WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

Internship Reflection: Fathers Belong in Conversations with Their Teens about Sex and Relationships

Audrey DiMarco

At the beginning of my summer research internship, I’ll admit that I didn’t fully understand the impact of fathers talking to their teens about dating and sex. Why would fathers have a significant impact on teens’ sexual health if someone else, like their mother, already has the situation under control? However, after taking a deeper dive into Senior Research Scientist Jennifer M. Grossman, Ph.D.,’s interview data from fathers, mothers, and teens, I reevaluated my stance.

Through identifying key themes from the families in our sample, Dr. Grossman’s study—part of WCW’s Family, Sexuality, and Communication Research Initiative—aims to explore how fathers fit into conversations with their teens about dating and sex, and why it’s hard for some fathers to participate. The study’s findings will be used to develop an intervention program to help give fathers information, strategies, and peer support to surmount obstacles to talking with their teens and promote better sexual health for future generations.

Reflecting on my initial doubts, I can see why I didn’t have much faith in fathers’ ability to communicate with their teens—especially when it comes to taboo topics such as dating and sex. Women are often assumed to be more emotional, caring, and nurturing while fathers are assumed to have difficulty expressing their vulnerable side. Because of these pervasive stereotypes, it’s easy to see how mothers would be the ones to take the primary role and facilitate open conversations with their teens as they explore their sexuality.

Researchers may also lean into this assumption since the majority of prior studies on adolescent communication about dating and sex emphasize mothers’ roles. Even some mothers from our sample indicated that they should be the ones to take charge of these discussions—though they also resoundingly asserted that fathers’ roles are crucial. In the bigger picture, all of the familial support that teens can get in terms of dating and sex is shown to benefit their long-term health, but being mindful to include and value the male perspective could also prove beneficial to adolescents’ wellbeing and overall preparedness for healthy relationships.

That’s why I became especially interested in how fathers from our sample practice—or struggle to practice—open communication with their adolescents, as well as how teens from the same families picture an open dialogue.

In the bigger picture, all of the familial support that teens can get in terms of dating and sex is shown to benefit their long-term health, but being mindful to include and value the male perspective could also prove beneficial to adolescents’ wellbeing and overall preparedness for healthy relationships.

Fathers from our sample overwhelmingly said they believed that support and connection are important parts of their roles, and open communication is one way to foster these values. Specifically, dads saw it as their duty to give their sons tried-and-true advice that would help them avoid making the same mistakes they did. Additionally, some emphasized the benefits of giving daughters a window into the teenage boy’s perspective to help them better understand their potential dating partners.

Since the stereotypical teenager avoids talking to their parents at all costs, it might be surprising that teens also want open conversations with their dads. Over half of teens from our sample viewed support and connection, including open communication, as part of a father’s role. They wanted their dad to share his advice and experience, providing emotional support while respecting their comfort level and boundaries. A notable focus of the teen perspective is that they didn’t want to be judged or punished for sharing something of which their parents disapprove, such as being sexually active earlier than their family values dictate. As a whole, the data showed that both fathers and teens see some form of open dialogue as part of a father’s role in conversations about dating and sex.

Then why is it hard for many fathers to participate and share their advice? Fathers face many barriers such as embarrassment, discomfort, lack of support, and taboos. One obstacle that stands out to me is that some fathers lack an example from their own parents of how to approach these sensitive topics. The majority of fathers from our sample didn’t talk much or at all with their parents about dating and sex; instead, they learned through siblings, extended family, friends, or even through the media. In many ways, fathers are swimming upstream, trying to be more involved than their parents’ generation while lacking the tools and support they need.

Despite the challenges inhibiting fathers’ involvement in these discussions, many dads in our sample fought these barriers in order to support their teen’s best interests. In doing so, they stood up to the stereotypes, giving their children a healthy example by recognizing their own value and the power of their voice as a father. I’m hopeful that access to resources, such as the intervention program we plan to develop, will give fathers the tools they need to practice open communication and share what they learned from their teenage years. If the fathers of today set a healthy example for their teens, the fathers of tomorrow will be better equipped to talk with and support their children—making an impact that continues for generations to come.


Audrey DiMarco is a psychology major at Wellesley College graduating in 2024. She had the opportunity to work with Senior Research Scientist Jennifer M. Grossman, Ph.D., this past summer through the Class of 1967 Internship Program.

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Child Care Tradeoffs, from Compromises to Sacrifices

Mother holding sleeping child

This post was co-authored by WCW Senior Research Scientist Wendy Wagner Robeson, Ed.D., and Sarah Savage, a senior policy analyst and advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Their issue brief, Child care tradeoffs among Massachusetts mothers, was published by the Boston Fed in July 2022.


Just before the pandemic, we interviewed 67 mothers of young children about their experiences accessing child care. Though they were a diverse group, their problems were similar: They could not find child care. When they could find it, most struggled to afford it. As a result, they were all forced to make tradeoffs in selecting the best care arrangements for their families.

These interviews formed the basis of our recent brief, Child care tradeoffs among Massachusetts mothers. Through lengthy, one-on-one conversations, we tried to dig deeper to better understand the tradeoffs parents make to juggle employment with child care.

More than half of the participants in our study had an oldest child under age 3. Fifteen mothers were single or divorced, and the rest were married or partnered. Sixteen mothers were women of color. About half the group had household incomes that exceeded the state’s median in 2019 of $81,215. (Fathers were welcome to participate, but only mothers responded to our recruitment materials.) What we found was that every family had to make tradeoffs among some aspects of quality, affordability, or availability to use child care, but that the tradeoffs varied in level of severity.

Tradeoffs occurred along a spectrum. We characterized some as compromises: For example, some mothers tried to adjust their work schedules to better match the hours of their child care providers, even though it could negatively impact their careers. Others accepted providers with home environments they were uncomfortable with or who allowed too much screen time, trading off quality for affordability or availability.

Every family had to make tradeoffs among some aspects of quality, affordability, or availability to use child care

We categorized more severe tradeoffs as sacrifices. In these instances, conflicts with families’ needs or preferences led to care or work disruptions. For example, some parents reported switching child care providers due to safety or maltreatment concerns, despite their limited options. Some mothers reduced their work hours to balance their jobs and child care needs, even though that decreased their income. Married mothers with incomes above the state median were more likely to leave the workforce altogether if they found child care unaffordable—an option not available to single parents or lower-income families.

The fact that every family was forced to either compromise or sacrifice is a reminder that working parents who access child care are often struggling. Having both child care and a job doesn’t mean they’re living a ‘success story.’ And when we think about equitable solutions, we can't just think about it from the affordability perspective—availability and quality are other critical dimensions that must be considered.

Read more in our brief, Child care tradeoffs among Massachusetts mothers.


Wendy Wagner Robeson, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist and director of the Work, Families, & Children Research Group at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work at the Centers is focused on child development (birth to age 8), child care policy, early childhood care and education, and school readiness.

Sarah Savage, Ph.D., is a senior policy analyst and advisor at the Boston Fed. As part of the Bank’s work to increase employment opportunities, she is conducting research on barriers to positive labor force engagement of low- and moderate-income parents in the region, with an intensive examination of the role of childcare needs.

The views expressed are our own and not those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Federal Reserve System, or its Board of Governors.

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The Unique Struggles and Triumphs of Latinx Adolescents Using Digital Technology

Bri Vigil and Jennifer Miranda, Wellesley College students

This post was written by Jennifer Miranda and Bri Vigil, recent graduates of Wellesley College who took a Calderwood Seminar on public writing taught by WCW Senior Research Scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D.

When it comes to social media and digital technology, it’s important to understand how the experiences of different groups of people can vary widely. We know from both existing research and our personal experiences that the role these technologies play in the lives of Latinx people is particularly unique and worthy of further study. For example, research from the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab demonstrates that Latinx adolescents start using social media younger than their white counterparts, which can expose this subgroup of teens to behavioral difficulties in relation to things like sleep disruption and increase their risk for negative mental health symptoms. Many Latinx kids face a lack of guidance on tech use, making it difficult for them to have a healthy and rewarding relationship with technology.

But studies on interactions between technology and adolescents often neglect the varying social capital of adolescents from different backgrounds and experiences. We both grew up in Latinx households, and carry many memories of figuring out how to quickly work with technology in order to help our non-English speaking parents. Just like us, there are a multitude of Latinx adolescents in the U.S. who have one or two immigrant parents who require aid in navigating the digital world.

Dr. Carmen Gonzalez, a researcher and professor at the University of Washington who focuses on digital equity and health communication, describes the struggle that Latinx adolescents experience because of the dependency their parents have on them. They are often forced to learn how to complete tasks that others their age won’t have to deal with for many more years to come, sometimes ever: reading, interpreting, and translating government documents; sending emails to their parents’ bosses; communicating with other family members over social media; paying bills; and generally knowing how to advocate for themselves, their parents, and other loved ones within societal systems. These adolescents serve as a sort of “broker” between their parents and U.S. society in the digital world. Gonzalez describes how this interaction with technology negatively impacts adolescents and often creates frustration and resentment toward their parents, because they are not able to interact with others online in the manner that they would want to.

We both grew up in Latinx households, and carry many memories of figuring out how to quickly work with technology in order to help our non-English speaking parents.

Despite that, as adults and looking back on our experiences with this, we wouldn’t change it for the world. Before turning 15 years old, we both knew how to read tax documents and communicate through email in a manner that not all of our peers were able to. However, again and again, research in this field omits mention of the social capital that experiences like ours led us to gain. Ultimately, there are nuances that come along with the experiences of minority children—specifically Latinx children with one or two immigrant parents—that many studies fail to consider.

There is a great need for further studies on the experiences of minority, first-generation American adolescents navigating technology and social media. The social capital present in this community should be acknowledged and appreciated rather than continuing to ignore the ways in which technology positively shapes one of the largest groups of adolescents in our country. We hope that others of similar backgrounds see their experiences reflected in us, and that there is more research on and acknowledgment of our very real and pertinent struggles and triumphs in the realm of digital technology.


Jennifer Miranda is a member of the Wellesley College Class of 2022 who majored in computer science and education. Bri Vigil is also a member of the Class of 2022 and majored in data science and Latinx studies.

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Helping Middle School Girls Create Their Own Digital Spaces

Sidrah Durrani, Connie Gu, and Teresa Xiao

Digital communication systems, such as social media platforms, are created for the masses but aren’t often designed for a large scope of their user base: adolescent girls from marginalized communities. The Youth, Media & Wellbeing (YMW) Research Lab, in collaboration with the Computer Science Department at Wellesley College, holds an annual summer workshop for adolescent girls to explore STEM learning spaces and become designers and creators of their own digital communication systems. (This year’s workshop ran July 11-15.)

As research interns from different educational backgrounds, we all contributed our unique expertise to last year’s summer digital wellbeing workshop. We were mentored by Dr. Linda Charmaraman, director of the YMW Research Lab, and Dr. Catherine Delcourt, assistant professor of computer science at Wellesley, to explore research on human-computer interaction (HCI), specifically on participatory design and positive social media use with middle school girls. At the end of an exciting and fast-paced summer, we published and presented our work—titled “Innovating Novel Online Social Spaces with Diverse Middle School Girls: Ideation and Collaboration in a Synchronous Virtual Design Workshop”—at CHI 2022, an international HCI conference.

The aim of this participatory design workshop was to engage middle school girls in social media innovation, digital wellbeing, positive social media use, STEM identity exploration, collaboration, and computational design. Conducted virtually over four days, students were divided into small groups of three or four, grouped by age, with an assigned facilitator.

The idea generation and collaboration sessions were very fun to be involved with, especially as we watched students envision unique positive spaces online. Their ideas included an application that uses a robot to monitor and filter out negative messages, a music-based application to spread kindness, and a simulation game to develop interests and explore career paths for teenagers. Students also showed a great interest in climate change activism, spreading positivity, finding friends and peers from their neighborhood, and building a large community of like-minded individuals. They often took initiative during this time to develop prototypes and sketches.

Overall, we noted how important it was to maintain a positive and uplifting environment for the students in the workshop, which through our experience, allowed everyone to feel more comfortable with one another and share personal anecdotes with the group. We observed individual trajectories of growth through the four-day workshop and were keen on exploring our findings regarding intentional collaboration and facilitation with underrepresented middle school girls.

As research interns, we gained a lot of insight and experience being involved in the workshop, from curriculum development to report writing to the conference presentation.

It was also an interesting experience for us, as researchers and facilitators, as we became the workshop participants’ peers and mentors during the process. Stepping out of the research mindset we had while preparing the curriculum for the workshop, we were doing virtual field work by interacting with the adolescents to understand their conception and opinions of social media and STEM. This process allowed us to get to know the participants personally and join their efforts to co-design a novel and positive social online space.

To discuss our experience with the workshop and the process of publishing our paper about it, we presented at the Tanner Conference at Wellesley College and the hybrid CHI 2022 conference, during which we presented our research to HCI experts.

We were so honored to be part of such a great team and are excited to see the impactful results of this workshop in the coming summers. As research interns, we gained a lot of insight and experience being involved in the workshop, from curriculum development to report writing to the conference presentation. We all continue to engage in the research and provide input on the upcoming summer workshop through the YMW Youth Advisory Board, which allows us to test-drive activities with past workshop participants and facilitators aged 12-23. This summer, Dr. Delcourt is working with Connie to develop a facilitator training based on last year’s experience and previous research. Being involved with this workshop has helped us explore personal interests, given us the opportunity for new experiences, and taught us the tools of the trade about the research process.

If it weren't for the cold email Sidrah sent to Dr. Charmaraman expressing interest in her lab or the internship applications Connie and Teresa submitted to be involved in the lab, we would have not had this opportunity. Lastly, we could not have had such a vibrant educational experience without Dr. Delcourt and Dr. Charmaraman’s continued support and mentorship, and we’re especially grateful to them for introducing us to HCI research from the perspective of social computing and developmental psychology. As aspiring researchers, we hope to continue working toward creating more inclusive spaces in technology for girls while also supporting their positive development and digital wellbeing.


Sidrah Durrani is a master’s student in developmental psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Connie Gu is a member of the Wellesley College Class of 2024 majoring in media arts and sciences.

Teresa Xiao is a Class of 2022 graduate of Wellesley College who majored in psychology.

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Title IX and Roe v. Wade Never Guaranteed Gender Equality

Female track athlete

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but before the leaked Supreme Court opinion, I had not connected the proximity of the Roe v. Wade decision and the passage of Title IX.

Yes, of course, I knew that Title IX was June 23, 1972. And that Roe v. Wade was 1973 (Jan. 22). But I had always held them as separate historic events that unfolded as I hit middle school.

Now, the “50-year anniversary” reminder attached to each has brought this temporal proximity (seven months) into view. Today these watershed events look less like sturdy partners on the road to gender equality and more like moments that foreshadowed a fraught present.

Roe v. Wade and Title IX bore the stamp of the times. Which was not to address inequality, but—like female athletes forced to re-use men’s sweaty athletic tape and wear their old uniforms and equipment, as Bernice Resnick Sandler reported—to jerry-rig something that let women shove a foot in the door.

And shove a foot in the door they did. Thanks to Roe v. Wade, women’s labor participation rose from 43.3 percent in 1970 to 57.4 percent in 2019 while men’s declined from 79.7 percent to 69.2 percent, according to federal data. However, the pandemic revealed the precariousness of such advances as striking numbers of women left the workforce amid reports of an extreme toll on wellbeing.

Like Roe v. Wade (rooted in the right to privacy and not actual gender equality) Title IX sought to address a problem—educational access—without disrupting what had been built for men.

Recently, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the end of Roe v. Wade would “set women back decades.” Already, we have heard suggestions that women who get abortions be charged with murder (for now, removed from a Louisiana bill; charges against a Texas woman were recently dropped). What’s more, we had to hear an Ohio state legislator proclaim that forcing a rape victim to bear a child would offer her an “opportunity.”

Nowhere have I heard about men’s responsibility in the abortion debate. Or new obligations or restrictions on their bodies.

Which brings me to Title IX. Like Roe v. Wade (rooted in the right to privacy and not actual gender equality) Title IX sought to address a problem—educational access—without disrupting what had been built for men.

Although Title IX was passed in 1972, regulations were not issued until 1975. Then, President Gerald Ford (a college football player) wrote to House and Senate leaders to welcome hearings as NCAA leaders voiced fears that the law “would signal the end of intercollegiate programs as we have known them for decades.” To be clear: Debate around Title IX was most concerned with preserving the sanctity of men’s sports.

Today, we face the consequences of a system built on the sex segregation of sport, that never demanded equality for female athletes, but rather gave rise to a complex set of rules around access and progress. Still, women have made strides. Most notably, U.S. Soccer recently agreed to provide men and women equal pay and World Cup prize money.

Yet, at the same time some female athletes get their just rewards, we face the question of how to include transgender athletes. It is a challenge to the sex-segregated structure of sport that has been waiting to unfold.

In some ways, this is nothing new. The International Olympic Committee and individual sport federations have grappled with it for years, puzzling over the necessity (or not) of surgery, hormone replacement regimens, and measuring testosterone levels so athletes may compete in the gender category that aligns with their identity.

Gender, biological sex, and the definition of a "physical advantage" are more complex than they appear on the surface. Which attributes are a boon varies depending on the sport. It’s no surprise that those physically endowed in some manner may have an edge.

Yet, given the public dominance of traditional male sports, it’s easy to forget that sports can be endlessly flexible. They are socially constructed. We may, at any time, at any level, organize, score, or arrange things differently. (Until 2004, badminton was played to 15 points, 11 for women’s singles. Now, all go to 21.) If we can create handicap systems and weight classes, each sport can find a fair way for all to compete. We could have co-gendered competitions, trans-specific or trans-integrated sports.

Title IX, like Roe v. Wade, looked like a tremendous win. And it was. But, before we further fuel a culture war in women’s sports, let’s recognize that we are bearing the backlash of legal strides, however wonderful, that never fully guaranteed women’s equality with men. Half a century on, it’s time to demand more.


Throughout the month of June, we’ll be exploring some of the new frontiers of Title IX here on Women Change Worlds.

Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women. An experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports, she has been published in The New York Times, The Hechinger Report, USA Today, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She is working on a book about parent activism in public schools.

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As Title IX Turns 50, Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Student holding backpack

You may know Title IX as the law that opened the floodgates of girls’ and women’s sports in the U.S. That’s true and incredibly important, but it’s so much more than that. Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any school or education program that receives funding from the federal government. It has impacted areas from sexual harassment and gender-based violence to the rights of transgender students. And in fact, the law continues to be interpreted in new ways that offer protection to more people. Researchers and activists are pushing Title IX to new frontiers, and it’s exciting to be part of those efforts as we celebrate the law’s 50th anniversary this month.

Research scientists and project directors here at the Wellesley Centers for Women have long been involved on the front lines of Title IX. In 2005, Senior Research Scientist Nan Stein, Ed.D., co-developed Shifting Boundaries, a teen dating violence prevention program for K-12 schools that has been identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as one of only two programs that are both evidence-based and effective. Shifting Boundaries helps schools reduce sexual harassment and gender-based violence, thus meeting the demands of Title IX by making an equal education possible for all students.

Title IX also ensures the right to an equal education at the college level. In 2020, Senior Research Scientist Linda Williams, Ph.D., completed a report funded by the National Institute of Justice on how colleges respond to sexual assault on their campuses. Her research is critical to understanding how different rules and procedures affect college students and their ability to get an education free of sexual harassment and gender-based violence. With new guidelines for colleges on how to respond to sexual assault on campus expected from the federal government any day now, this work is more relevant than ever.

It’s a hopeful sign of progress that Title IX protections are being extended to new groups of people who had previously been left behind by it.

And now, our researchers are taking Title IX to new realms, including the protection of college students who are parents. Research Scientist Autumn Green, Ph.D., is working to ensure that pregnant and parenting students can access the same education as their peers. Resources like family housing and on-campus childcare help to level the playing field, but there is much more work to be done to advance equity on campus for student parents. Dr. Green is currently studying the most effective strategies for implementing data tracking and reporting systems that identify parenting students enrolled in college, as well as follow their educational outcomes like grades, retention, and graduation. More data is the first step toward ensuring student parents get what they need to succeed.

It’s a hopeful sign of progress that Title IX protections are being extended to new groups of people who had previously been left behind by it. We’re energized by where we might go from here, what lives might be improved by access to an equal education. Far from being a stagnant law of our past, Title IX continues to be dynamic and critical to our future. As we celebrate its 50th anniversary, let’s look back with pride on how far we’ve come—and look ahead with hope for a better future.


