaching methodology have failed in their principal objective: to remain rooted in reality. These theories are on trial here, not the “correctness” of theoretical knowledge of Cape Verdean women.

Therefore I want to be the type of educator that challenges both herself and her students to sift through evidence and reach conclusions together. I don’t want to teach anyone anything really, because I don’t think I know much at this point in my life, and because I am very aware of the implications of a white western woman educating proletarian African women. I am very aware of the choices I must make as someone who has been tasked as an educator within a group of people who will share radically different experiences from myself. Intersectionality theorists such as Crenshaw argue that sexism is not universally experienced by all women. Women who grew up in Bela Vista might have very different ideas of gender, and the role it plays in their community. I must learn from them as much as they must learn from me.

These next few days, I need to challenge myself to continue reading about radical pedagogy, gender & feminist theory, theories around abuse and gender-based violence, as well as how this phenomenon exists in Cape Verde specifically. I need to inform myself so that these workshops are as useful to the women of Bela Vista as possible. I hope that I can commit to writing these posts weekly, so that next week I can return by sharing more research that I have done around the topic of gender-based violence in Cape Verde. I am also challenging myself to write each post in both English and Portuguese, so that I can strengthen my language skills.

P.S. This internship experience is made possible through a collaboration between the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and CIGEF, and by funding from the Anchor Point Fellows Program at Wellesley College.

Natália Marques is Political Science major at Wellesley College (Class of 2019) and the second intern participating in the WCW-CIGEF internship program.

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How the Power of Representation Transformed My Wellesley Experience

Budnampet RamanudomBy the end of my first year at Wellesley College, I knew that I wanted to explore the world of research. I had taken the first of many gender studies courses to come, and left class with a head full of questions that I not only wanted answers to, but wanted to take a stake at answering. A stroke of luck brought me to an event for students to meet with research scientists at the Wellesley Center for Women. A stroke of better luck brought me to Dr. Linda Charmaraman.

She was the only researcher I gravitated towards, the only researcher I left my resume with. Conducted research on media and identity? Check. Person of color? Check. Personable and inviting? Check, check, and check. One application, two interviews, and a letter of recommendation later, I was offered a position as a research assistant for the next school year. Little did I know that by accepting the offer, I would also be gaining an invaluable undergraduate experience shaped by inspiration, warmth, and empathy.

There is something really special about being able to work with someone who looks like you. This is something you often hear as a Wellesley College student, though its meaning is often one dimensional ( Women in politics! Women CEOs! Women in STEM!). I really came to understand the power of representation in two ways: when it became personal and when it became central to the research I was helping bring to life.

The power of representation became personal when I began to cultivate a mentor-mentee relationship with Linda. Our weekly/bi-weekly research check-ins were not only crucial for the advancement of the qualitative research we were conducting and my own research skills, but also for developing my own sense of worth and potential. Little by little, I was able to learn about Linda’s life and experiences, research and otherwise. I found out she was Thai (like me)! I found out that she also struggled in her undergraduate years (who knew that researchers were not perfect?). She spoke about her queerness in ways that normalized my own burgeoning questions about sexuality and gender. She validated my questions, hopes, and fears no matter how naive, incomplete, or overwhelming. I was learning so much from someone who shared my most salient identities - - from a successful academic whose work brimmed with passion. If she could do it, maybe I could too.

Themes surrounding representation were also crucial to the research that Linda was allowing me to take part in, providing an important link between the personal and the professional. In our new round of research, Linda entrusted me with the task of selecting the participants for our qualitative interview. I took a chance and spoke to Linda about my interest in highlighting South and Southeast Asian participants, knowing fully that this demographic/ group of people who looked like me seemed to be underrepresented in bodies of research. I will always remember the feeling of being able to capture the lived experiences of people who looked like me - - to be able to document their narratives in a way that emphasized the diversity of the Asian American community. In one interview session, a fellow Southeast Asian American student ended the interview with an emotional thank you. She told me that it meant so much for her to not only be able to contribute to a body of work that sought to capture her experiences, but to know that the academics themselves were also Southeast Asian. She told me that she had never seen herself in research papers. She told me that she was excited. Representation really matters. Representation has a real impact on real people.

Now at the tail-end of my Wellesley College experience, I now understand how lucky I was to be able to engage with such meaningful work so early in my academic life. I hope to be able to continue to contribute to the world of academia in a way that is similarly passionate and emotionally driven. I want to live my life knowing that I am actively working to raise the voices of those that are being systematically ignored. I hope to do all of this with the same kindness, patience, and grace that Linda has given me.

Budnampet ‘Pet’ Ramanudom ’18 was the Linda Coyne Lloyd Intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women during the 2015-16 academic year. She studies Computer Science and Women and Gender Studies at Wellesley College.

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Guest — Erika kates
What lovely testimony, personally and professionally, Linda. You do wcw proud.
Wednesday, 24 January 2018 16:13
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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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