Throughout the month of June, we’ll be exploring some of the new frontiers of Title IX here on Women Change Worlds.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Fathers Want Guidance on How to Talk to Their Teens About Sex and Relationships

Father talks to his teenage son while sitting in a car

“Some of those conversations, I just can’t jump in like that,” one of the fathers in our study told us. We were interviewing fathers about their experience talking with their teenagers about sex and relationships. Many expressed what this father did: Talking about these topics can be hard, and it would be helpful to have some guidance on how to go about it.

Research has shown that when fathers talk with their teenage children about sex, it can protect teens from risky sexual behavior. But few fathers actually talk with their teens about sex, and those who do report not talking very often. Most research on this topic focuses on mothers, and few interventions (i.e., educational programs) to promote parent-teen talk about sex are tailored for fathers. To develop interventions that effectively support fathers, we need a better understanding of fathers’ goals and challenges for talk with their teens about sexual issues and what they want an intervention program to look like.

My research team and I interviewed 43 fathers of high school-aged teens (age 14-18) to find out about their experiences. We asked them about talking with their teens about dating, sex, and relationships; their attitudes toward a potential intervention to support father-teen talk about dating, sex, and relationships; and for feedback about the structure and content of a potential intervention.

The most striking aspect of our research findings was that fathers were enthusiastic about the idea of an intervention that could guide them in these conversations. This is surprising given low rates of father participation in parent-based sex education programs. Fathers connected their interest in an intervention to the challenges they face in talking with their teens about sex and relationships, such as discomfort with talking about sex and not knowing how to start a conversation. Many said that it’s especially hard to talk with their daughters about sex and relationships, but they also shared a belief that their perspectives and experiences as men could offer useful insight, no matter their teen’s gender.

NFL players come into a training camp, you have rookies, you have mid-level guys, and then you have the old grizzly veterans, and they all share information with each other and learn from one another . . . I think that it’s important for men to be able to learn from other men and to share their experiences so that they can improve each other.

When it comes to an intervention, fathers wanted something more peer-based or interactive than most existing programs. They wanted the opportunity to share experiences and learn from other fathers, especially in the context of programs led by people with backgrounds similar to theirs.

“NFL players come into a training camp, you have rookies, you have mid-level guys, and then you have the old grizzly veterans, and they all share information with each other and learn from one another,” said one of the fathers we talked to. “I think that it’s important for men to be able to learn from other men and to share their experiences so that they can improve each other.”

The fathers we spoke with talked about the importance of discussing topics essential to protecting their teens from harmful experiences such as unhealthy relationships, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections. They recognized the importance of talking about consent, which is significant: prior research doesn’t show much focus on consent when parents talk to their teens, and most school-based sex ed programs don’t address it.

Knowing what to talk about is obviously important, but the fathers we spoke with were just as interested in learning how to talk about it, as well as when and how often. One father told us he wanted “more tricks, more tools, more things to help to get the conversation going… things to ease awkwardness.”

Given the potential of conversations between fathers and teens to protect teens’ sexual health, and the lack of existing programs designed to support fathers in these conversations, it’s clear that a useful and engaging intervention is needed. With this study, we’re moving closer to understanding what fathers want and need in an intervention program tailored to them.


Read more about this study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Jennifer M. Grossman, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist who leads the Family, Sexuality, and Communication Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Why Didn’t You Just Leave? and Other Unanswerable Questions for My Mother

Content warning: This blog post talks about human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of a child.

Kate PriceKate Price (right) and her mother (left) in 1985.

I despise the question “Why didn’t they just leave?” As an anti-human trafficking advocate, I know that question, when asked of victims of human trafficking or gender-based violence, often reveals more about the inquisitor’s lack of understanding than a victim’s reasoning. In my experience, anyone who can ask that question has the privilege of never having been entangled within the dynamics of interpersonal violence. I am grateful for research that explains the complicated factors faced by people making the stay-leave decision: fear of being killed; economic dependence; self-blame; charming perpetrators promising it will never happen again; shame; lack of affordable, stable housing; and on and on and on.

But this time I am the person asking the question. I recently learned my late mother knew my father was commercially sexually exploiting me as a child. When I was 5, my mother caught my father selling me for sex via CB radio in our backyard garage. My mother and I did leave, but returned after a week. My sense is my mother thought he had stopped, but he just got more secretive. Instead of holding parties in our garage, he began taking me to a nearby rest area along the major highway that ran past our house to meet his trucker clientele. The trafficking continued for seven more years, until my father left when I was 12 to marry his mistress.

My blood runs cold as I write that last sentence. Turning my blood to ice is my body’s way of confirming excruciating details of the violence I endured. I am still wrapping my head around the fact my mother knew and we stayed. We stayed. I only learned these details about a month ago while investigating my history in my hometown. My mother swore a family friend to secrecy just before she died.

I rationalize my mother’s actions as terror that I would be put into foster care if anyone had discovered the truth. While that fear may have been part of her calculus, I wish I could ask my mother how and why she made the decisions she did: Did my father threaten to kill us if we left again or if you told anyone? He was a sadist: he found great pleasure in harming and humiliating us. My survival always felt tied to his presence, mood, and blood alcohol level. I learned from an early age how to please him to stay alive. My first sentence was “Where’s Daddy?” Her resolve to keep me breathing feels like the one answer I could square. But I can’t ask her since she died from cancer 29 years ago.

Why didn’t you tell me you knew even when your cancer became terminal? This is another question I wish I could ask. My sense is my mother hoped I would leave our small Appalachian hometown and never look back after I graduated from college six months after she died. Her dying wish was for me to go to graduate school in Boston. She did not want my life to look like hers. She even waited to tell me her final bone marrow transplant did not work until after I had left for my senior year. Had she told me sooner, she would have had to risk me staying.

I believe banishment was her answer because as a girl, she dreamed of escaping her violent family by going to business school in Hawaii. But her abusive father told her she could learn everything at her textile factory job that she could learn in college. So, my mother fled her family home by marrying immediately after high school. My father turned out to be even more dangerous.

What my mother could not have understood, though, was that no “better place” exists. Sure, the 300 miles between my hometown and Boston, as well as New England’s cultural norms supporting women’s educational and financial independence, allowed me to build the life she always dreamed for me. But the education she demanded I earn taught me interpersonal violence and systemic barriers to safety are ubiquitous.

While I will never know my mother’s answers to these questions, I do know her keeping me alive gave me a future, if not a childhood. For that reason, I am determined to use my skills as a research scientist to disrupt the cycles of child abuse, gender-based violence, and exploitation that know no borders. I now do human trafficking trainings and advocacy work in my hometown because the systems that enabled my trafficking as a child still exist. As a mother myself now, I am grateful I can be the woman I needed as a girl.

Kate Price, Ph.D., is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, where she is completing a writing project on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Appalachia.

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This Mother's Day, Let's Celebrate College Students Who Are Mothers—By Counting Them

Student mother with her childNearly 5 million college students in the U.S. are raising children, and almost three-quarters of undergraduate students with dependent children are mothers. These mothers face significant barriers to completing their degrees, and part of what makes it challenging to advocate for them is that colleges rarely count how large their population is on campus or track their educational outcomes. Though some data exists at the federal level, it’s difficult to use it to draw specific insights about demographics at the campus, district, system, or state level.

When student mothers aren’t counted on campus, they don’t get the resources they need, and they feel invisible to boot.

Without data on student mothers, it’s more difficult for college administrators to establish, fund, and sustain supportive strategies and programs—things like child care, family housing, or parenting student resource centers, which are critical to helping student mothers graduate. I have met with parenting students from across the country who have been told by their colleges that they cannot justify expanded programs and support without the data. 

In the past few years, advocates have made significant in-roads on gathering this data. In May 2021, Oregon and Illinois both passed legislation requiring that public institutions of higher education (IHEs), including community colleges and public universities, begin collecting data on parenting status. As both director of WCW’s Higher Education Access for Parenting Students Research Initiative, and an Oregonian student parent alumna, I helped organize the campaign for the Oregon legislation, and testified in support of the bill as an expert witness. My father and both my children also submitted written testimony, together representing three generations of Oregonian parenting students.

Groups of higher education leaders from several states are currently exploring how parenting status demographics could be incorporated within their institutional research data systems, and what’s needed to make these strategies viable. 

To start, we know that questions pertaining to parenting students need to be incorporated into existing data systems, so they are easily accessible to parenting students. While voluntary surveys can be helpful tools for following up, it can be hard for student mothers to find time to respond to them. It’s a lot easier to respond to a few extra questions on a form they were already completing, or a pop-up window that opens when they log in to register for their classes. Higher response rates lead to more accurate data. 

Data systems aren’t just about collection, though; data also need to be used effectively. In Oregon and Illinois, public IHEs are required to share parenting status data with their state’s higher education authority every year. If concerns are observed, the state higher education authority could issue recommendations or requirements to colleges or universities, ask the legislature to issue further directives, or request funding allocations. 

Data is powerful when it comes to parenting students. Programs like student child care have heavily relied on parenting student enrollment data to make the case for grants and internal budget allocations. For example, the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS), which subsidizes child care for low-income parents in college, requires IHEs to provide data on parenting student enrollment and estimated need for child care to qualify for funding. And most IHEs that offer parenting student services and child care subsidies supported by student fees have reported that collecting data helped make their case for funding to the committees that determine how student fee dollars are allocated. 

Most IHEs that have obtained access to this data have partnered with their financial aid offices to pull aggregate enrollment numbers from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) system. The FAFSA form, which all students are required to complete to qualify for federal student aid, includes questions about dependent children. But it offers an incomplete picture: According to one recent report, 1.7 million high school graduates didn’t even file the FAFSA in the 2020-21 school year. Imagine how much more support might be possible with better data.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to useful data—ideally, we should follow student parents throughout their college careers to understand what helps them be successful and what places obstacles in their path. Parenting students’ GPAs reflect academic achievement that is on par with their non-parenting peers, but very few graduate on time, and most stop in and out of college multiple times before earning their degrees. It’s important not just to count how many parenting students there are, but also to track their retention and graduation rates and other outcomes to ensure educational equity. Student mothers are disproportionately represented among diverse populations, and the data systems being developed in Oregon and Illinois will be capable of disaggregating and identifying groups that might need specialized support to stay in college and graduate. 

When student mothers succeed in college, it has a ripple effect. It instills in their children the value of education and puts their families and communities on a path to economic security. My mom, who passed away a few years ago but was a student parent herself, would remind me to mention that educating mothers is also critical to democracy and shaping an informed electorate. Ample research, including a recent study by my colleague and research partner Dr. Theresa Anderson, has found that children who witness their mothers attend college have better academic outcomes overall. But even though kids do better in school, they also have more behavioral and health challenges, in part because their mothers are stressed and time stretched, and need to be better supported. 

Counting student mothers (and all parenting students) and their children in higher education data helps college and university administrators acknowledge and see them, and in the long run can be a catalyst for programs and services to better support them. Let’s help them be seen, and succeed, by showing them they matter. 

 

Autumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women studying higher education access for parenting students. Her Data-to-Action Campaign for Parenting Student Success aims to identify the most effective strategies for implementing data tracking and reporting systems that identify parenting students enrolled in college, as well as follow their educational outcomes like grades, retention, and graduation.

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Internship Reflection: Fighting Gender-Based Violence Looks Different Every Day

Simone Toney, Wellesley College Class of 2023

Starting in the fall of 2021, I began working as a research intern for Senior Research Scientist Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., on her Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Heading into the year, I was unsure of what to expect. I knew that in general, we would be furthering the conversation on sexual assault against women in the U.S., but I was eager to discover what that looked like behind the scenes. The answer: it looks different every day.

Our work during the first semester of the year focused on revising an encyclopedia of mental health chapter on rape. When I first laid eyes on the chapter, which is about 40 pages long, I thought, “Wow, how much could one possibly have to say about this topic?” As I combed through and was tasked with working on adding sections on intersectionality and the #MeToo movement, I realized just how much there was to say about it, especially given the ambiguity surrounding its definition. I was contributing to the knowledge of the social aspect of rape by defining key elements of the public discourse surrounding it. When I returned to the document a few days later, I saw my name added to the author list and immediately smiled. I was proud of the work I was doing with Dr. Williams and now had a better idea of what was expected of me and what I could handle.

Another highlight of my time as an intern was the blog post and video I made for the International Day of the Girl Child in 2021, in which I spoke about Simone Biles and how she demonstrated the importance of putting your mental and physical health before all else, and simultaneously exposed everyone who believed deep down that women, and female athletes specifically, should use their bodies for the benefit of a greater good, regardless of the personal cost it may have. This assignment was much more freeform than the encyclopedia chapter in that Dr. Williams and I brainstormed ideas, picked what angle interested us the most, and then it was my job to head up the writing process. The independence of the assignment was a little scary. Was I saying the right thing? Was I properly sticking to the parameters I was given? Thankfully, Dr. Williams and the media team at the Wellesley Centers for Women provided helpful feedback and guidance, allowing me to finish the post and video in a much less anxiety-inducing process than I had anticipated.

As Dr. Williams and I continue our year together, we are looking to move into a new project where we highlight how the intersectionality of gender and race play a role in the social and legal landscape of sexual assault cases. I hope to continue stepping out of my comfort zone this semester through the acquisition of new knowledge, new assignments to tackle, and conversations with Dr. Williams.


Simone Toney is a student at Wellesley College graduating in 2023. She was awarded the Class of 1967 Internship to work with Dr. Linda M. Williams on several large research projects of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative.

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Ukraine and the Importance of International Collaboration When it Comes to Research and Action

Ukraine Flag

Almost 18 years ago, the Wellesley Centers for Women hosted the 2004 International Research & Action Conference: Innovations in Understanding Violence against Women. The three-day event included talks by internationally renowned researchers, practitioners, and advocates on issues of violence against women. The program was designed to maximize networking and the formation of collaborations across and within countries.

Lyubov Maksymovych, 2004Lyubov Maksymovych at the 2004 International Research & Action Conference: Innovations in Understanding Violence against Women hosted by WCW.The conference brought together more than 130 delegates from over 30 countries, including a woman from Ukraine named Lyubov Maksymovych who had co-founded a nonprofit organization called Women’s Perspectives in Lviv. Lyubov presented on the important work her organization was doing to fight human trafficking in Ukraine. Before she left Wellesley, she gave us a book about her beloved home country.

As Ukraine came under attack from Russia this past week, and we saw the heartbreaking images and videos of war, we worried about our colleague, Lyubov. We sent her an email to check in, which she responded to promptly, much to our relief. Perhaps we should not have been surprised that her email was not focused on her personal safety, but rather on the continued work of Women’s Perspectives, which is providing humanitarian support to refugee women and children, conducting a rapid assessment of women's gender needs in the military, and supporting local initiatives. They are also a signatory to the Kyiv Declaration, an appeal to the international community by more than 100 Ukrainian civil society organizations.

At WCW, our mission is to shape a better world for women and girls, families and communities, in all their diversity around the world. One of the key ways we carry out that mission is through international collaborations to end violence against women and girls and through our support of the work of researchers and activists like Lyubov. When we make those connections, we are able to share information and ideas, in this case on innovative concepts and research methodologies from around the world that help prevent and ameliorate violence against women. Just as importantly, these international connections give us the opportunity to learn from others across borders and languages and cultures, and find that we often have more in common than not.

Our hearts are with those in Ukraine and in other conflict zones around the world. Our focus remains on working toward the vision we all share: a world of justice, peace, and wellbeing.

To donate to Women’s Perspectives, visit their website and click on Support > Donate.


Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women and was one of the organizers of the 2004 conference. Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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On(line) Identity: Social Media is Essential for LGBTQ Youth

Teen uses smartphone while sitting on couch

This piece was written by Carolyn Bacaj and Mikhaela Andersonn, students at Wellesley College who recently took a Calderwood Seminar on public writing taught by WCW Senior Research Scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. As young adult members of the LGBTQ+ community, Carolyn and Mikhaela are passionate about identifying support networks for sexual minority groups and creating safe spaces for younger members of the community.

When Mikhaela was younger, she and her friends found themselves spending tons of time online. Through their usage of social media—typically websites that their peers weren’t on, like Tumblr—they discovered parts of their identity after being exposed to communities that gave them room to explore. Mikhaela ended up coming out as queer in the 7th grade, and she believes that without the assistance of social media as an outlet for expression and exploration, the process of discovering her identity would have been harder.

Mikhaela’s personal experiences with social media mirror the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in a recent study of over 1000 students ages 10-16 by Dr. Charmaraman and her colleagues in the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab. The study found that LGBTQ+ youth use social media differently than their peers for reasons unique to their sexual minority identities. While privacy and bullying are concerns, social media is an integral part of their lives.

How do LGBTQ+ youth use social media differently?

There are key differences in how LGBTQ+ youth use social media versus how their peers may use it, including:

  • Spending more time online exploring their identity
  • Being less likely to have their accounts private
  • Being less likely to have friends and family on their social media pages
  • Being more likely to use social media websites that their parents disapprove of

These differences highlight the idea that social media plays a different role for LGBTQ+ youth by being a more integral part of their identity development.

With a little guidance from their families and teachers, LGBTQ+ youth can maintain close-knit online communities that help them develop their identities and improve their mental health.

Why is examining these differences important?

Social technologies are essential tools for guiding LGBTQ+ youth toward identity development and supportive communities of peers. According to Dr. Charmaraman’s study, adolescents who identify as sexual minorities are more likely to experience depression, loneliness, and isolation. With nearly half of LGBTQ youth having no one to talk to about their sexuality, this isolation is only compounded by confusion and fear about their identity. As someone from West Virginia, where there is little LGBTQ+ presence and rampant homophobia, it was difficult for Carolyn to navigate her identity without external support from the community she had grown up in.

Still, we understand the internet can be a scary place for children and teens. Since sexual minorities are more likely to view self-harm content, it’s unsurprising that they are twice as likely to have attempted self harm. This might make parents or educators nervous to encourage LGBTQ+ adolescents to use social technologies. But regardless of what teens see online, they’re not going to stop using tech—and they shouldn't.

How can the internet be a safe haven for LGBTQ+ youth?

By finding LGBTQ+ groups online, adolescents can find peers who relate to them. According to Dr. Charmaraman’s study, sexual minority adolescents more often join online communities to combat loneliness. They can find friends to talk to about things that their heterosexual peers don’t understand, such as family acceptance, lack of representation, paranoia over being outed, and internalized homophobia. It makes sense that sexual minority youth are more likely to have friends they only know through the internet. Finding this social support is essential, as it’s the most protective factor against negative mental health outcomes like depression and loneliness.

The online atmosphere is changing and becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Platforms like Tumblr and TikTok have fostered LGBTQ+ youth voices, becoming safe havens. The Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth, has over two million followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The internet is a resource that has built-in anonymity and widespread access for teens living in areas that aren’t as accepting. These online communities are particularly essential in supporting youth when in-person communities aren’t available, as access to identity-affirming spaces lowers rates of suicide. According to Dr. Charmaraman’s study, LGBTQ+ adolescents are more likely to find online friends significantly more supportive than in-person ones. Finding LGBTQ+ friends online means opportunities to find positive role models and support in coming out.

How can I support an LGBTQ+ adolescent in my life?

With a little guidance from their families and teachers, LGBTQ+ youth can maintain close-knit online communities that help them develop their identities and improve their mental health. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to LGBTQ+ adolescents in your life about how to recognize depression.
  • Discuss the risks of being online.
  • Talk about their online communities and support.
  • If online support isn’t enough, check out school-based or community-based resources (i.e., gay-straight alliances, organizations like Out MetroWest).
  • If applicable, connect them to an LGBTQ+ family member or community member who may be able to advocate for them or provide mentorship.
  • Check out these organizations that support LGBTQ+ youth.

Carolyn Bacaj is a member of the Wellesley College Class of 2023 majoring in education and biology. Mikhaela Andersonn is also a member of the Class of 2023 and is majoring in psychology and Spanish.

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Student Parents or Parenting Students? Why Terminology Matters

Screenshot from jamboard asking what are student parents calledThis digital whiteboard was developed in an exercise called "What are Student Parents Called?" which was part of the Student Parents at the Center project, a collaboration between WCW and the Urban Institute.

When your work aims to help call attention to an invisible population, it’s important to figure out which term best identifies that population. Terminology shapes how we think about groups of people, and how they think about themselves.

So what exactly are the nearly 4.8 million undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S. today who are raising children while taking classes called? Pregnant and parenting students? Student parents? Parenting students? College students with kids? Something else?

Though I used to use the term “student parents,” lately I’ve been leaning more toward “parenting students.”

The term parenting student acknowledges that students who have children commonly identify first and foremost as parents, prioritizing their kids’ wellbeing and care over their classes, homework, jobs, and other non-parenting responsibilities. It uses active language that acknowledges all students who are actively parenting in college, including those who may not be biological or adoptive parents or even identify as parents, but are certainly performing the roles and work involved in parenting.

Parenting student is also a shortened version of the terminology “pregnant and parenting students,” which is how they’re referred to by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and federal Title IX law. Title IX is the civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal money. The law specifically prohibits discrimination against “pregnant and parenting students.” If we’re fighting for pregnant and parenting students’ rights, doesn’t it make sense to match our terminology to the Department of Education’s?

Questions around the terminology used to describe and identify students who are pregnant and parenting aren't new. It’s actually an issue that we’ve been discussing in this field for many years. This fall as part of WCW’s Student Parents at the Center: Building a Policy Road Map project (a partnership with the Urban Institute), we completed a brainstorming activity with about 40 policy experts, scholars, and student parents from across the country. The group filled three digital whiteboards with about 75 post-it notes listing various names for pregnant and parenting students and sub-populations that are part of this demographic. The names ranged from “non-traditional students” to “caregiving students” to “parent scholars,” and included sub-populations like “students of color with children” and “LGBTQ+ student parents.”

There are several reasons why there are so many different terms to describe parenting students. Among them are the history and diversity of this group.

. . . pregnant and parenting students are one of the most diverse student populations. While they share many characteristics, they also have distinct and unique experiences reflecting their intersectional identities.

Historically, before 2010, there hadn’t been much consideration of pregnant and parenting students in higher education as a collectively defined group. Terminology to describe students who were parents in college was often more specific, because postsecondary programs, research, and advocacy was more focused on certain populations. After World War II, when colleges first started to acknowledge and create programs on campus, it was in response to student veterans with families (mostly dads) who came to college on the GI Bill. In the 1960s and 1970s after more women began gaining access to college, terms like “returning students,” “non-traditional students,” “displaced homemakers,” and “student mothers” became more common.

In the 1980s as more low-income, young, and BIPOC students gained access to college, terminology shifted to highlight “welfare mothers pursuing postsecondary pathways,” while some programs began to focus specifically on special high-needs populations such as single mothers, young mothers, and “women in transition.” After welfare reform in 1996 blocked many public assistance recipients from pursuing or completing college, terminology expanded to consider “low-income mothers in higher education,” since many of them were forced to forgo welfare. The term “student parents” became the most widely used vernacular after 2010, having been popularized through shared use by advocates and researchers.

In addition, pregnant and parenting students are one of the most diverse student populations. While they share many characteristics, they also have distinct and unique experiences reflecting their intersectional identities. Some researchers, programs, and policies focus on specific groups of parenting students, and therefore use terms like single mother students, student dads, young student parents, returning student parents, non-parent student caregivers, etc.

The language used to identify us matters, especially when we are members of marginalized groups. I became a parent while in college over 20 years ago now, and the way I identify myself has evolved since that time—as it evolves for many student parents. I’m now the director of the newly renamed Higher Education Access for Parenting Students Research Initiative here at WCW, which going forward will include the term “parenting student” largely due to Title IX, as well as its inclusiveness, action/role orientation, and parent-first language.

What matters most to me is not settling on a particular way to identify this group of people but ensuring that they have a voice in the ongoing conversation about how they are identified.

But I’m also sensitive to the diversity of terms that are out there, and the fact that some parenting students prefer to be called student parents, or identify more strongly with other terms. Thus, when writing and speaking about this population, I’ve decided that the best way to honor and respect student input, voice, and diverse self-identities is to use various terms interchangeably, including terms describing sub-populations of parenting students where it’s appropriate.

What matters most to me is not settling on a particular way to identify this group of people but ensuring that they have a voice in the ongoing conversation about how they are identified. In fact, I want to make sure they have a voice in all conversations that relate to decisions made about them (which is why hiring and supporting student parents as research fellows and expert contributors is a core aspect of our research initiative).

Finding the right terminology to talk about this demographic is a complicated process. Parenting students are a diverse bunch, and their experiences can vary widely depending on other identities they hold. The complexity of the language teaches us a lesson about the complexity of student parents as a whole: They are not a monolithic group. That’s important for us to remember as we work to understand their needs and find ways to support their success.


Autumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women studying higher education access for parenting students. Dr. Green is nationally recognized for her scholarship on the lives of parenting students and has worked to create two-generation programs on college and university campuses.

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Making Peace with the Outcome: Remembering bell hooks

When I woke up last month to the news that bell hooks had passed away, my eyes filled with tears for the passing of a person who I only met once in my life, but who has critically influenced so very much of it.

The first bell hooks book that I read was for an undergraduate sociology class. The book was Where We Stand: Class Matters, and as I read her analysis of how class inequality and classism permeate our social experiences, I knew that I had found my new favorite author. Being a low-income white young mom, I had noticed class a lot in my own life, and bell hooks offered me the words and understanding that I needed to be able to articulate these experiences.

Throughout grad school, bell hooks remained among my favorite authors. I "ate up" “Eating the Other,” poured through Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, and resonated as I read Black Looks: Race & Representation. I read Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom as I was learning to teach as a graduate teaching assistant, and as a workshop leader in my community. Happy to be Nappy was among my kids' favorite bedtime stories. bell hooks helped me teach my working-class friends and family that Feminism is for Everybody, by acknowledging that class-privileged white feminism certainly hasn't been. There was even a participant in my dissertation whose pseudonym was chosen as a tribute to bell hooks.

Through bell hooks as my guide and gatekeeper, I dove head on into the works of other intersectional feminist queer authors exploring the complexities of intersectional oppression, truth seeking, and empowerment towards equity and justice. I filled my head with the writing of Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Simone de Beauvoir, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Roberts. I considered my early millennial intersectional feminist approach, through which I saw the classism and class oppression I experienced as a poor white young mama as better aligned with Black feminist critiques of liberal white feminism, and better resonated with the intersectional perspective that I was developing to understand my own identity and life experiences.

bell hooks’ words challenged me to become an even better teacher: to work with my students devotedly, to advocate for them, to guide them . . .

After finishing my doctorate and starting my first job, in which I was teaching classes for single mamas in college, bell hooks was again there to guide me. In Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, she told me the stories of her own early years as a professor in which she taught similar groups of young moms. She talked me through the dilemmas of justice-seeking pedagogy when teaching students for whom the world—including the institution of college itself—is complexly and intersectionally unjust. bell hooks’ words challenged me to become an even better teacher: to work with my students devotedly, to advocate for them, to guide them, to help them put forth their very best work, and then to "make peace with the outcome."

She also reassured me that it is often very hard to be able to make peace with the outcome. She challenged me to remember that educational accommodation is not educational justice if it means giving students credit for something that they haven't actually learned. How could I as a justice-seeking educator ensure equitable learning outcomes for my students, while reimagining my pedagogy to better accommodate them as learners? What I learned from bell hooks about teaching low-income college student moms is what challenged me to redesign teaching and learning by tapping into two-generational pedagogy.

Like I said, I only met bell hooks once. She came to speak at Boston College, where I got my Ph.D., and gave a guest seminar for our department. I'm not a person who's easily star struck, but it felt like there were so many things I wanted to ask and say to her, that it was too hard to figure out where to begin. I didn't want to bombard her either, so I tried to bite my tongue, opening my ears and listening instead. I remember listening to her as if wisdom was pouring from her like a fountain, and I was mentally scrambling to catalog and store it. She made me feel safe and reassured and appreciated for being me and for adding my voice and perspective to the conversation, and she was kind.

Through her writing, and influence on me across two decades, I consider bell hooks to be among my formative feminist foremothers. I mourn her passing in love, appreciation, respect, and gratitude to a great teacher who changed the lives and perspectives of so many other people, many of whom never got the privilege of meeting her even once. The only reassurance in the face of such a monumental loss to the world is that her words are still out in it, and will continue to be soaked up by many future generations to come.


Autumn GreenAutumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women studying higher education access for parenting students. Dr. Green is nationally recognized for her scholarship on the lives of parenting students and has worked to create two-generation programs on college and university campuses.

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In 2022, Let's Rethink Work

Mom works from home while caring for her child

For years it was a secret: that we had lives outside of work.

Thirty years ago, I dashed into the Massachusetts State House to interview the lieutenant governor, sat, opened a notebook—and a Cheerio fell off my blazer. I was mortified.

In those days, “juggling” was done with guilt. As a society, we debated whether women “could do both,” that is, be a parent and a professional. There is “the mommy track,” of course, an invention that codifies the failure of the American workplace.

The pandemic—ironically enough—may finally give us the opportunity to correct historic and structural problems with how work works.

That is not to say that the last nearly two years have not been tough. Working women with children and/or caretaking roles have been hit hard.

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 45 percent of mothers with school-aged children were not working in April 2020. A Deloitte Women @ Work survey of 5,000 women conducted from November 2020 to March 2021 found 77 percent reporting an increased pandemic workload even as two-thirds also reported bearing the greatest role in household tasks.

More than half felt less optimistic about their career, citing physical and mental health tolls. Fifty-seven percent planned to leave their current job within two years.

This data (and there’s more) underscore the burden on women that we have long known about, but ignored. Rather than address the root issue, society leaned harder on women, expecting them to tap their creativity, energy, and endurance to keep it all going. (By “women” I refer not to biology, but to the gender role often occupied by females.)

. . . when women entered the workforce in increasing numbers in the 1960s-1980s, they did it on men’s terms, beginning a frustrating effort to “be taken seriously.” That issue has not faded . . .

Arlie Hochschild created a sensation when she published “The Second Shift” in 1989. But decades later, little has changed. This is because modern-day, post-Industrial Revolution work is structured with men in mind, from the timing of meetings to conventions of what a “leader” looks, sounds, and acts like (talking over others and peacocking your dominance).

Rather than challenge the structure, when women entered the workforce in increasing numbers in the 1960s-1980s, they did it on men’s terms, beginning a frustrating effort to “be taken seriously.” That issue has not faded, and reporting, surveys, and advice columns have repeatedly returned to the challenge—as if doing the work itself wasn’t enough.

Despite passage of laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin), the problem persisted. After all, it took a long time—and much debate—to shake the belief that we needed sex-separate “help wanted” ads or that, as a July 30, 1970 New York Times headline put it, “Doctors Deny Woman’s Hormones Affect Her as an Executive.

When Title VII first went into effect, an official with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission assigned to enforce the law insisted that it was not their task “to get on our charger to overturn patterns.” Yet patterns were (and are) exactly the problem. The New York Times wrote of “experts in sex discrimination” flummoxed by “the Bunny Problem”—how would the new law manage if a man applied for a job as a bunny at a Playboy Club?—under the August 20, 1965 headline, “For Instance, Can She Pitch for Mets?”

Such talk by officials and reportage by The New York Times now looks embarrassing. But it reveals the ingrained beliefs that we need to have sharp lines between women and men when it comes to work. Even if those lines have softened, a gender power differential remains in many fields. One has only to recall #MeToo coverage or examine the gender wage gap.


The pandemic offers us a reset button. We have been forced to work differently. We cannot un-see what we saw on Zoom.

To this last point, the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, whose analysis uses wage data from actual companies, reveals an ongoing issue. Interestingly, it tracks wage gaps by job role; the only positions in which women’s pay is comparable to men’s, according to the 2021 report, are “Laborers/Helpers” and “Administrative Support Workers.”

The pandemic offers us a reset button. We have been forced to work differently. We cannot un-see what we saw on Zoom. People have lives that are busy and complicated. Employers have been forced to trust employees to work away from the geography of the office and the gaze of supervisors. They learned that people, on their own, are actually quite productive.

Workers have also discovered there is more to one’s identity and life than work. We are now keenly aware that we have one life—and that things can change radically at any moment. We must use our time for stuff that matters. Work must now fit alongside other elements of life, not at the dominant center.

In November, a record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs. Anyone who dines out or shops understands that the customer is no longer always right. It is a privilege to be served.

Employers everywhere are now in competition for talent. This alters the balance of power. It changes work conventions, such as how meetings run, who must be there, what the “workday” looks like, how power operates (no bonus points for hanging out at the office).

Let us hope it means an end to the “mommy track” mentality. The very notion that women with childcare responsibilities must degrade their ambition now looks repugnant. Or, taking away the moral layer, dumb.

It is telling that a co-working space in Brooklyn includes childcare. Men in leadership have long had flexibility in their work schedules (golf, anyone?). Why shouldn’t we all build in time for relationships and renewal?

America’s economy cannot afford to require people to choose between ambition and parenthood (or other caretaking). They are both part of life. The pandemic has been painful and exhausting. It’s not over yet. The past 20 months have been about survival, but they have also been about invention. In 2022, we must finally build a better workscape.

This does not mean replacing a male-normed workplace with a female-normed workplace. Rather, it means truly un-gendering jobs and work—and seeing one another not as employees or job functions, but as fellow human beings fully capable of both feeding a toddler Cheerios and writing a political profile.


Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women. An experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports, she has been published in The New York Times, The Hechinger Report, USA Today, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.

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Internship Reflection: Studying the Power of Social Media in a Pandemic

Emily Zhai

Last fall, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to wreak havoc in the U.S. and across the world, the class of 2021 carried on attending Wellesley but in a fragmented way for our senior year. We attended our remote classes on Zoom and connected with friends through FaceTime or other forms of social media. And without really any choice, our entire lives had become entirely dependent on social technology.

I was fortunate enough to become a research assistant at the beginning of my senior year at the Wellesley Centers for Women in the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab under Dr. Linda Charmaraman. This position gave me the opportunity to reflect upon the tumultuous year and how we have used forms of social media to build community, stay connected, and engage in civic participation. Not only does this apply to college students and working professionals, but also particularly to younger generations. In fact, youth are known to researchers as the current defining users of social media. Yet there is a lack of research on how racial minority adolescents, in particular, may be affected by digital technologies and social media use. This is where the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Lab steps in.


Social media is often a safe space for adolescents of color, and rather than forcing them to spend less time on it or to spend more time on educational sites, we should instead encourage them to learn about healthy social media behaviors...

Thanks to Dr. Charmaraman and the lab, I was given the opportunity to present at my first conference (albeit virtually) on our mixed-methods study that examined how adolescents of color access and use social media for self-care, motivation, and wellbeing. Through reviewing previous research, I learned about the drawbacks of frequent social media usage: There are a number of studies that point to an increase in mental health concerns for adolescents due to cyberbullying, feeling left out, and peer pressure. Yet social media is often a safe space for adolescents of color, and rather than forcing them to spend less time on it or to spend more time on educational sites, we should instead encourage them to learn about healthy social media behaviors—for example, teaching them about risky behaviors and “internet friends” while encouraging them to use social media to connect with friends.

Along with other members of the lab, I am currently working on a paper that focuses on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and social media usage on adolescents’ mental health. Given that we continue to stay somewhat socially isolated and forced to live with uncertainty, mental health has become a popular topic, more than ever before.


Without a doubt, working in this lab has laid the foundation for my understanding of social science research and academia...

I have enjoyed applying the knowledge and frameworks from the classes I’ve taken to the research at the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Lab. I’ve also enjoyed how the research topics move with the times we’re in, to stay relevant. Through this position, I was able to learn and refine my research skills, such as conducting literature reviews and using qualitative and quantitative data analysis methods. Dr. Charmaraman is also an incredible and passionate researcher and mentor. Although she is often busy on various projects and mentors a number of students, she makes time to get to know each student in her lab individually and makes an effort to assign them work particular to their interests.

Prior to joining the lab, as a Neuroscience and Women’s and Gender Studies double major, I struggled to find interdisciplinary opportunities where these areas of interest intersect. Without a doubt, working in this lab has laid the foundation for my understanding of social science research and academia, which was helpful during my job search as well as preparation for future postgraduate studies. I wish I had become involved with the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Lab earlier during my time at Wellesley, but I am eternally grateful for getting the opportunity to work in such a wonderful space among incredible and inspiring people.


Emily Zhai is a member of the Class of 2021 at Wellesley College and graduated with a degree in Neuroscience and Women’s & Gender Studies. She worked part-time as a research assistant at the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab from fall 2020 to spring 2021. She now works as a clinical research coordinator at the Stanford Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness in California.

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Fighting Time to End Systemic Racism

Fighting Time by Amy Banks and Isaac Knapper

The following is an excerpt of a blog post written by Amy Banks, M.D., that appeared on her Psychology Today blog, Wired for Love.

To say that race relations were not on my radar growing up would be an understatement. In fact, in high school I was just coming out to myself as a lesbian and was preoccupied with the injustices in the LGBTQ community in the late 1970s. However, for my family, that changed in the spring of 1979 when my father traveled on business to New Orleans. On his first day in NOLA, after eating dinner in the French Quarter, he and a colleague walked back to the Hyatt Regency. At the entry to the hotel, they were held up by two young men, and my father was shot and killed.

Within hours, my family was told that “two Black men” had tried to rob my father and his colleague. Having grown up in Maine—which remains the whitest state in the U.S.—this was my first substantive exposure to someone from the Black community. My family was shattered by the murder and naïvely believed that the legal system in New Orleans would help us seek justice.

When the photos of the suspects, Isaac Knapper and Leroy Williams, popped up in our local newspaper, I remember looking at them closely and wondering what in their lives would have caused them to rob and kill. It never occurred to me that the prosecution would withhold exculpatory evidence at the trial and that one of the young men, Isaac, would be wrongly convicted for murder and sent to prison for the rest of his life. My family did not question the arrest and verdict for many reasons, but the biggest was that we were solidly part of the white, dominant culture. One does not have to be an avowed white supremist to be racist—you simply have to be brainwashed 24/7 by a culture that defines health and acceptability as the birthright of all white people and associates people of color with violence.


The traumatic memory of my father’s murder was exponentially more painful as it now involved the wrongful conviction of a 16-year-old boy.

When I found out in 2005 that Isaac had been exonerated in the early 1990s, I was shocked and sickened. By then I had become a psychiatrist with a deep interest in issues of social justice and was well aware of the gross inequities that exist in America between people of color and white people. However, until I learned of Isaac's exoneration, I had no way of knowing how entwined my own story was in America’s racism. The traumatic memory of my father’s murder was exponentially more painful as it now involved the wrongful conviction of a 16-year-old boy.

By 2015, I was both curious and furious. Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown—the killings of Black men by police just kept happening. I decided to take personal action to more fully understand the horrendous racist event that my family had unwittingly been involved in. With much fear, I reached out to Isaac (who had been released and was living in NOLA) and asked to meet. In December of that year, my sister and I met with Isaac and his wife in New Orleans. The meeting and our friendship have transformed my life.

What surprised me the most was how easy it was to be together—how we didn’t stop talking and sharing the entire weekend we spent together. What disturbed me to my core was hearing Isaac’s personal experience of police brutality. How much worse his experience had been than I could even imagine. He shared his violent arrest at 5:45 a.m. when he was awoken with guns pointing at his head, the brutal interrogation where police beat him to within an inch of his life in an attempt to force a confession (it failed), and the utter disregard for his humanity at every turn of the legal proceedings. Yet, despite all he had been through (and continues to go through as a Black man in this society), he also listened to our story and our pain with deep compassion and caring.


Feeling unspeakable pain may mean you have finally begun to feel clear empathy and resonance with the relentless agonies and indignities faced by people of color. You must walk directly into that pain to fully understand the price Black and brown people have paid for your/our white privilege.

One lesson I have learned from Isaac and his family is that the process of healing racism will hurt and at times, the risks you will need to take will be terrifying. But when you hurt so badly you feel you will die—pay close attention. Feeling unspeakable pain may mean you have finally begun to feel clear empathy and resonance with the relentless agonies and indignities faced by people of color. You must walk directly into that pain to fully understand the price Black and brown people have paid for your/our white privilege. If you can’t stand it, don’t stop feeling, find someone who can help you hold it.

Isaac and I have established a deep friendship—one that feels more like family. Within it I have had the opportunity to heal and to grow and to witness my own biases in a way that humbles me. We have chosen to write our story in an upcoming book, Fighting Time. In sharing our story we hope to inspire people to move into the fear and the pain of systemic racism and to have the conversations that are desperately needed to see and feel one another and to help our society grow beyond our tragically racist roots.


Amy Banks, M.D., is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women and the director of advanced training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute. The book she co-authored with Isaac Knapper, Fighting Time, will be released on November 5 and is available for preorder now.

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Internship Reflection: Examining the Role Fathers Play in Conversations About Sex and Relationships

Father and son in serious conversation

Conversations centered around dating, relationships, and sex take place in classrooms, on social media, in households, and even in mainstream news outlets. Policymakers, educators, and parents alike realize the benefits of teaching adolescents about these topics instead of leaving teens to learn on their own via the internet, friends, and other less-than-ideal sources. However, one critical group with a wealth of experience and perspective is still largely left out of the conversation: fathers.

According to a 2020 study conducted by Dr. Jennifer Grossman here at WCW, 60% of heterosexual teens talk with their mothers about sex and 32% talk with their fathers. This statistic is a cause for concern: Fathers offer a nuanced perspective, play an important cultural role, and add an often-forgotten voice to this conversation. With this in mind, Dr. Grossman and her research team undertook a study exploring father-teen communication on dating, relationships, and sex with the intention of creating an intervention program for fathers across the U.S.

This summer, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Grossman and her team as an undergraduate research intern. I took on multiple roles which built on my pre-existing psychology research skill set and exposed me to new tools, protocols, and knowledge. I spent the beginning of the summer quantitatively analyzing demographic data, but I particularly enjoyed the last two months of my internship, when I examined qualitative data.

Dr. Grossman’s team interviewed 43 fathers, 13 teens, and 22 mothers about father-teen communication about dating, relationships, and sex. I analyzed the father interviews and consolidated the data into overarching thematic categories based on what was discussed—including protection methods, healthy and unhealthy relationships, dating and relationships, and cultural and religious views about sex. In doing so, I was astonished by some fathers' powerful personal anecdotes and progressive understanding of healthy and unhealthy relationships. I also noticed that few fathers had spoken with their parents about these topics when they were growing up.


More than 90% of the fathers interviewed said that their experience talking (or not talking) with their parents impacts how they speak with their teens now.

After months of analyzing interviews, I created an independent project examining whether and how fathers talked with their own parents about sexual topics and how those conversations impacted their conversations with their teens. Of the 43 fathers interviewed, only 30% had conversations with their own parents about dating, relationships, or sex, and nearly two-thirds of those wished they had talked more with their parents, gone into greater detail, or touched on more subjects. More than 90% of the fathers interviewed said that their experience talking (or not talking) with their parents impacts how they speak with their teens now.

A few fathers who did not talk with their own parents expressed fear of conversing with their teens, but many of these fathers expressed a desire to do things differently than their parents. A few fathers underscored how their lack of discourse negatively impacted their lives; one father noted, “I wish my dad would have done this. He would have saved me this much, you know, pain.”

Fathers also used their personal experiences with teen pregnancy, unhealthy relationships, dating, and their own perspectives when they were adolescents to connect, teach, and “break generational curses.” ​​One father used his personal experience with a sexually transmitted infection to educate his teen about the consequences of unprotected sex. Although he thought this conversation was a bit uncomfortable, he wanted to warn his son so he would not experience the same outcome. These powerful personal anecdotes highlight the advantage of including fathers in these conversations.

This research project—with a focus on prevention—aligns with many of my past intern and volunteer experiences. A few years ago, I volunteered with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and I was the president of Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone at Wellesley College. These experiences, coupled with my personal and academic background, offered me a unique approach to this project and will inform my post-graduation plans.

This independent project, research opportunity, and connection I’ve made with Dr. Grossman allowed me to consolidate my past experiences into a cohesive narrative and vision. I hope to use this experience and the skills I’ve gained to help me with my independent study on sexual health programming in college settings, my continued collaboration with Dr. Grossman, and graduate school a few years down the line. I am grateful for this research internship and the opportunity to emphasize fathers' central role in the multi-generational narrative around relationships and sex.


Jacqueline Brinkhaus is a student at Wellesley College pursuing a degree in Psychology. Her research interests include health and wellness education, ADHD in women, and interpersonal violence prevention. During the summer of 2021, she worked with Senior Research Scientist Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., with funding from the Joan Freed Kahn '51 Service Program Service Opportunity Stipend through Wellesley College Career Education.

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What is a Girl Worth? Lessons from USA Gymnastics on International Day of the Girl Child

On October 11, International Day of the Girl Child, Intern Simone Toney and Senior Research Scientist Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., discuss how USA Gymnastics exemplifies what happens when an institution places a girl’s achievements above all else, and how Simone Biles is driving change for the better.

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National Student Parent Month is Coming to an End, But Our Work Carries On

Jade Prior and her mom Mishelle Prior of Eugene represent two-generations of Oregon parenting studentsJade Prior and her mom Mishelle Prior of Eugene represent two-generations of Oregon parenting students.

On September 15, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring September National Student Parent Month. As a person who both was a student parent, and has worked to advocate for other student parents throughout my education and career, after many long years of simply trying to be seen and acknowledged, this federal recognition felt like an important victory. While it didn't direct resources to student parents, nor change laws or policies to better protect and ensure our equitable access to higher education, it showed acknowledgment and solidarity both for the fact both that we exist, and that we are significant: one in five undergraduate students, and one in three graduate students, is parenting during their studies.

In the student parent world, this was a moment for both celebration and frustration: many of us work in small offices, or even departments of one, and our day-to-day work centers around supporting students parents. This is busy, ongoing, and critical work. Helping student parents address their needs and overcome their challenges and crises takes priority over day-to-day work. Between helping students succeed academically, helping them navigate systems to find child care and meet their basic needs, and helping strategize crises, we are very busy people!

Celebrations and special events take months to plan, and with National Student Parent Month being declared half-way through September, many of those celebrating this monumental recognition, were left with no time to plan, organize, and implement a celebration.


Instead of seeing September 30 as a deadline for celebrating the hard and diligent work of parenting students and their allies, we should view the close of National Student Parent Month as a catalyst towards the change that is on the horizon.

While I no longer work directly in a student parent program on my campus, I've been busy supporting student parents through research, program support, curriculum development, and advocating for policy and systems change, I can admit that, like a lot of my colleagues in the student parent world, I wasn't ready for a sudden two-week deadline.

So to my friends in the student parent world, I have a proposal. Instead of seeing September 30 as a deadline for celebrating the hard and diligent work of  student parents and their allies, we should view the close of National Student Parent Month as a catalyst towards the change that is on the horizon. Let’s use this as a call to action through which we will work to expand college access, inclusion, and success for student parents and their families between now and the second National Student Parent Month in 2022.

This is a moment to celebrate and showcase the collective work that we are already doing to support student parents, and to consider what it would take to be able to do our work even better. It's also a call for advocating for policy and systems change, envisioning a nation where every person—regardless of their background, age, race/ethnicity, income, gender, marital, and/or parenting/caregiving status—is offered an equitable opportunity to complete a college degree.

Highlights from Ongoing Work to Support Student Parents

At the Higher Education Access for Parenting Students Research Initiative, we have been busy working to advance student parent success across the landscape of U.S. higher education. Here are a few highlights of our work from the past year, and some previews of what you’ll see from us in the coming year:


Educating the Public About Student Parent Issues

  • Testifying before the Oregon State Legislature's Senate and House Education Committees on the need for student parent demographic data collection, which led to the passage of Senate Bill 564, requiring public postsecondary institutions to collect student demographics pertaining to parenting status. Oregon was the first state to pass such legislation, through an effort that was mobilized by student parents and their allies.
  • Authoring a series of op-eds to call attention to student parents and their challenges and successes in outlets including The Hechinger Report, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and Ms. Magazine.
  • Launching Student Parents @ the Center, in collaboration with the Urban Institute, a project through which we are developing and expanding upon a framework for understanding and mapping the broad range of policies intersecting in parenting students' lives that support or impede their college success.

Reports and Resources on Student Parent Programs Across the U.S.


Academic Journal Articles and White Papers

  • Publishing a new article in About Campus about how to strategically time student parent support services across the phases of an academic term.
  • Releasing a new white paper and sample curricula reflecting pedagogies for parent/child learning through the Two-Generation Classroom Project. In the coming year, we are excited to put this work into action through a partnership to support student parents.

Contextualizing Our Work in Historical Perspectives

  • Student parents have been part of college life for a lot longer than most people realize! There is so much to learn from the history of student parents in higher education to inform our contemporary work, but this history is still largely undocumented. Our Student Parents in History Project, launching in fall 2021, is building a digital archive of documents and oral histories on the history of student parents in higher education from the Post World War II era through the present day.

We work to engage and elevate the expertise, leadership, and contributions of current and former student parents in meaningful ways that counter tokenism and affirm experiential expertise.

In all of these efforts, we believe it is critical that student parent voices and expertise are centered, supporting their efforts as emerging leaders and experts in higher education, social science research, policy, and advocacy. We work to engage and elevate the expertise, leadership, and contributions of current and former student parents in meaningful ways that counter tokenism and affirm experiential expertise. Student parents' perspectives are critical to understanding the challenges that student parents face in college today and determining how to build systems to create a more inclusive and equitable future for student parents and their families.

All of our projects work to engage student parents as meaningful contributors to our shared work. We engage with student parents, interdisciplinary experts who were student parents during their studies, and self-identified student parent allies as knowledge and research partners, collaborating with them to engage in the processes of informing and shaping social change. We practice family friendliness and flexibility in every aspect of our work, creating inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and safe spaces to be both parents and students/professionals, recognizing the brilliance, strength, and contributions of all of our partners in this work.

In the coming year, we hope to inspire and advance the quest for equitable access to education for all: including students with kids. Our projects focus on informing and shaping policy, systems, and structural changes that are necessary to achieving this goal across the U.S., while exploring and testing new approaches and models in partnership with post-secondary institutions and communities, who are working locally toward this shared goal.

For us, National Student Parent Month is a symbol of recognition with the power to ignite and accelerate this shared mission. It serves as a checkpoint at which we can stop and reflect on all that we have accomplished and all that we still have yet to do. It is our hope that the time between now and September 2022 will be a year of collaboration, partnership, and movement building across the fields of higher education, economic mobility, and thriving communities, so that next September, we can look back on the year and see just how far we have come.


Autumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women studying higher education access for parenting students. Dr. Green is nationally recognized for her scholarship on the lives of parenting students and has worked to create two-generation programs on college and university campuses.

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Internship Reflection: Building Knowledge Together About Our Digital Worlds

Rachel Hodes, Wellesley College graduate

As a Class of 1967 intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women, I had the opportunity to spend the past year working with Dr. Linda Charmaraman in the Youth, Media, and Wellbeing Research Lab. I worked on a wide range of projects; while all were focused around adolescent health and social media use, our research asked more specifically about sleep, mental illness, pets, activism, gaming, identity, and a whole host of other topics, many of which have been largely unexplored in the landscapes of both health and digital media research.

My internship challenged me to think critically about the unanswered questions we still have about social media. As someone on the cusp of the millennial/Gen Z divide, I relate to so many of the ways adolescents today use technology. Growing up, I also went online and to social media platforms to learn about myself and the world, to make new friends, and to engage with issues I cared about.

On the other hand, the internet is such a constantly evolving space that it’s hard to reconcile just how different the experiences of today’s early adolescents might be from my own—and that’s why the chance to learn about these experiences from many different angles was so exciting and eye-opening. Being able to analyze qualitative survey responses from LGBTQ+ youth, or watch the videos from the favorite YouTube channels respondents shared with us, has given me new insight into the reality of the media most popular among adolescents today, and the ways they navigate interactions with parents, peers, and strangers in online environments.


. . . publication in a journal was a reminder for me of one of the main reasons research matters in the first place: to share findings with a broader audience and spur informed discussion about a topic.

I also had the opportunity to collect data directly. In 2019, I went into middle schools with the lab and oversaw students taking our survey, and more recently I interviewed parents of middle schoolers about their pets, loneliness during the pandemic, and wellbeing. At the other end of the research process, having an article I co-authored published, using the data our lab collected about LGBTQ+ adolescents’ online activity, was so rewarding. Because I’d experienced so many different phases of the research process during my time with the lab, that work coming to fruition with publication in a journal was a reminder for me of one of the main reasons research matters in the first place: to share findings with a broader audience and spur informed discussion about a topic.

Ultimately, one of my biggest takeaways from studying social media use in adolescence has come from examining our lab’s findings alongside other new research on emerging social technologies. While my internship has come to an end, I’m currently diving into past scholarship on YouTube and learning which trends match our data and which differ.

Because social media can offer adolescents such a powerful outlet for self-expression and learning, while simultaneously increasing feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety, it’s often impossible to come to a definite conclusion about whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Even if we could, it’s pretty clear that social media is here to stay, especially for young people, whether we like it or not—but what we can do is collaborate and build knowledge together about the digital worlds that are increasingly intertwined with our offline lives. It was an honor to be able to add my voice to that conversation, and I can’t wait to bring the inquisitive and analytical mindset that being a research assistant has taught me into my next adventure.


Rachel Hodes graduated from Wellesley College in 2021 with a degree in Sociology. They received the Class of 1967 Internship at the Wellesley Centers for Women for the 2020-2021 academic year to conduct research with Dr. Linda Charmaraman. During their internship, they co-authored an academic journal article that was published in JMIR Mental Health. After graduation, they moved to Savannah, Georgia, to work as a community organizer.

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Child Care in a Pandemic: The "New Normal"

Child care provider tends to children while wearing a mask

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led Massachusetts (along with many other states) to close all forms of child care, except emergency care. Many parents found themselves working from home and caring for their young children at the same time, muddling through as best they could until child care reopened in summer 2020.

When child care became available again, what did parents do—especially given their fears and lack of confidence in the child care system? New health and safety guidelines, including smaller group sizes and other limitations, raised costs and made fewer slots available. Many child care centers and family child care homes closed, and fewer educators were available to care for and educate young children.

Thanks to support from WCW’s Harold Benenson Memorial Research Fund, I explored this “new normal” of child care by interviewing 25 Massachusetts families with children under the age of five. I looked at how these families were accessing child care during the pandemic, their experiences and perceptions of the multiple dimensions of child care, and the implications for parents’ daily lives as well as their employment, economic mobility, work hours, and advancement.


One mother said it wasn’t feasible to be 100% parent and 100% worker at the same time, and that she felt she wasn’t doing anything well.

For all the parents I spoke to, being home with their children from March until July 2020 (or later) was tough. The majority tried to work while caring for their children, working during naps, before children woke, or long after bedtime. One mother said it wasn’t feasible to be 100% parent and 100% worker at the same time, and that she felt she wasn’t doing anything well. Another said she was in survival mode. Another said that she sacrificed her physical and emotional health.

Despite these challenges, it was surprising to me to learn that the families in this study sent their children back to care as soon as it reopened. I expected that fears about COVID and issues of affordability and accessibility might cause families to delay their return. But many felt their children had to go back to what they had known. One mother said her child needed to return because of his mental health. Another parent felt torn about returning and nervous about COVID, but believed the potential exposure was worth it because her child needed an outlet, socially and mentally. Another felt her daughter needed the normalcy and education that she couldn’t get with a baby brother at home.

The first few months of the pandemic brought into the spotlight how hard—near impossible—it was to both work from home and care for young children. The parents in this study told me about their struggles in trying to do both. Going forward, we need a new work culture that is more flexible. Businesses need to ease output expectations, incorporate more paid family leave programs, and implement innovative accommodations for their employees with young children.


When child care programs reopened, most of the families I spoke to went back to the child care they used before the pandemic, even though it was often more than they could afford and led them to use a patchwork of care arrangements to meet their needs.

When child care programs reopened, most of the families I spoke to went back to the child care they used before the pandemic, even though it was often more than they could afford and led them to use a patchwork of care arrangements to meet their needs. Child care needs to be affordable, accessible, and meet the needs of working families. We need to advocate for federal and state funding specifically for child care. We also need to tend to the mental toll the pandemic has taken on families’ lives. Exhausted parents and their children need to be provided with mental, emotional, and trauma-related support. Parents can only parent when they themselves are provided with the care they need.


Wendy Wagner Robeson, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist in the Work, Families, & Children Research Group at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work is focused on child development, early childhood care and education, child care policy, school readiness, literacy, and language.

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Engaging Black Girls in STEM With a Culturally Responsive Maker Program

A meeting of Black Girls Create, a culturally responsive STEM program created by LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D. (center)
The following is an excerpt from an article in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters about Black Girls Create, a culturally responsive maker program designed by LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D.

Black Girls Create addresses issues of equity, inclusion, and relevance for Black girls by providing a curriculum and a learning environment that incorporates girls’ cultural and intellectual histories and expands the meaning and purposes of STEM learning. A unique aspect of Black Girls Create is that it focuses on making and maker culture. Maker afterschool programs in which girls learn about digital fabrication and engage in STEM in meaningful ways are associated with improvements in their STEM interest and self-efficacy.

Making can involve traditional craft and hobby techniques, such as sewing or woodworking. It often incorporates digital technologies in either manufacture or design. For example, manufacturing processes might use laser cutters or 3D printers; designs might use microcontrollers or LED lights for specific effects. Digital fabrication involves the design and manufacturing of products using advanced technology. Common forms of digital fabrication are computer numerical control (CNC) machinery, 3D printing, and laser engraving and cutting.

Makerspaces and related activities give young people who have disengaged from formal STEM instruction opportunities to design, tinker, and build in nontraditional ways, thus enhancing their confidence and interest in STEM. Making gives Black girls access to sophisticated digital tools they can use to build, create, and think. Maker learning can engage Black girls in STEM and broaden participation in STEM by centering on digital fabrication activities that align with Black culture and strengthen their connection to their heritage.


[Culturally responsive maker programs] can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners.

Culturally responsive making is an emerging field in both research and practice in informal STEM learning environments. For this project, culturally responsive making is operationally defined as tapping cultural knowledge and maker technologies to engage Black girls in creating, designing, and producing artifacts related to a particular concept, theme, or person. It connects with Black female learners’ interests and activities along a spectrum of cultural practices, from traditional to vernacular. It also engages Black youth in cultural affirmation and sociocultural critique.

Making situated in an appropriate cultural context can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners and future STEM professionals.

During the pilot implementation of Black Girls Create, we engaged Black girls in digital fabrication to increase their interest in STEM and their confidence in their ability to learn STEM. Its culturally responsive pedagogy focused on Black women’s contributions in STEM. The combination of making, social history, cultural responsiveness, and mentoring addressed the participation gap and identity gap experienced by Black girls in ways designed to lead to more positive racial and gender identities.


Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups.

Incorporating Black culture into program design and implementation was a critical feature of Black Girls Create. Culture is the mechanism through which people learn how to be in the world, how to behave, what to value, and what gives meaning to their lives. Culture is the context for learning, whether in formal or informal settings. Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups who may believe that certain subjects are unrelated to their current or future lives. Many Black girls and young women believe that science and math are not interesting and that the content is too difficult for them to master. As a result, many of them disengage from learning and fall behind in these core subjects.

Decades of research show that situating learning within Black students’ cultural context and connecting academic subjects to their cultural knowledge produce better academic outcomes. When these connections are made, especially in science and math, Black learners are more likely to show interest in the subject, engage in all aspects of the learning process, and master the content.


LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women who integrates culturally responsive teaching and learning, digital fabrication, and cultural knowledge into STEM programs to increase Black girls’ interest and value in STEM education and careers. Read more about her program, Black Girls Create in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters.

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Exploring the Link Between Paid Sick Leave and the Early Spread of COVID-19

Tara Wattal, Wellesley College Class of 2021
Imagine that it is March 2020 and you are hearing increased reports about COVID-19’s U.S. path. Meanwhile, it’s a Monday—a workday—and you feel ill with symptoms that align with ones reportedly associated with the new virus. You know that if you attend work, you may infect your fellow coworkers with whatever illness you are experiencing, COVID-19 or not. Your ideal course of action is to stay home. However, a whole host of reasons may prevent you from doing so.

Maybe your workplace has a stigma towards those who take a day off, and you decide to attend work in order to avoid coworker judgment. If your work is within the “care” sector, you might feel an obligation to those you serve which overrides your wariness surrounding your sickness. Or perhaps you can’t stay home because missing out on a day of work means missing out on a crucial day of pay or losing your job.

Consistent with this scenario, past studies have shown that access to paid sick leave is an important determinant of an ill person’s capacity to miss work. If a worker is not guaranteed payment or job security in times of personal or family illness, she may choose to attend work, even if she is running a high fever or caring for a child with a nasty cough. Today, the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 makes clear: As stark as the choice to miss work is for individuals, their choice affects the health of others.

The United States does not offer workers a permanent, federal paid sick leave law which protects their wages and jobs through illnesses. Instead, it is typically the purview of employers to provide their workers with paid time off or sick leave benefits. This employer-focused sick leave scheme leads to disparities in paid sick leave access by industry, occupation, and firm type: A Pew Research Center analysis found that workers who earn more and work in “management, professional and related” occupations, such as accountants, lawyers, and software engineers, are most likely to receive sickness-related income and job protection. Left behind from these job protections are often lower-wage, part-time, and service industry workers—who are disproportionately women and women of color.

To promote broader sick leave coverage, some states, counties, and cities have passed mandates which explicitly require employers in their jurisdictions to provide their workers with paid sick leave. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, 12 of these state-level paid sick leave laws were in effect. In my senior thesis research advised by Wellesley College Professor Kristin Butcher, Ph.D., and in partnership with WCW Senior Research Scientist Sari Kerr, Ph.D., and WCW Research Scientist Deniz Çivril, Ph.D., I investigated whether these already-on-the-books state paid sick leave laws led to greater social distancing and reduced COVID-19 infection during the early months of the pandemic’s U.S. course.


Through my research, I found that people in all states responded to COVID-19 by staying at home more. And in states with paid sick leave mandates, individuals stayed at home to an even greater degree.

I took advantage of a variety of data sources for my project, from cell phone location tracking data sourced from SafeGraph Social Distancing Metrics to demographic data from the American Community Survey. Through my research, I found that people in all states responded to COVID-19 by staying at home more. And in states with paid sick leave mandates, individuals stayed at home to an even greater degree.

For example, immediately following President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration on March 13, 2020, individuals in states with paid sick leave mandates stayed at home for about 30 more minutes per day relative to people in states not covered by paid sick leave mandates. To put this number into context, 30 additional minutes at home each day is similar to going from typical at-home behavior on a Friday to typical at-home behavior on a Thursday. For a worker in May 2020 earning the median hourly wage, 30 minutes of work raked in approximately $10.

I also found that individuals’ ability to stay home during the pandemic was determined by more than their access to state-level paid sick leave. In states covered by paid sick leave mandates, individual characteristics such as educational attainment and ethnicity were associated with differing levels of stay-at-home behavior: Higher shares of college-educated people were associated with more distancing, and higher shares of Hispanic people were associated with less distancing.


By evaluating the effectiveness of paid sick leave mandates in preventing illness spread at the commencement of a global pandemic . . . policymakers can better equip societies with public health tools that successfully prevent devastating human health effects.

There are several possible explanations for these results. College-educated individuals are more likely to be in a higher income bracket and work in jobs that offer paid sick leave. Their jobs may be easily done from home. Thus, as a group, college-educated individuals likely will have an opportunity to stay at home more relative to others, whether or not their state has a sick leave mandate. If high numbers of college-educated individuals live in states that pass paid sick leave, people in these states are more likely to respond to a pandemic by staying home.

Meanwhile, Hispanic people disproportionately make up front-line service jobs. They are also less likely to have access to sick leave through their employers. It appears contradictory that this group did not respond to sick leave coverage within paid sick leave states by distancing more during the pandemic. This result could imply that there exist sustained coverage and effectiveness gaps for paid sick leave mandates passed by states.

Overall, my results offer some evidence that paid sick leave mandates did achieve their intended goals of keeping sick individuals at home, but to a modest degree during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the intention of this study is important. By evaluating the effectiveness of paid sick leave mandates in preventing illness spread at the commencement of a global pandemic—a time when more people are contracting illness and facing the decision of whether or not to stay home from work—policymakers can better equip societies with public health tools that successfully prevent devastating human health effects. Even if paid sick leave mandates are not complete antidotes to a public health crisis like COVID-19, they may work well in tandem with other public health protections. Researchers and practitioners should continue to search for optimal policies that ensure that people stay home, tend to their illnesses, take care of loved ones, and limit the future spread of infection.


Tara Wattal graduated from Wellesley College in June 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. This blog post contains excerpts from her senior honors thesis, which was advised by Wellesley College Economics Professor Kristin Butcher, Ph.D.

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What Could Be More American Than Critical Race Theory?

Paper cutouts of faces in profile with a range of skin tonesCritical race theory has become the latest front in the culture wars. Depending on what you’ve read or what you’ve heard from politicians, you may be under the impression that critical race theory means talking about racism in any context, or that it means white people are inherently racist.

But critical race theory, or CRT, is actually an academic movement that critically examines the law as it intersects with issues of race. CRT is rooted in the broader concept of critical theory, which critiques society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. The history of critical theory is one of people who had previously been sidelined rising up with their own understandings of the world. Critical theory says, we can make our society more equal for everyone, and here’s how.

For example, if you’re a woman who works outside the home, you have critical theory—more specifically, feminism and the feminist movement—to thank for that ability. If you’re an LGBTQ+ person who enjoys the same rights as heterosexual people, you have critical theory—more specifically, queer theory and the LGBTQ+ movement—to thank. If your children don’t work backbreaking hours in a factory, you have critical theory—more specifically, the labor movement—to thank.

In all of these cases, critical theory comes from those on the periphery. Those who have been marginalized in the past gain the power to stand up and demand equal rights for themselves and their families.

In the case of critical race theory, Black, Latinx, and Asian American thinkers like Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, and Robert S. Chang have stood up and asked why people of color should not receive equal treatment under the law as white people. Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”—a speech delivered on July 5, 1852—was also an early work of critical race theory that raised questions about the nuances of freedom in the United States.

On this 4th of July, we wonder, what could be more American than that?


In a sense, our founding fathers were also proponents of critical theory.

In a sense, our founding fathers were also proponents of critical theory. They were critical of the British monarchy and believed they could design a more just society, one in which power is vested in the people. They built a democracy which, though deeply flawed, remains full of promise. When people on the margins force us to examine those flaws, they are moving us toward the highest values of our Constitution: freedom, justice, and equality for all. Critical theory springs from those roots.

As research scientists who study womanism and the social determinants, racial injustices, and cultural biases that burden the progression and viability of Black girls and women, we believe that critical theory, including critical race theory, plays an important role in our work, and we believe that its evolution has improved our lives and the lives of all Americans.

So when we’re told that students should not be learning CRT in schools, or that it’s demonizing white people and dividing our society, we need to take a step back and view it in the larger context of critical theory as a whole. When we question whether we can do better, and when we give voice to people who have been sidelined, we are part of this grand tradition, and we are living up to our highest ideals as Americans.


Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and an expert on the womanist worldview and activist methodology. LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., is a research scientist who leads the Black Girls and STEM Education Research Initiative at WCW.

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Urging the Biden Administration to Change Rules for Colleges on Responding to Sexual Assault

Illustration of scales of justice against an abstract rainbow-colored backgroundSenior Research Scientist Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., read an excerpt of the following testimony at a public hearing on Title IX held by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on June 11, 2021.

The hearing invited comments on the Biden administration’s decision to rewrite the Title IX campus sexual misconduct rule finalized under the Trump administration. Williams testified that those amending Title IX policies must consider rigorous, peer-reviewed research to ensure that women are given equal access to education and cited federally funded studies including her study of college responses to sexual assault on campus recently completed with colleagues April Pattavina, Ph.D., Alison Cares, Ph.D., Nan Stein, Ed.D., and Mary Frederick.


It is critically important for the Biden administration to change the Title IX rules promulgated by the prior administration not only to assure women’s equal access to education, but also to contribute to a change in the culture that, currently, at best minimizes and at worst encourages sexual violence, physical abuse, and sexual harassment of women and girls. President Biden knows these issues well and it is on us to foster governmental and community efforts designed to end violence against women and to take decisive action to hold perpetrators accountable.

The new Title IX rules set into place during the previous administration removed longstanding protections to survivors, access to support measures and accommodations, and requirements that schools respond to all violence that creates a hostile environment, whether it occurs on campus or off. While I applaud the inclusion of dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, I wish to express my strong opposition to the inclusion of the language that sexual harassment involves “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.”

New guidance should reaffirm that Title IX offers a wide range of supportive measures and remedies that schools must provide survivors, including robust protections against retaliation, and that ensure complainants and respondents have equal procedural rights in school investigations and disciplinary proceedings addressing harassment.

The new regulations were misguided in the requirement that colleges hold live disciplinary hearings during which those who have been sexually assaulted and those accused of assaulting them present live testimony and can be cross-examined. That is not good for students and is likely to create a more litigious and adversarial process. Such a process would create an opportunity for more personal attacks than are present even in the criminal justice system, while pushing colleges to behave like that system.


Requirements for colleges to adopt criminal justice-like procedures will have a chilling effect on reporting and help-seeking.

Indeed, the criminal legal system is rarely effective in achieving justice for victims of sexual assault. I have studied this issue extensively and am familiar with the many obstacles that victims face: Most do not report sexual assault to authorities to begin with, and those who do face a secondary victimization as they must recount their experience repeatedly to police, prosecutors, and other court officials. Challenges to victim credibility come on many fronts and many complaints are discounted or the cases are dropped before adjudication.

Requirements for colleges to adopt criminal justice-like procedures will have a chilling effect on reporting and help-seeking. Few complaints will move forward, and the safety of students and their access to an education will be further jeopardized. A criminal justice model also does not make sense for colleges, whose mission is to educate, not adjudicate. Their goal is to foster norms against sexual violence and harassment, but they will end up being complicit in the re-victimization of those who report.

Our research team has examined the policies and processes that colleges and universities use to address sexual assault complaints. Along with colleagues and funded by the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, I recently completed a project on Responding to Sexual Assault on Campus. In the course of our research on 969 colleges across the US, we spoke to dozens of Title IX coordinators, many of whom felt strongly that the way they handle sexual assault cases—including sanctioning—should be in part an educational process, in keeping with the mission of their institution to educate. Addressing complaints by holding hearings and cross-examinations does not fit with that mission, and it is also inconsistent with how colleges handle other violations of student conduct codes.

The Title IX coordinators faced countless challenges. The greatest challenge for many was building capacity to respond to reports of sexual assault. They voiced a critical need for more well-trained investigators, strong institutional support, and visibility, including adequate funding, staffing, and training.

Existing research is clear. We know that one in three women experience sexual assault in their lifetimes, and such assaults begin for some even before they enter preschool. We have convincing evidence that one in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college and that college-aged women are at high risk for sexual harassment and abuse. And we know that the repercussions of these assaults on the individual women can be lifelong and place financial burdens on our economy and health care system. We also understand that perpetrators who are not held accountable are more likely to sexually assault again and that ignoring the problem of sexual assault contributes to a culture of abuse. We know all this because of decades of high-quality research, including much sponsored by the federal government.

Educational institutions must be held responsible for ensuring safe campuses that are conducive to learning and thriving for all their members, and most institutions take this responsibility very seriously. Decisions to amend these policies must consider rigorous, peer-reviewed research to ensure that women are given equal access to education.


Senior Research Scientist Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., directs the Justice and Gender Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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"We Are Not Alone in Our Struggles": Mental Health Awareness Month

Solemn young Black woman sits in front of window with light shining inMay is Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, it comes at a time when we have an increased focus on mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Media reports have focused on the increase of symptoms and the difficulties related to accessing care.

As a chronic stressor, the COVID pandemic is a difficult one. It has limited our social contact, caused financial distress, taken away jobs, schools, and childcare, and created a collective and personal grief in the lives that we have lost. While these factors have and will contribute to the development of mental health disorders for some people, it also must be acknowledged that, for many people, the distress felt in response to these factors represents a normative reaction in a difficult time. In other words, it is normal to feel sad, lonely, unmotivated, and worried during a global pandemic, and those feelings do not necessarily indicate clinical depression or anxiety.

While it seems that more U.S. adults are reporting current symptoms of depression or anxiety, there is also evidence that the level of these symptoms fluctuates based on situational factors connected with the pandemic. For example, one study found that U.S. adults reported an increase in the average psychological distress that they experienced from March 2020 to April 2020, at which point the average psychological distress reported started decreasing. By the end of June 2020, after lockdown regulations were starting to ease, people were reporting the same level of overall psychological distress as they had in early March.

This suggests that more people are reporting experiences (sadness, loss of interest, feeling nervous, and uncontrollable worry) that can indicate the presence of mental health symptoms, but that these experiences are fluctuating over time—perhaps as situational factors change for individuals. This could indicate that much of the increase in distress is caused by the events around us, and not necessarily the development of mental health disorders which would be marked by a set of specific symptoms that are present for the majority of the time (for over two weeks for depression and over six months for anxiety). While it is important to acknowledge psychological distress due to stressors, it can also be helpful to remember that it is a common reaction.


Research on resilience provides a framework to understand our experiences with mental health over the course of the pandemic.

Research on resilience provides a framework to understand our experiences with mental health over the course of the pandemic. While some mental health professionals view resilience as a personal quality, others focus on symptom trajectories over time. Studies on symptom trajectories find that the most common outcome to hardship is resilience and recovery. What I have always found to be most comforting about these studies is that people who were later found to follow a resilience trajectory were not necessarily symptom-free following the stressor. Resilience was not necessarily a measure of making it through unscathed, but rather, a measure of bouncing back over time. People on the recovery trajectory experience more initial symptoms, but again, they return to baseline functioning over the course of time.

This is not to discount the distress experienced or the difficulties that individuals have endured over the course of the past year. There will be people who develop or continue experiencing chronic mental health symptoms. Access to clinicians and well-researched interventions that have proven to be effective as well as a general shift in our understanding and treatment of mental health is crucial to promoting recovery and supporting each other. And it may help to remember that, with time, many people will bounce back from the hardships of the past year.

A glimmer of hope was provided by the preliminary look at the mortality data for 2020. (It should be noted that these data represent a national snapshot and do not examine trends within specific racial or demographic groups.) These data suggest that as many more of us began to experience psychological distress, the deaths by suicide decreased from the year before. When I shared this with my partner, his immediate response was, “Do you think it’s because people have a greater awareness that so many of us are having a difficult time? It feels more normal to struggle?” I have no idea if this is the case. And yet, I hope that this is one thing that we can take away from the pandemic—we are not alone in our struggles. Hopefully, this knowledge can guide us to reach out to others with empathy and support one another through the challenging times as we look toward recovery.


Katherine R. Buchholz, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research scientist working on the Depression Prevention Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women.


If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or check out these resources.

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Combating Sex Trafficking of Children and Teens

Window that says Stop Child TraffickingApril is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. Over the years, our work at WCW has addressed a wide range of critical issues related to these topics. One of the lesser publicly understood issues is the pressing problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and teens, also known as sex trafficking.

CSEC involves adults having sex with children and teens in exchange for money or goods. Contrary to what many may think, it does happen here in the U.S. Domestic sex trafficking of a child can occur without crossing state lines, and it can occur even if the person who sexually exploits doesn’t know that the child is a minor.

The minors involved in the sex trade or trafficking, whether internationally or domestically, should be viewed as victims and not offenders. At times, our social (and even legal) responses to prostituted children and youth often are the opposite, and in many states in the U.S., teens of a certain age who have traded sex for money can be and often are arrested and charged in criminal courts. The exploiters—both the procurers (pimps) and the users (sometimes called johns)—often escape arrest. We must keep in mind that in most states, sexual contact by an adult with a child younger than age 18 is a reportable act of child maltreatment.

Recent trafficking legislation in the U.S. and around the globe asserts that persons under 18 engaged in commercial sex are victims, and that those who are underage cannot be seen as volunteering to be trafficked. Girls may be drawn in as victims of commercial sexual exploitation by the deceits and lies of those who recruit them—the lures of parties, drugs, or even the simple shelter and food that they may also get as part of the barter. Prior research and analyses have presented evidence that teens engaged in trading sex for money do so as a result of desperation or of manipulation by adults.

My research team examined pathways into and out of commercial sexual exploitation in collaboration with researchers, service providers, grassroots organizers, and young women and men who have escaped CSEC. Our project was designed to reflect the voices of the youth themselves, through their narrative accounts of their lives and pathways to CSEC.

We found that exploitation and control are, of course, a major aspect of CSEC. Its primary feature is the status of the exploited person as a minor and sex with this minor is achieved through coercion, manipulation, grooming or force. In many cases it is the manipulation and grooming that draws the young person into the relationship with the exploiter.


From the narratives of the young girls and women we spoke to, we learned that some offenders have an uncanny ability to identify and exploit the needs of girls, especially those with prior victimization histories or who have been thrown away, pushed out, or abandoned.

The power and authority that comes with the older age of the exploiter may be enough to draw a teen into what is sometimes referred to as “the life” (of CSEC). Drugs, force, and violence are more commonly relied upon to make the victim stay. Violence, sometimes directed at others, provides powerful lessons to the exploited teen.

In reality, psychological manipulation is the most common tool used to bring a teen into “the life.” From the narratives of the young girls and women we spoke to, we learned that some offenders have an uncanny ability to identify and exploit the needs of girls, especially those with prior victimization histories or who have been thrown away, pushed out, or abandoned. Those exploiting teens for sex often “romance” these girls—showering them with gifts and attention. We learned that when an older male treats her nicely and “makes her feel like a queen with brand new clothes, fancy cars and hotels …” the teen is then primed for being exploited by others to whom the exploiter sells her for sex. Most commonly, the money is not given to the teen.

Another tool used by exploiters is to threaten to tell the teen’s family members about her involvement and to take photos or use photos taken by others to keep her silent out of possible fear that her family or others would see them. Some pimps provide teens with fake IDs that they can use to get into bars or clubs and if confronted by law enforcement.

In describing CSEC and the behaviors of the exploiters—the child rapists, in effect—it is important not to lose sight of the cultural and societal frame that surrounds the commercial sexual exploitation of youth in the U.S. The attention of a desirable older male may overwhelm all caution in some young women—especially those whose family lives may have placed them at risk for the approaches of such men. Seduction by the exploiter is enabled by the notion that his behavior is part of a repertoire of appropriate male-female relationships: The work of the “pimp” is embedded in notions, still held by many men and some women in the U.S., of what are appropriate male-female relationships.

There are now many programs throughout the U.S. that provide support for victims of commercial sexual exploitation and assist them in exiting this “life,” although more support is needed for these programs. Most critically, their work has expanded to prevention of commercial sexual exploitation through community education in identifying risk and providing support. Some states have changed laws to assure that CSEC minors are viewed as victims rather than as offenders.

Societal notions about this topic must change, as well. This includes changing the social norms that support transactional sex and the fetishization and hypersexualizing of girls. Such changing of social norms is a process that takes time and requires community interventions and ongoing community discussion.


Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her research focuses on the justice system response to sexual violence, commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and child maltreatment.

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Liberia’s Education Crisis: Quality v Access

This post by Laura Golakeh, a 2015 summer intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women, was originally published in The Analyst, a Liberian newspaper. It is posted here with permission.

Laura GolakehOn March 11, 2021, the House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to “create a special education scheme to support deserving students attending public tertiary institutions across Liberia. The Bill is titled “An Act to Create a Special Education Fund to Support and Sustain the Tuition Free Scheme for the University of Liberia, All Public Universities and Colleges’ Program and the Free WASSCE fess for Ninth and Twelfth Graders in Liberia, or the Weah Education Fund (WEF) for short. The bill when enacted into law, will make all public colleges and universities “tuition-free”. The passage of this bill by the Lower House has been met by mixed reactions across the country: young, old, educated, not educated, stakeholders, parents, teachers among others, have all voiced their opinions about this bill. While some are celebrating this purported huge milestone in the education sector, others are still skeptical that this bill may only increase access but not address the structural challenges within the sector. I join forces with the latter, and in this article, I discuss the quality and access concept in our education sector and why quality is important than access. I recommend urgent action to improve quality for learners in K-12.

While this may sound like a broken record, an overview of our context is key in addressing the pertinent issues in my article. Liberia is still rebuilding its damaged education system after more than 14 years of crisis. Additionally, structural inequalities and the recent Ebola crisis in 2015, have contributed to challenges facing the education sector. While some gains have been made, Liberia is still behind many sub-Saharan countries in most education statistics. Poor learning outcomes, overage enrollment, unskilled and unqualified teachers, poor infrastructure are among some of the many challenges facing the sector. There are no national school quality standards and no proper monitoring mechanism at the county and district level. In 2013, all 25,000 candidates seeking admission at the University of Liberia, Liberia’s oldest degree granting institution failed the entrance exam. According to an official, the candidates lacked “enthusiasm and a grasp of basic English”. To put that into perspective, 25,000 individuals who went through K-12 lacked basic English skills needed to thrive in college. I put it that, quality is the issue, not access. A closer look at the following stats may help us understand this more clearly. It is no secret that Liberia has made progress in providing access to education, but has made limited progress in retaining learners. A World Bank report in 2016 showed that, of children who enroll in primary school in the country, 69 percent ‘survive’ to grade 6 and 59 percent ‘survive’ to grade 9. On the other hand, in the Education Quality and Access in Liberia (EQUAL) study, the mean score for Grade 3 oral reading fluency was 19.9 correct words per minute, compared to a mean score of 25 correct words per minute on the EGRAPlus assessment, and an average of 18.9 correct words per minute for Grade 3 students assessed by the Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP) II study. International benchmarks associated with literacy and comprehension are set at an oral reading fluency of between 45–65 correct words per minute. Again, the issue is quality and not access. It is not enough for a learner to have a seat in the classroom, the emphasis for policymakers is to guarantee that learner has quality education while they are sitting in that seat. The emphasis is to fix our broken system and ensure adequate funding for our schools. The emphasis is to overhaul our K-12 system and ensure our learners are graduating with relevant skills to succeed in their personal and professional endeavors. As one of my mentors and former boss said in a recent post on social media, we “cannot fix the roof while the foundation is collapsing”. This is a complete error in judgment. A careful review of the sector has brought me to the conclusion that focusing on quality in the system especially, K12 should be a key priority. Policymakers should also be cognizant of the following issues:

Teacher Quality and Societal Perception of Teachers: Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainability Goals aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Teachers therefore are needed to play a key role in achieving this goal by 2030. According to a World Bank report, about 62 percent of Liberian public school teachers are not qualified. Additionally, teachers especially public-school teachers are underpaid compared to other professions in the country. The “salary of teachers in Liberia range between US$140 to US$500 per month depending on their level of education. The lowest paid teachers, certificate holders, earn between US$100-US$ 140 while B certificate holders’ pocket US$ 180-US$ 200”. According to a study by the Center for Global Development conducted in 15 African countries, “teachers are paid either a lower or comparable monthly salary to other wage workers with similar educational background in three-quarters of African countries”. These issues make it difficult for the system to attract qualified teachers, hence the influx of unqualified teachers. According to an IREX report, research conducted to study perceptions of the teaching profession in Liberia showed that the profession is viewed by many as low compared to other professions in the country. It is true that a greater part of a teacher’s experience is based on how society views them and the profession in general. Countries like Singapore have the best education system because reverence for its teachers is well documented.

Bottomline, increase teacher’s compensation, provide professional development opportunities, ensure teachers are monitored and evaluated and engage in an advocacy and outreach campaign to change societal perceptions of the teaching profession. It is widely known that the social status of the teaching profession impacts recruitment and retention of effective teachers. Recent findings from the Global Teacher Index 2018 study suggests that there is a correlation between teacher status and student learning outcomes and that increasing teacher status can directly improve the pupil performance of a country’s students.

Reform Student Assessments: Education leaders need to promote a comprehensive and rigorous assessment systems that contribute to quality education. Student assessment reform is also a powerful stimulus for quality improvement in higher education and its reform goes well beyond the domain of assignments and examinations. Ensure classroom and large scale system level assessments are put in place to not only assess learning in the classroom but also continuous evaluation of the education system. Particular emphasis should be made to encourage teachers to design formative assessments that reflect students’ learning outcomes and that track individual students’ growth, rather than focusing on comparing students with one another. Teachers should be taught the necessary skills and expertise to carry out these assessments. A reform assessment module will serve to diagnose student learning issues, provide feedback to students on their learning, inform teaching, communicate with parents about their child’s learning, and meet school-level requirements on assessing student achievement. The goal is to graduate from traditional assessment to 21st century assessment.

Bottomline, ensure an enabling environment, system alignment and improve assessment quality.

21st Century/Competency Infused Curriculum: I wrote in a previous article, that a competency infused curriculum for education is essential for all learners in Liberia. Curriculum and quality works together. Our curriculum needs to be reformed to reflect our learners developing cognitive skills, practical skills, attitudes, emotions, values and ethics and motivation related to cooperation for learners. A quality education is one that prepares learners to be global citizens. The World Economic Forum defines global citizenship skills as those that focuses on building awareness about the wider world, sustainability and playing an active role in the global community.

Bottomline, a competency infused curriculum will lead to better learning outcomes for learners and better prepare them to thrive in the 21st century.

Gender Nudge: Gender awareness drives quality. In Liberia, as well as our education system, patriachal tendencies have led to a greater disadvantage for female and other vulnerable learners in classrooms. Poverty, disability, early marriage and pregnancy, gender-based violence, cultural ideals about the status and role of women in our society have helped build obstacles for female learners. Inorder for Liberia to ensure quality education for its citizenry, these gender related issues need to be addressed adequately.It is without any doubt that education policies and programs are bound to fail if gender is not mainstreamed in its designs and implementation.For example, a policy that wants to ensure that girls and women thrive in educational institutions should take into account that institutions do not work without interacting with and getting influenced by societal or cultural factors such as family, state, media and society. As a result, educational institutions are forced to perpetuate the stereotypes held against women in society. Such influences can stop women and girls from realizing their potential in academia as they are forced to encounter issues of discrimination, sexual harassment, dominancy of males among others.

Bottomline, mainstreaming gender in education policies and programs as a prerequisite for quality education.

Lastly, the Liberian Government needs to invest resources in the sector. Lawmakers should work with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders to allocate more budget support for the sector. Liberia education spending for 2018 was 8.06% of its GDP, a 0.2% decline from 2017. Recently, civil society organizations in Liberia protested over an 8 percent decrease of the education budget from 570 million in 2018/2019 to 525 million in 2019/2020 national budget.

The education system is in serious need of a “fix” not a temporary political solution. I choose quality over access.


Laura Golakeh is a gender and education expert. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Gender and Peacebuilding and is currently a student at Harvard University pursuing a Master’s in International Education Policy. During the summer of 2015, Laura was an intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women. 

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How Asian Women (and Men) are Dehumanized

Professor Lee wrote this reflection the day after eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed at spas in the Atlanta area, and shared it with the Wellesley College community. It is posted here with her permission.

Stop Asian Hate photograph by Miki Jourdan. Blacka and white photo of woman holding sign that says Stop Asian Hate. DC Rally for Collective Safety; Protect Asian/AAPI Communities; McPherson Square, Washington, DC.Stop Asian Hate by Miki Jourdan. DC Rally for Collective Safety; Protect Asian/AAPI Communities; McPherson Square, Washington, DC. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license. I spent much of yesterday in a spiral of grief, fear, and rage, thinking, among other things, about mace and bulletproof vests, wondering whether Wellesley should provide them for our Asian American students (do you know how many students of Asian descent we have? each one an individual, with their own hopes, fears, quirks, talents, ambitions, with their own sense of humor, their own way of experiencing the world)...

You may have seen or read about the news conference yesterday at which the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson (a monster who is in charge of communication and community relations, unbelievably enough) spoke lovingly and sympathetically of the man who hunted down Asian women in cold blood, driving miles to do so. Throughout the day, this murderer was portrayed by media as innocent, church-going, pious. He loves pizza, drums, going to church. Apparently also Asian women. He was just "having a bad day." Just reached the end of his rope. Poor, good kid! If only those Asian women were not so tempting! (“[It's] a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.")

The names of two of the four Korean women murdered have not even been released (what did they like to eat or do in their spare time, if they had any, I wonder; my 94-year-old Korean mother-in-law also loves pizza). To America (and, yes, even here at Wellesley), Asians are faceless numbers or bodies. Just faceless numbers or bodies: bodies that are sometimes grudgingly tolerated at the table for the sake of "diversity," sometimes held up like a shield to protect white supremacy or used as a weapon to injure other people of color, sometimes fetishized and lusted after, sometimes (most of the time, now) beaten, spat on, or shot. Getting back to the bullet-proof vest idea: I'm afraid to go outside.

To call things "microaggressions" (like being yelled at to "go back where you came from") is misleading. If you've ever experienced one, you know that it's only the tip of a gigantic iceberg of hatred that's coming right at you. Sometimes that hatred boils over; at other times, it congeals into a huge, massive, cruel indifference. Asians suffer or die—so what? Aren't they just funny little people (or sexy little people) who are meant to stand in the background, serve you, not speak or have opinions or lead, god forbid! Supposed to give you nice massages or paint your nails, get out of the way (or be gotten out of the way, with millions of tons of napalm if necessary), and, most importantly, weren't they put on earth to be the butt of jokes everywhere, in public and in private, among liberals and conservatives?

Aren't there just too many Asians, always too many of them? Are we not a horde, a tide, too many to even count? And for us, the psychic cost of knowing that hatred—well, just try to imagine it, if you are so fortunate as not to know from your own experience what it's like to be hated or despised. Reading Asian Americans write about their shame and self-hatred breaks my heart; I can't do it any more.

I am not asking for your sympathy. I'm an old, tenured member of the faculty, and I will be fine. But I needed to express some of this bitterness of soul, as I look for ways to turn my rage and grief and fear into action. I would ask you to think about the people of Asian descent you encounter (as individuals with distinct faces, names, and histories) and to think about how we can extend some of the love and sympathy that was lavished on the white murderer to members of our own community, who have been and will be receiving all the effects of the obscene legacy of Trump.

The police and the media still refuse to call it a hate crime. They take the murderer at his own word that he was not racist: as if to dehumanize Asian people into a trope of "sexual temptation" were not obscenely racist and misogynist. I ask you to please, please, stop denying that racism exists or that it rules our lives, determines where we can and cannot go, and suffocates human potential at every hour of every day for all non-white people (Breonna, George, Tamir, Travis...).

Please use the word when it's called for. Call racism by its name. Whatever your own race, you can call out racism when you see it. It's particularly urgent for white folks to do so; I can't emphasize this enough.

In case it wasn't apparent, some (though not all) of my remarks above are sarcastic. Also, I've been saying these things forever. Thanks for reading.

Yoon Sun Lee, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Wellesley College. She works in several fields: the eighteenth-century novel, British prose in the Romantic period, Asian American literature, narrative theory, and literary theory.

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On Equal Pay Day, Researching Policies for a Gender Equitable Future

Illustration of three people standing on three stacks of coins to represent the gender pay gap. A white man stands on the tallest stack of coins. A white woman stands on the second tallest stack of coins. A Black woman stands on the lowest stack of coins. As a new mother, you hold your baby in your arms, wishing for the best of the best for her. You may also be facing difficult career questions upon her arrival: When should you start working again? Should you be a stay-at-home-mom? Should you get a new job with a more flexible schedule? Will you be able to get promoted when you’re back at work? If you have a daughter, will she face the same choices in the future?

When it comes to ensuring that women are able to maintain careers while having children, some progress has been made at the national level, including the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that enforces equal pay for equal work and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 that requires covered employers to provide employees with unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. However, these laws are not nearly enough to eradicate gender inequality in the workplace or the gender wage gap.

Today is Equal Pay Day, a symbolic occasion that raises awareness about the wage gap. The date represents how far into the year U.S. women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. This year, Equal Pay Day is August 3 for black women, September 8 for Native American women, and October 21 for Latina women. While many factors contribute to the gender wage gap, two significant factors are the “sorting problem” — overrepresentation of women in low-wage industries and occupations — and gender roles at home.

Despite the fact that in recent years, the percentage of women 25 and older who have at least a bachelor’s degree is higher than the percentage of men, longstanding gender biases cause women to cluster in certain college majors. Women are still scarce in majors related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), a gateway to high-paying jobs. Thus, they are automatically “sorted” into relatively low-paying industries even before starting their careers.

However, even if women follow a career path in a well-paying industry and position, research shows that male and female college grads who start their careers earning similar salaries end up with a substantial gap. Gender roles, especially the fact that women are often primary caregivers for children, are the biggest culprit. Some women choose to be stay-at-home moms, some switch to more flexible or part-time positions, and others just cannot keep up with the demands of their jobs enough to be promoted. Hence, the gap widens.

The economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis have brought out the worst of the consequences of the sorting problem and gender roles. First, industries like hospitality and retail, which are dominated by women, have been hit the hardest. Second, mothers have been especially vulnerable due to the lack of childcare and increased home responsibilities such as homeschooling. Now many are calling this crisis a “she-cession,” and the burden is not only financial but also psychological.

Census Bureau graph from the report, Moms, Work and the Pandemic. Graph shows percent of mothers living with their own school-age children who left the workforce in 2020.

These effects could have been less severe if policies were in place to fix systemic gender inequalities. The pandemic has revealed the urgency of implementing actionable and effective policies that will set us on a path toward a gender-equitable recovery as well as a gender-equitable future.

For example, we need policies that promote an education system free of gender bias, in which girls are encouraged to pursue careers in STEM fields. We need to invest in affordable child care and flexible work schedules for all. And we need to design optimum paid parental leave policies that help parents to achieve a more manageable work-family balance and improve the labor market outcomes of women as well as the health and wellbeing of both children and mothers, while incentivizing firms to promote equality in the workplace.

At WCW, my research focuses on understanding the impacts of current paid leave laws in the U.S. Unfortunately, the U.S. is the only developed country with no federal paid family leave. However, there are some states with job-protected paid leave laws and some others with legislation underway. Research to date on the effects of these laws is limited and based mostly on California data since it was the first state to enact such a law, in 2004. Some studies based on California data show that it has a positive impact on employment and wages of new mothers, especially in the short run, while others find contradictory evidence in the long run.

Clearly, we need further research. Our research with the Longitudinal Business Database and the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics database, linked to the 2000 Census and American Community Surveys (2005-2017), is more comprehensive than previous studies and will broaden our knowledge to design better policies as it includes New Jersey and Rhode Island data and looks at employee-employer relationships.

It will take time to change social norms and prejudices, and to eliminate gender discrimination that is engraved in our social fabric. But as we pursue research that shows us which policies can help, we advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing. Equal Pay Day reminds us that we must keep fighting this fight, in order to create a better future for our children.


Deniz Çivril, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and Special-Sworn-Status researcher at the U.S. Census Bureau. Her research interests center on labor economics, international trade, and corporate finance. Her current projects at WCW focus on women in the workplace.

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Internship Reflection: Studying How Extended Family Members Talk to Teens About Sex and Relationships

Nora Pearce, Wellesley College StudentSex education in the American public school system varies from state to state and from school district to school district. The lack of standardized sex education makes family education and conversations about sex and relationships all the more important for teenagers and their development. It is often assumed that parents are the default—that they are the only family members responsible for initiating these conversations. In my research conducted with WCW Senior Research Scientist Jennifer M. Grossman, Ph.D., and Research Associate Amanda M. Richer, M.A., on how extended family members talk to teens about sex and relationships, we learned how communication about these topics spans beyond parents.

For this qualitative study, we interviewed 39 participants in the U.S. who identified themselves as extended family members who talk to a teen in their family about sex or relationships. (We include siblings in the extended family member category because studies suggest there are significant similarities in the way siblings and cousins talk about sex or relationships with teens.) Within our sample, participants reported a wide range of involvement in the teen’s sexuality development. Their diverse experiences showed us that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to talking about sex or relationships with teens.

More than 90% of our participants reported that having a personal connection with the teen enabled them to talk about sex and relationships. One of our participants, Jennifer, recounted how she once asked her teenage cousin if she talks with other family members about these topics. “She’s like ‘No,’ she doesn’t feel comfortable telling them anything,” shared Jennifer. “And she feels more comfortable with me. Because we just have that connection.” Qualities such as trust and closeness resonated with other participants who said their close connection with the teen was key to their open conversations.

Some of the extended family members we interviewed coordinated with other family members on what messages they wanted to convey. Lucy and her sisters decided together that they needed to ensure their brother knew about the health risks of being sexually active. “We actually made a slideshow about, um, the different, you know, sexually transmitted diseases and infections,” she said. “And we included — I mean it had to be graphic, but we really wanted to get the point across of, like, why I buy the condoms every month. It’s just you have to protect yourself. So we made him sit down and, like, go through all of our slides.” Other participants said that they were the primary or even the only family member who would talk to the teen about sex or relationships.

Working on this research project prompted me to reflect on my own position in my family network. Reading the interviews inspired me to be more open and intentional in talking about sex or relationships with my teenage cousin. My conversations with her came at a critical time when she was receiving unhealthy and unhelpful messages from other family members about sex or relationships. Building off of our pre-existing family bond and knowing well her family history and living situation, our conversations felt more meaningful and effective for both of us.

This research is an invitation for everyone to reflect on their own family networks and the communication that takes place in the family about sex and relationships. Because as extended family members, we can play a critical and positive role in the lives of teens by having these conversations, even during the pandemic.

To learn more about this study, watch my short video about our findings or check out the article I co-authored with the researchers in the journal Sexes.


Nora Pearce is a student at Wellesley College pursuing a degree in Education Studies and Art History. She was awarded the Morse Fellowship to intern with Dr. Jennifer M. Grossman at the Wellesley Centers for Women for the 2019-2020 academic year.

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Moving Forward from a Year of Sacrifice

Happy New Year from all of us at the Wellesley Centers for Women! This is a moment of profound reflection about all we’ve been through and where we are headed.



2020 was a year like no other. From out of nowhere came a global pandemic that left no one untouched. Many of us, myself included, were visited by the strange new sickness known as COVID-19. Many of us endured the loss of loved ones whose lives were cut short by a virus we barely understood, but thanks to scientists working around the clock and around the world, the genome was quickly mapped, its elusive symptoms were painstakingly documented, and life-saving therapies and vaccines were developed and tested in record time. In many respects, this was a year when we learned what we were capable of as one human race writ large.

Yet, it was also a year when we had to face some of our ugliest demons. The specters of racial inequality and racial violence jointly rose up amid the pandemic, sparking a racial justice movement larger and more inclusive than any we have seen in decades, perhaps ever. We were moved to tears and rage by the CDC’s data showing that people of color were roughly 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 as white people, as well as by the ongoing killings of Black people — such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks — even with the pandemic raging on. The movement for racial justice generated important dialogues, as well as many changes in policy and practice around the country. Yet, it also highlighted all the work we have yet to do to ensure a world of equality, justice, and wellbeing for all.

The devastating pandemic deepened financial fissures, ripping away what little economic security many people had managed to accumulate. We saw unemployment spike, surpassing all past records, we saw food pantry lines triple and quadruple, we saw more people become unhoused or buckle under the looming threat of eviction. Yet, against this backdrop, we witnessed in 2020 the emergence of the world’s first centibillionaires — that is, individuals whose wealth exceeds $100 billion.

On the bright side, our society came to recognize the tremendous worth of many low-wage essential workers — from nursing assistants and emergency medical technicians, to grocery and restaurant workers, to truck drivers, delivery people, and everyone in logistics, to gig workers of all kinds — expressing long-overdue gratitude for all they do to keep society functioning. Yet, most are still economically vulnerable and will remain so without a major rethinking of what makes a society thrive economically.

As we begin a new year, we must concern ourselves with the fact that economists have predicted a K-shaped pattern of economic recovery — one in which those who are financially well-off are expected to do better and better and those who are financially vulnerable are expected to do worse and worse.

The mental health consequences of 2020 were not insignificant. The stresses of the pandemic, the stresses of racial inequality and violence, the stresses of economic precarity, the stresses of new patterns of life, and the stresses of looming unknowns affected virtually everyone in some way. For those of us who had to suddenly pivot last March from “life as usual” to “work from home” and, often, “remote schooling” for our children, there were many new stressors, from having no clear boundaries between work, family, and self, to the pressure of having to take on new roles such as homeschool teacher or family nurse and public health officer.

These pressures were especially acute for women, a not insignificant number of whom made the difficult decision to retreat from the workforce, whether to care for family or pursue other life goals. We must also remember what the year was like for those women and girls — in fact, for anyone — for whom home was not a safe place to be, whether for reasons of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, or child abuse — all at a time when protective services and resources were sharply curtailed due to the pandemic.

For people who had to isolate at home alone, loneliness and disconnection became real risks, as did fears of what would happen if they got sick with no one around. The year was perhaps most stressful of all for those who could not be together with loved ones who were in the hospital or, even more tragically, those who could not be together with loved ones who were dying.

And we cannot forget the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who were the heroic heart of the year, who were caring for us and our loved ones, despite the uncertainties related to their own health and survival, and despite the risk to their own families.

2020 was a year of great sacrifice for every single person on this planet, in fact, a year of profound trauma for some, and we owe each other the grace of that. Against this backdrop, we must look ahead in 2021.

The fact that 2020 was an election year almost fades into the background, yet, it becomes a source of hope when we imagine the possibilities of a new administration and all that we can do together, inside and outside politics, to restore faith in ourselves and the world.

We must, in particular, acknowledge the historic first of Kamala Harris, a Black woman, a South Asian woman, and first-generation woman born of immigrant parents, being elected Vice President of the United States, and the courage of Joe Biden, a white male presidential candidate, to buck the trend of history by choosing her as a running mate.

These things bode well as we continue our work of building a more inclusive and equitable society in which all can prosper and thrive. We at the Wellesley Centers for Women are energized by a tempered optimism, geared up for another year of doing what we do best — shaping a better world through research and action — and we look forward to partnering with all who share our vision in 2021!

Layli MaparyanLayli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Internship Reflection: Studying Women’s Entrepreneurship During a Pandemic

Jessica Wu, Wellesley College StudentI spent the past semester working with Professor Sari Kerr as a research intern, and greatly enjoyed the experience. Our weekly Zoom meetings were welcomed as constant reminders of my connection to Wellesley, despite studying off campus. My work with her focused on the role of entrepreneurship and how it affects social mobility of low-income women and their children.

I began with a literature review which showed that those with self-employed parents are more likely to be entrepreneurs themselves. However, this entrepreneurial spirit that is passed down often appears in surprising ways. While many people envision entrepreneurship being passed down through family-owned businesses, I found that it was typically through “knowledge spillovers” such as social capital like personal connections and/or the knowledge of running a business. In other words, many parents are passing on to their children information about how to be an entrepreneur, not necessarily a specific business or the ability to be a successful entrepreneur.

After finding that there were these differences, I began working with another research assistant, Shirley Wu, to analyze a data set from Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Panel Study of Income Dynamics. I’m very thankful to have been able to work with Shirley as well, not only because she helped put together and organize the data set, but because having another person to work with helped build a truly collaborative atmosphere. Using a statistical software program called Stata, we were able to run initial analytics to understand the general distribution of individuals within the data set and create mobility matrices that displayed movement between parental and child incomes. This allowed us to see preliminary differences in generational mobility between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs.

It has been very interesting to do this research while watching the economic impact of COVID-19 on small businesses unfold. A paper that I read during the literature review noted that women have lower rates of entry into and higher rates of exit from entrepreneurship. During a time when so many small businesses are hurting, I am reminded that women entrepreneurs are disproportionately negatively impacted and that we will likely see a lower number return to entrepreneurship in the future. As this research continues, we hope to contribute to the literature focusing on the unique experience that low-income women entrepreneurs face in running successful businesses.

I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to do research as a student. I still remember talking to Professor Kerr about research opportunities during one of her office hours, and I’m so glad we got to work together. This experience has given me confidence in my own ability to conduct research and confirmed my interest in pursuing similar work after graduation.

 

Jessica Wu is a member of the Wellesley College class of 2021 who is majoring in Economics and Psychology. She was awarded the Linda Coyne Lloyd Student Research Internship at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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The Urgency of Ending Violence Against Women and Girls in the Midst of COVID-19

UN women End Violence Against WomenToday, the International Day to End Violence Against Women and Girls, we call for a renewed commitment to this work in the U.S. The UN Women’s executive director has called for governments to make visible at the highest level a “commitment to addressing violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19.” As we approach 2021 and look forward to a new federal administration in the U.S., we not only encourage our government to act immediately to work to end violence against women and girls (VAWG), but we also remind individuals and communities of the important roles they play in this work.

A commitment to ending VAWG is critical during the COVID-19 global pandemic. We know the facts: Violence against women is a human rights violation of pandemic proportions — and it is exacerbated during times of job loss, economic insecurity, and extended periods of time at home. COVID-19 has brought many stressors into homes across the U.S., and reports of domestic violence and child abuse, including sexual assault, have increased.

Even prior to the pandemic, one in three women worldwide (including in the U.S.) experienced physical or sexual violence, most often at the hands of an intimate partner. VAWG increases when families face economic challenges, including unemployment. Coping with health needs and concerns, grieving the deaths of loved ones, and caring for children have also contributed to higher stress levels, leading to an increase in VAWG. Furthermore, limited interactions with caring communities and a change in the nature and availability of services compound the problem and contribute to the violence that occurs behind closed doors.

We need to be vigilant in addressing violence and abuse and raise awareness on international, national, and local levels. First, we encourage our government to disseminate a strong message calling for an end to violence against women. We recognize that President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have a lot on their respective plates right now, most notably the tremendous pressure to respond to the health crisis brought about by COVID-19 and its threat to all Americans. By prioritizing COVID-19 relief, the incoming administration also has an opportunity to begin reversing some of the negative effects the coronavirus pandemic has had in terms of VAWG.

Biden has prioritized ending violence against women legislatively in the past, but this issue needs to be brought to the forefront once more. An important immediate response is to reinstate the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — originally co-authored by Biden during his days in the Senate, and renewed many times. VAWA supported a National Panel on Violence Against Women (on which Linda Williams served) designed to develop a research agenda to increase the understanding and control of violence against women and has supported quality care for victims while also mandating research efforts to support important violence against women research.

This act last expired in 2019. The most recent version, passed by the House of Representatives, addressed issues of violence against BIPOC women and the LGBTQ community, all of which are critical to combating VAWG today. Passage and reauthorization of a new VAWA will have to overcome the roadblocks previously encountered in the Senate, and its fate may depend on the results of the Georgia runoff races. We urge all government leaders to recognize the importance of a VAWA that is good for all women, children, and families — especially those who identify as BIPOC.

A decisive position is needed to lead us out of this dark time in the history of violence against women. Once we’ve reached the other side of the pandemic, there needs to be a focused effort — supported by ongoing research and community collaboration — leading to a consortium of federal agencies, researchers, practitioners, and survivors that will examine the next steps needed to end VAWG and to address social norms that promote it.

It is also critically important for the new administration to amend the regulations on how colleges and universities respond to sexual assault, not only to assure women’s equal access to education as provided by Title IX, but also to contribute to a change in the culture that currently, at best, minimizes and, at worst, encourages sexual violence, physical abuse, and sexual harassment of women and girls. On this day dedicated to ending violence against women and girls, it is time to stop minimizing the experiences of victims and to take decisive action to hold men accountable, starting at the highest levels of government.

 

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research focuses on the justice system response to sexual violence, commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and child maltreatment.

Hayley Moniz is a member of the Wellesley College class of 2022 who is majoring in Sociology. At the Wellesley Centers for Women, she was awarded the Class of 1967 Internship for the 2020-2021 academic year, which supports her work with Dr. Williams on the justice system response to sexual violence.

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A New Era of Compassion and Unity

Light spills into dark room through open doorwayWe at the Wellesley Centers for Women are starting our week with a sense of hope and possibility. We are proud to have a new President-Elect who has the courage to put gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing first. We share these values, and we’re excited to move forward together to make them a reality in the United States.

One hundred years after women won the right to vote, and 55 years after the Voting Rights Act abolished laws that disenfranchised Black Americans, President-Elect Biden chose a woman of color, of Indian and Jamaican descent, as his running mate. Little girls across the country who see themselves in Vice President-Elect Harris now know that they, too, can reach the White House. Representation matters, and it moves the needle on gender equality and racial justice.

In his acceptance speech on Saturday night, President-Elect Biden spoke about compassion and unity. We know these values help individuals thrive and communities achieve justice. It is our hope that we can begin a new era, with compassion and unity as guiding forces to improve the lives of women and girls, children and youth, families and communities, in all their diversity.

Vice President-Elect Harris noted on Saturday night that protecting our democracy takes struggle and sacrifice. “There is joy in it and there is progress,” she said. Furthering gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing also takes struggle and sacrifice, and there is much left to be done. At WCW, we’ve been doing this work for the past 46 years, and we’ll be doing it for the next 46. The joy comes when we reflect on all that we have accomplished towards our cherished goals, and when we anticipate the many gains ahead, knowing we are leading with those who share our vision.

And now, we get back to work.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Parents' Communication with Teens About Dating is Changing During the Pandemic

Father talking to daughter on couchThe pandemic has altered family life in unexpected ways. Some kids are happier now that they’ve gotten a chance to slow down; more people are cooking; and men have discovered housework. Parents’ conversations with their teens about dating and relationships, and their monitoring of their teens’ behavior, have also changed.

My research team — which included WCW Associate Research Scientist Lisette M. DeSouza, Ph.D., WCW Research Associate Amanda M. Richer, and Alicia Doyle Lynch, Ph.D., of Lynch Research Associates — surveyed 328 parents of high school students throughout the U.S. between March and June of this year. We asked questions about how they communicated with their teens about dating and relationships before schools closed due to COVID-19 as compared to afterwards. We also asked questions about their stress levels and whether and how they monitored their teens’ behavior.

What we found was a significant drop in parent-teen communication about dating and relationships once COVID hit. This makes sense: parents reported higher stress levels as many deal with sick family members, essential work requirements, financial difficulties, and the general anxiety of the pandemic, which likely leads them to focus on the immediate day-to-day needs of their families and put off these types of conversations. And with many teens stuck at home, parents may assume that relationships and physical intimacy in particular are on hold, so the need to talk about them is not as critical.

For example, one parent explained, “Having the added stress of constantly being together, and now having to not only be his parent, but his makeshift teacher, and then trying to talk about serious things too, has all been just too much.” Another parent shared, “The fact that kids are not interacting, thus there is no "dating" taking place, which is a little bit more difficult to talk about and put in context when it isn't happening.”

We also found an interesting change in gender roles among heterosexual parents. Mothers reported having fewer conversations with their teens about dating and relationships, and fathers reported monitoring their teens’ behavior more closely than before the pandemic. This increase in fathers’ monitoring may in part reflect fathers’ shift from working outside the home to being at home during the pandemic (61% of fathers made this transition compared to 39% of mothers). While mothers are still monitoring and communicating more than fathers, it may be that since many fathers are spending more time at home, parents’ roles have shifted, and fathers are taking a more active part in their teens’ lives.

More research is needed to delve into what this data means, but it’s an important reminder that parenting roles aren’t set in stone. Sometimes a crisis can prompt unpredictable and even positive changes. The way parents have communicated with and monitored their teens in the past doesn’t necessarily dictate their future actions. Thinking outside the box can help; though mothers are often assumed to be the ones in charge of having these conversations, my research has shown that fathers play an important role, as do extended families.

October is National Family Sexuality Education Month, which is as good a time as any to reassess family communication about dating and relationships. Even if teens are at home, they’re likely chatting with peers online, and may be forming new relationships or continuing existing ones. They may have different questions now about what’s appropriate or comfortable in a relationship. Maybe it’s time to start a conversation with them, and consider with fresh eyes who might have that conversation.

Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist who leads the Family, Sexuality, and Communication Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Are Men Really More Confident Than Women?

Leading a Life in Balance by Joan Wallace-BenjaminIn my recently released book, Leading a Life in Balance: Principles of Leadership from the Executive Suite to the Family Table, I talk about the impact of confidence on one’s career, professional, and personal development, and the importance of building and strengthening one’s confidence over a lifetime. The conversation about confidence often centers around comparing women’s confidence to that of men.

A recent Boston Globe article entitled “The problem isn’t that women lack confidence – it’s that men have too much of it” suggests that women hold back and do not step forward for promotional opportunities on the job, often feeling like they are not ready. On the other hand, whether truly ready or not, men step forward and seek that same opportunity even when their experience and skills do not verify that they are able to do the job. Columnist Shirley Leung chalks that up to men having too much confidence, even when it’s not warranted.

Where does that confidence come from? I contend that it starts when men and women are children. The boys are told that they can do it academically, even when they struggle with math; athletically, even when they never leave the bench and definitely when they do; and socially, even when they’re not so popular, or when they’re shy or introverted – which are characterized as more their choice than a failing of any kind.

In some, though not all, families, the girls are not told the same thing – that they can do it no matter what – even if they are better than their brothers in one or more of these aspects of life. Sadly, girls subliminally believe what they are not told, and believe what they hear being said to their brothers.

When girls grow into women, they come into the workplace without the internal cheerleader that men carry with them. Women must create their own cheering squad: the occasional special mentor that may be a man; other women; the encouraging father; the enlightened female CEO who understands the importance of her words and deeds to her women employees.

But most importantly, I would suggest that they create their own internal cheering squad. Women who are high-performing athletes that receive public acknowledgment for their athletic achievements are often the exception. Most women, though, must build their confidence themselves, and it is a process.

I do not want to focus here on the men or suggest that all men are overly confident and not qualified. That would be far from the truth. What I do want to focus on is, irrespective of the men, what women (and their parents, starting from when they are girls) do to develop and build their own confidence.

In my experience, confidence is the fuel of development. One develops when confidence is strong. One’s confidence grows over time from working hard, viewing failure or mistakes as valuable feedback, persisting, and experiencing continuous success.

The harder a woman works, the stronger (better) she becomes, the greater the likelihood of success, the more confident (that she can do it) she becomes – the better, smarter, stronger, more successful she is. And over time, the willingness and ability to take on more challenging assignments grows because the woman knows she can do it; she is smart, educated, knows how to tackle a problem, and has learned how to learn.

This process, in some ways, can substitute for the lack of external cheerleading that men have gotten from childhood through adulthood, but that women should avail themselves of when possible. Many women, however, are building confidence in themselves and using it as the fuel they need to go far.

When women professionals enter that upwardly mobile spiral of confidence-building, they can be unstoppable. Preparation, knowing the material, studying it and then studying it again, practice, and focus are key. They appear confident and are confident because they are prepared and sure of their ability to get it done.

The fact that confidence can be developed over a lifetime is truly encouraging, because it means that confidence is not just something one has (or that others bestow), but something that one can attain through hard work and effort. It also suggests that in families, in schools, and on the job, an environment that allows confidence to flourish should be created and offered to both men and women in equal measure.

Joan Wallace-Benjamin, Ph.D., retired as president and chief executive officer of The Home for Little Wanderers in 2018 after 15 years of service. She currently runs an executive coaching practice and serves as chair of WCW’s Council of Advisors.

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Despite Challenges of Pandemic, Depression Study Finds Silver Linings

Illustration of teen doing teletherapy by Olga Strelnikova / iStockIn 2018, I began a multi-year clinical trial to compare the effectiveness of two approaches to preventing depression in teens. One of the approaches is an online intervention -- an app -- called CATCH-IT and the other is an in-person group therapy intervention.

When we started recruiting teens to participate in the trial just this past winter, we encountered a number of challenges. It was difficult to get teens and their parents to commit to attending the weekly group therapy sessions, and to fill out the assessments we needed for our evaluation. Because we planned to hold these sessions at the clinics where our participants received their primary care, geography determined who could participate. We were busy working through these challenges throughout the early spring.

Then the pandemic hit, and with it we noticed a spike in the number of teens we were encountering who were reporting significant struggles with depression and suicidal thinking. At this point it’s too early to determine whether or not the stress of COVID accounts for the symptoms we are identifying, but regardless, we have been busy referring teens to therapists in their communities, rather than enrolling them in our study. Clearly these teens need more than we can offer in a prevention trial. We are grateful that we have been able to identify so many teens who are in need of immediate support, and to facilitate their connection to those who can offer them the help they need.

For teens with milder symptoms who are at risk of depression, and who are therefore good candidates for our study, we’ve had to reassess the way we had originally planned to conduct our research. The challenges of COVID have tied many researchers’ hands -- not being able to see people in person can prevent a lot of research from happening at all. But for us, despite the challenges presented by COVID, we have also recognized that the pandemic has allowed us to make our interventions more accessible, and has enabled us to more easily reach participants for enrollments and assessments.

The main change we had to make in our research strategy was to switch our in-person group therapy model to live online sessions. Fortunately, research shows that telehealth is just as effective as in-person therapy, even for groups, and the pandemic has made telehealth much more widely accepted and available. For our purposes, moving our in-person groups to an online format improves our study design by making the two programs we are comparing much more similar: instead of comparing the CATCH-IT app to in-person sessions, we’re now comparing two online interventions to see which is more effective and for whom.

Moving everything online has also made the group therapy much more accessible. Teens and their parents no longer need to drive to a clinic on a Sunday evening, squeezing the session in between soccer practice and homework. Since life has slowed down and schedules have eased up, teens and their families have more time, and in many cases more motivation to participate. Some teens are more comfortable interacting through a screen than sitting in a room with strangers. So far in our trial, every participant has come to every online group session, and has completed every piece of paperwork we need -- an unheard-of scenario in pre-COVID times.

In addition, we’ve been able to open up the study to more teens in more locations, and to run groups across communities. Urban, suburban, and rural teens, previously separated by geography into separate group sessions, now meet together online (very successfully, I might add). Those who live too far away to have the option of a group therapy model can now participate in it. Since we can’t be in doctors’ offices to recruit participants, we’ve changed our strategy there, too, introducing a public health campaign that reaches anyone who is interested across three states.

Although COVID has been challenging for many teens and has challenged us from a study design perspective, the current circumstances have enabled us to identify and refer many more teens with serious mental health concerns, and also have enabled more teens from different places to access our interventions. We’ll continue to follow the participants in our programs over the next 18 months and will assess how they’re doing. Even after the pandemic ends, we are planning to use what we’ve learned during this difficult time so that we’re able to make prevention interventions accessible to more people in the future. Having to adjust our methods has given us better data, and eliminated many of the barriers to mental health care for teens and their families.

Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D., is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, as well as the inaugural director of the Robert S. and Grace W. Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives, which aim to research, develop, and evaluate programs to prevent the onset of depression and other mental health concerns in children and adolescents.

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Voting as an Act of Community: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

Women in academic dress marching in a suffrage parade in New York City, 1910.Women in academic dress marching in a suffrage parade in New York City, 1910. Source: Schlesinger Library; Photographer: Jessie Tarbox BealsOne hundred years ago today, the 19th Amendment was ratified in the U.S., granting women the right to vote. This anniversary is something to celebrate, and a time to look back with pride on how much women have accomplished. The fact that it falls this year – in the midst of a global pandemic, a reckoning with systemic racism, and arguably the most consequential election season of our lifetimes – also feels significant. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to reflect on what these times have taught us about the meaning of voting, and what we should keep in mind as November approaches.

This year in particular, we are reminded that voting is not just a personal act. It is an act of community, of stepping into the public sphere, of showing that you care about what happens to those around you. If the pandemic has had any positive impact, it is that we have seen how connected we are to each other. Many of us have adopted new habits that acknowledge this connection: picking up groceries for neighbors, putting signs in our windows to thank essential workers, wearing masks. Voting is another way of showing that we are all in this together.

We are also more aware this year of the ways in which, despite our deep interconnectedness, our society is not yet one in which every person has the same rights and opportunities. The protests spurred by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others have brought this inequality to the forefront. And the inequality extends to voting. Though white women gained the right to vote in 1920, African American women, Latina women, Native women, and Asian American women have been forced to continue to fight for that right long afterwards.

Even today, voter suppression efforts in many parts of the U.S. mean that if you are a person of color, a student, elderly, or a person with a disability, you are more likely to encounter obstacles to vote: limited polling stations that result in long lines, names left off voter rolls, onerous voter ID requirements. These voter suppression tactics are not new, but we’re likely to face a barrage of them this fall.

It’s clear, then, that the struggle to ensure every person’s right to vote is far from over, 100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed. This struggle will require not only our votes, but our activism: educating ourselves about our rights, keeping election protection hotlines on speed dial, and supporting advocacy organizations that battle voter suppression. It’s critical that we reach beyond ourselves to focus on our communities. Can we share information about how to obtain mail-in ballots and ensure they are counted? Can we ask our elected officials to support legislation that expands the right to vote? We can all find a way to help, no matter how small.

So this November, we must vote like our lives depend on it – because they do. The women who spent 75 years fighting for the 19th Amendment knew that their lives depended on it, too. It’s true every election season, but it feels especially true this year.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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The New Sexual Assault Response Rules for Colleges Require Them to Behave Like the Criminal Justice System. Here's Why That's a Problem.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosU.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, under CC BY-SA license. This week, new rules go into effect dictating how colleges and universities must respond to allegations of sexual assault on campus. The U.S. Department of Education released the final version of these rules in May, and since then, a number of lawsuits have been filed, some asking for more time to implement them. But as of now, the August 14 deadline still holds, and colleges are juggling the implementation of the new rules with planning for what is likely to be one of the most challenging semesters they have ever faced.

Among other things, colleges will be required to hold live disciplinary hearings during which those who have been sexually assaulted and those accused of assaulting them present live testimony and can be cross-examined. Though there are limits on this process – advisors to the students do the questioning, not the students themselves, and a hearing officer will decide if the questions are relevant – it creates an opportunity for more personal attacks than are seen in the criminal justice system, while pushing colleges to behave like that system. That’s not good for students.

One problem rarely mentioned in discussions of the new rules – which create a more litigious and adversarial process – is that the criminal justice system is rarely effective in achieving justice for victims of sexual assault. As a research scientist who has studied this issue extensively, I’m familiar with the many obstacles that victims face: Most don’t report sexual assault to authorities to begin with, and those who do face a secondary victimization as they must recount their experience over and over again to police, prosecutors, and other court officials. Challenges to victim credibility come on many fronts; those who have a history of emotional or mental health problems, who were assaulted by people they know, in situations that involved consumption of alcohol or drugs, or did not report it immediately tend to see their complaints discounted or the cases dropped before adjudication. (The exceptions are cases that involve serious physical injury or the use of a weapon.) This case attrition happens either because victims have been discouraged from cooperating further or because prosecutors do not see the case as credible, or think a jury will be unlikely to convict.

If colleges are required to adopt criminal justice-like procedures, many of these same factors that contribute to case attrition will have a chilling effect on reporting and help-seeking. Few complaints will move forward, and the safety of students and their access to an education will be further jeopardized. Many victims won’t want to pursue a process that involves repeating their account and personal details in a public hearing at the school where the assault occurred – especially if the person who assaulted them has more power or clout, like a star athlete – and answering questions proffered under the direction of that person. Many will decide, at some point along the way, it’s simply not worth it.

A criminal justice model also doesn’t make sense for colleges, whose mission is to educate, not adjudicate. Their goal is to foster norms against sexual violence and harassment, but they will end up being complicit in the re-victimization of those who report.

Along with colleagues and funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, I recently completed a project on Responding to Sexual Assault on Campus. In the course of our research on 969 colleges across the US, we spoke to 47 Title IX coordinators, many of whom felt strongly that the way they handle sexual assault cases – including sanctioning – should be in part an educational process, in keeping with the mission of their institution to educate. Addressing complaints by holding hearings and cross-examinations doesn’t fit with that mission, and it’s also inconsistent with how colleges handle other violations of student conduct codes.

The Title IX coordinators we spoke to faced lots of challenges. The greatest challenge for many was building capacity to respond to reports of sexual assault. They voiced a critical need for more well-trained investigators, whether from within their college community, public safety, or external sources. The new rules (in some cases rules which conflict with their state laws and current policies) will require even more resources. Unless Title IX coordinators are provided with strong institutional support and visibility including adequate funding, staffing, and training – all of which will be a challenge at institutions wrestling with responses to COVID-19 – they will have to try to do more with their already meager resources. This isn’t a recipe for thoughtfully carried out processes that result in justice for students.

We’ll learn more over the coming months about the issues that will arise from these new rules. For example, how will the complex interplay of state laws, Federal Circuit court rulings, guidance from lawsuits, and institutional mandates affect the implementation? What effect will the pandemic have? There will be details to iron out, but the movement of Title IX processes toward a criminal justice model is a step in the wrong direction. It is also the biggest threat to ensuring that women are given equal access to education.

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research focuses on the justice system response to sexual violence. In 2020, she concluded a federally-funded study of college responses to sexual assaults on campus.

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Immigrants Play a Critical Role in Economic Recovery

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officeU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. Photo courtesy of iStock.com/Andrei StanescuLast week, President Trump suspended new work visas for foreigners seeking employment in the United States. This ban — which affects those from computer programmers to seasonal workers in the hospitality industry — will last at least until the end of 2020 and, when combined with extended restrictions on the issuance of new green cards, will keep as many as half a million people out of the U.S.

My research has shown that immigrants make significant contributions to the U.S. economy, particularly as business founders and job creators. As I recently wrote for the Center for Growth and Opportunity’s Immigration and Economic Recovery Symposium, they will play a critical role in pandemic economic recovery, and keeping foreign workers out of the U.S. right now will be detrimental to those efforts.

In the last two decades, the share of immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S. has increased, along with the shares of Latino and Black business owners, and those of Mexican, Chinese, and Indian descent. (As I testified before Congress a year ago, while immigrants make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they are founders of 26 percent of new businesses, and they are more likely than those born in the U.S. to be entrepreneurs.) The creation of new companies and new jobs is much more dependent on these diverse entrepreneurs than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Immigrant entrepreneurs alone create roughly one in four of all jobs among young companies, and 40 percent or more in places such as Silicon Valley, New York City, and other tech hubs. Young companies are responsible for a disproportionate number of newly created jobs, so ensuring the viability of already existing young companies is critical if we want them to continue their role as job creation engines.

Many immigrant-founded firms rely heavily on being able to hire immigrant workers — either skilled workers through the H-1B visa program, or seasonal workers through various other programs. Some of these workers return home after a period of time; some end up staying and getting their green cards, and some of those eventually start their own businesses. No matter how long they stay in the U.S., they are an important source of labor in our economy.

So not letting these workers enter the U.S. at a time when small businesses have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic will make recovery that much more difficult. Companies founded by immigrants make up a huge part of our economy and create jobs for Americans and immigrants alike. Preventing them from being able to get their businesses back up and running will hurt us all in the long run.

Sari Pekkala Kerr, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist and economist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her studies and teaching focus on the economics of labor markets, education, and families.

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Placards of Hope, Placards of Change: A Reflection in Response to the Killing of George Floyd

Heart icon in speech bubbleThe callous killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 by a uniformed police officer while on duty and while being filmed by bystanders was arguably the most brazen act of police brutality involving an unarmed Black civilian since the Black Lives Matter movement began. What this act demonstrated was that those who are hell-bent on asserting white supremacy and upholding its racist regime are now afraid of nothing and outside the moral community.

The mass demonstrations calling for justice and the widespread expressions of solidarity with Black people and racial equality that have erupted in recent days show clearly that the balance of public opinion and power is shifting towards a multiracial coalition of people who embrace the oneness of humanity as well as the end of racial prejudice and racial inequality. In the long run, racial equality will prevail because it is the truth about human beings, but, at this moment, we are collectively in agony about a shameless, heartless, evil act of race-based assassination.

The protests that are growing day by day are the collective expression of the frustration, pain, fury, and indignation of those who have waited so long and so patiently for the truth of Black people’s equality to be enshrined not only in the law and the practices and policies of those who enforce it, but also in the hearts and minds of their fellow human beings. The enforced, racialized power asymmetries in virtually every sphere of life — political, economic, educational, medical, environmental, and so on — recreate an uphill battle each and every day for every Black person, every other person of color, and every ally of Black people and other people of color, ensuring that the rhythm of social justice efforts is always two steps forward and one step back, if not one step forward and two steps back.

Only when those whose hearts and minds are thoroughly suffused with the reality of racial equality are both in the numerical majority and in positions of influence and power will things begin to shift towards closure on this spiritual disease of racism. Fortunately, what the recent uprisings have shown us is that we are getting there. That people like George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, not to mention the string of their predecessors, not to mention the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to COVID-19, not to mention everybody since 1619) should die to get us there, however, is unconscionable.

As a womanist social movement theorist and also a trained psychologist, my mind turns to the methodologies we are employing to move the needle on racism and an analysis of the kinds of actions we are taking to eradicate the white supremacy, structural racism, racial prejudice, and racist violence we all deplore. I am concerned that we need to be more creative, innovative, and — yes — evidence-based in our social change approaches. We now have the benefit of a century of social scientific research about intergroup relations, as well as decades of neuroscience research, for example, on implicit bias, that helps us understand what works and what doesn’t work, but I’m not sure we are carefully deploying it in our creation of strategies to end racism and its correlates.

Additionally, we have the benefit of dynamic systems theories of varying kinds (a favorite of mine is Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory) that allow us to map how everything from individuals to families, communities, and entire cultures generate, shape, embed, and sustain things like racism — and which enable us to locate effective points of intervention. We also now have such enormous troves of big data that we could answer questions about human behavior and attitudes in real time and at a scale previously impossible. We could and should take a much more research-informed approach to ending racism, and I am glad that this is something we stand for and work towards at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

I am also concerned that we have a social change means-ends problem that we need to scrutinize more closely. Understandably, many social movements begin with emotion-driven, fist-in-the-air protests that are good for mobilizing people and publicizing issues, yet we must remember that the fist is a bellicose symbol inconsistent with peace and harmony — aims that most protesters cherish. The pursuit of justice requires that protests be followed up by the long-form, in-the-trenches work that actually effects structural change, making sustainable peace and justice possible.

Furthermore, new emotional foundations are required to create and sustain a more peaceful and just society. There is already too much pain and trauma in this world because we keep justifying all of the ways that we hurt each other, and all this pain just becomes a factory for hate and violence, both interpersonal and structural.

As a womanist, I would argue that, when we meet epithets with epithets or rage with rage, we are energetically reproducing the conditions we wish to eliminate. We must instead devise new transformational methods that enable us to dig into the spiritual well of goodness that resides within all of us to generate higher-vibrating, more positive and elevating emotional states and belief patterns, and that bring people together socially and relationally in a common space of love, respect, encouragement, enthusiasm, and esprit de corps. This is a tall order, but it is, I believe, what is really needed now.

As I watch the demonstrations on TV, I often find myself thinking, “If I were to make a placard for all the world to see — a placard to catalyze change — what would mine say?” I realized that mine would say “Everyone is sacred.” In times like these, I believe we need a reminder that our fundamental essence is that of Light — our innate divinity and the star-stuff we are all made of — and that everything else, good or bad, is overlay (and changeable).

We cannot continue this regime of oppositionality, in which we perpetually create divides, pit the divided against each other, and struggle to vanquish those who are not us. This regime will never lead to unity, peace, or justice. In the deepest recesses of our souls, we know this, but our politics, practices, and habits of thought have not caught up. The small reminder that everyone is sacred potentially places us on a course towards transformation, and that transformation is my reason for being and the impetus behind all of my work.

What fuels you? And what would your placard say? We would love to hear from you, because now is not the time to be silent. Rather, it is the time to recreate the world.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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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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Tips for Preventing Depression While Social Distancing

Daughter visits mother during quarantine on other side of glassThe challenges of isolation and loneliness have become apparent over the past several months of social distancing. Not only are we physically separated from our friends and extended families, but we’re concerned about their health and wellbeing as well as our own. We may be juggling childcare, homeschooling, and our own work. Or we may be wondering how we’ll support ourselves through this. We may know those who are sick, or who are high-risk, or who are essential workers putting themselves at risk for our sake. We may have lost people close to us. And we may feel powerless to do anything.

The situations that we find ourselves in can be overwhelming, and can contribute to low mood, irritability, and other potential depressive symptoms. If these symptoms persist and severely impact your day-to-day functioning, it can be a good time to check in with your doctor or a therapist. Many providers have moved to telehealth during this time, so it’s possible to connect to extra support. But if you just notice your mood dropping a bit or you feel a bit unmotivated, you may want to try out new strategies to prevent further depressive symptoms or bounce back from these moments of low mood.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a time of adjustment and loss. Many of us will experience normal mood fluctuations such as low mood and sadness related to the loss of life the way it used to be. As with any loss, reactions will come and go, and feel different from day to day. Being gentle with yourself and others is important for maintaining mental health. For example, focus on “good enough” instead of “perfect” or “how I would usually do this.” Think of tasks that help you to feel productive, need to be done, and give you joy, and engage in a mix of those things. Let go of getting everything done. When you do achieve something, celebrate it.

It’s also important to remember that every person is different and will have certain strategies that work better for them in maintaining mental health. Different circumstances and situations will call for different approaches. Consider this a time of experimentation: try new strategies, but don’t be afraid to give them up and use others if they don’t work for you.

Social support from family and friends can help to prevent symptoms of depression. The lack of close personal contact during this time of social distancing is a challenge and can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. While we may not be able to interact with one another in the ways we’re used to, there are plenty of ways to stay connected.

If you’re lucky enough to be social distancing with your family, take some time out to connect with your kids or spouse. Even small moments of connection can improve your mood. When it comes to technology, find what works best for you, whether it’s virtual parties or one-on-one chats with a friend. While social media is one way to connect, it may be less helpful than picking up the phone and calling or FaceTiming. And just as in life before, know your limits. Having time to yourself to recharge is still important, and if you’re feeling Zoom overload, it’s perfectly okay to say no to a virtual happy hour.

When you’re interacting with others or when you’re alone, don’t forget to notice the good or joyful moments — that can do a lot to improve your mood. Did you have a good laugh about something silly with your family? Did you get a sense of satisfaction from completing that puzzle that’s been sitting in your living room for years? Notice when those moments come up and what you’re doing, and look for opportunities to engage in more of them. Along those lines, you can start tracking three good things or three things that went well each day. In addition to writing these three things down, write what made them go well or what caused them. Research has demonstrated that doing this daily for a month can help to improve your mood and increase happiness.

Repetitive negative thinking can contribute to depressive symptoms, so it can be helpful to take time to notice thoughts that are connected to feelings of sadness, anger, fear, and other emotions that bring your mood down. Once you notice these thoughts you can make efforts to reframe them or focus your attention on more helpful ones. If you notice that a bothersome thought keeps coming up, see if you can switch it up. For example, “I’ll be stuck at home forever” could be turned into, “I feel stuck right now, and this is a temporary situation. I’m looking forward to seeing my dad after this is over.”

Taking care of your physical health can have a strong effect as well. You may see a lot of runners and bikers out in your neighborhood these days, and they’ve got the right idea. Exercise has been found to be effective in preventing depression. Just engaging in something active can help — check out streaming yoga or old-school Richard Simmons videos. Take a walk around your house or challenge yourself to a stair climb. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you get moving, and your mood will likely improve as a result.

Though it can be hard to put down your phone or turn off the news, getting enough sleep (but not too much) can help keep your mood stable and make it easier to roll with the punches. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, work on improving your sleep hygiene. Start preparing an hour before bedtime by turning off screens, doing some relaxation, and clearing your head.

Finally, remember that it’s not about never feeling low — it’s about bouncing back from the low mood. Honor the fact that this is a difficult, sad, and anxiety-provoking time. Remind yourself that social distancing and staying at home are temporary. Think of other difficult times in your life and what strategies you used to get through those times. If we are mindful of our thoughts and intentional about the strategies we use throughout the day, we may be able to maintain good mental health — despite all of the challenges we’re facing.

Further resources:

Katherine R. Buchholz, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research scientist working on depression prevention research at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Honoring Three Generations of Student Parents on Mother's Day

Autumn Green and her daughterLast year on Mother's Day, I was driving through the Rocky Mountains, on my way from Oregon to Maine where my life was about to change forever. It was the first Mother's Day I had spent without my kids since they were born, and the first Mother's Day since my own mother had passed away. I yearned to call her to share the news of my latest adventure, as I always had during our frequent long-distance phone chats, but I knew I couldn’t. The following week, my daughter would bring my granddaughter into the world on the southern coast of Maine. The transcontinental journey I was on would end with the newest love of my life joining our family.

My mother was my champion, my role model, my friend, and my fiercest advocate. She had floated between California state colleges for about a decade before I came along, finally earning her bachelor's degree in liberal arts when I was a baby. When I was about nine, she returned to community college to earn her landscape contractor’s degree and licensure. She started a small landscaping business, whose biggest success was its own show garden, proudly featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine in 1998. A framed copy still hangs on the wall by the front door at my parents’ house.

I didn’t realize at the time that my mom’s journey — at least five schools and over 10 years to finish her bachelor’s degree — was typical for student parents. And like many other student parents whose accomplishments go unacknowledged and undervalued, her degree wasn't counted in retention and graduation rate data because of her long and meandering path. From the outside, her life might look like one of repeated failure and modest accomplishment. But that’s not what I saw.

I watched my mom role model learning as a lifelong process. She showed me that I could do or be anything I wanted, and she showed me how to get there. So even when I became a high school dropout, young bride, and teenage mother, I could not be swayed from pursuing my dreams. Because my mom had been a student parent too, she was a resourceful advocate, finding programs and benefits to support me and guiding me through the earliest steps of what has become my own lifelong educational journey.

With her love and unwavering support, I made it all the way from GED to Ph.D., and through a postdoctoral second master's degree. Fewer than 2 percent of young parents will earn a postsecondary degree before their 30th birthday. Yet I earned my associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees by the time I was 31. Now, I’m a research scientist studying higher education access for student parents. It wasn't until years into my career that it hit me: I am not only a success story as a parent whose education improved her life and her children’s lives. I am also the story of what happens to kids who have a front-row seat to watch their parents pursue an education.

The intergenerational legacy of valuing education is visible every day in my work with student parents and their families across the country. There are nearly 4 million undergraduate student parents in the U.S., about 22 percent of all undergrads. These students are largely invisible, because they’re not who most of us picture when we imagine college students. As a result, they often don’t get the resources they need — and struggle to graduate. Only 17 percent of student parents starting their bachelor's degrees in a full-time, four-year program get their degrees within six years, as compared to nearly 60 percent of college students overall. But when they do graduate, it’s transformative for their lives and their families’ lives. I know this firsthand, because I watched education change my life and my mother’s life, and I hope it will be a positive force for my daughter.

After my granddaughter was born that beautiful, sunny May day, a hospital social worker came to speak with my daughter. I had stepped out to grab lunch and she was alone. Because she was 19 and technically a teen parent, this was standard procedure for the hospital discharge process.

"What are you going to do about your education?" the social worker demanded of my daughter.

To this, my daughter said she just smiled and replied, "I don't think you know who my mom is, but I guarantee you, we got this."

When my mom was alive, she and I talked frequently about how politicians and others fail to see the less tangible and two-generational impacts of education: fostering an informed and critically thinking electorate. But the biggest impact of my mother’s education, I think she would tell you if she could, was us: her three brilliant, creative, loving, nurturing, and well-rounded daughters, our daughters — her granddaughters — and now her great-granddaughter too. We are her legacy. A legacy that is unquestionably intergenerational.

This Mother's Day, as we approach my granddaughter's first birthday, I am proud that I can be the person in my daughter’s life that my mother was for me. And as student mothers across the country struggle to educate themselves and raise their children in a pandemic, I want them to keep in mind what I remember most about my mom: not that she did everything perfectly, but that her passion for lifelong learning nurtured and shaped me. The desire to role-model the transformative power of education, along with the hope to provide a better life for their families, is what drives student parents to fight to finish their education despite the odds. That’s the legacy they’re instilling in their children, too.

Autumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women studying higher education access for student parents. Dr. Green is nationally recognized for her scholarship on the lives of student parents and has worked to create two-generation programs on college and university campuses.

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Research Connections: A Student Teacher’s View on Social Media in the Classroom

Emily VargasIt is the spring of 2020, and my senior year at Wellesley College is not at all what I imagined it would be like. Before concerns about COVID-19 led schools around the country to close their doors, I was student teaching at a nearby middle school and working as a research assistant in the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Since mid-March, I have been taking my classes online and working from home in California. Now more than ever, as schools are using social networking sites to reach their students at home, I can see a strong connection between what I learned in my teaching role and in my research role.

My work in the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab involves reading articles and learning about how schools integrate social technology in the classroom, and whether teachers are trained to do so. As I began this work last semester, I was starting my own journey of teaching in a classroom.

From the very beginning of my student teaching experience, I saw how my research played out at school. I saw students dancing to TikTok dances (sometimes subconsciously) as they were talking to their teacher — such a common occurrence that the teacher seemed unfazed by it. As I was learning in the lab, teachers were divided on their feelings towards the popular app. One day as I passed by the library, I noticed some teachers trying to make a TikTok video. They wanted to know more about the app and how to use it to engage students. Not all teachers felt that way — some seemed uninterested, and some were cautious of it. One teacher mentioned to me that she was worried about students putting their personal information online and uploading videos of themselves for anyone to see.

In a social studies class, students were beginning a unit on Brazil. If the semester had continued as normal, I planned to have this class video chat with a friend of mine who was studying abroad in Brazil at the time. I thought it would be a good way to get students excited about their studies and bring more social technologies into the classroom.

Since students are now at home, I am sure they are using a lot of social networking sites. The teachers I was working with are using Google Classroom, and just recently, I joined my mentor teacher’s office hours on Google Hangouts. Through this platform, students are able to socialize and talk about their homework online.

I have been thinking a lot about my own future teaching and how I would like to bring social technologies into my classroom. I hope to use what I have learned in the classroom and in the lab to find ways to engage my students with the things they are most excited about. It is very clear now that social technologies can connect students online and that we still have a lot to learn about the best ways to use them. I hope that as classes move to online formats, social technologies begin to be integrated into more classrooms, and more training is provided to teachers on how to use them effectively.

Emily Vargas is a member of the Wellesley College class of 2020 who is double majoring in English and Education. She is also a research assistant in the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Social and Emotional Learning During COVID-19 Crisis: Equity Lens Reflection

Social and emotional learning during COVID-19This article was originally posted by Karen Craddock, Ph.D., on April 17, 2020, on The Wellness Collaborative.

While we manage the day-to-day, sometimes moment-to-moment, shifts during this global pandemic, it is sure to have implications on how we navigate the array of feelings and interactions we encounter in every aspect of our inner and outer lives. This process involving managing emotions, setting goals, showing empathy, building relationship, and making constructive decisions, otherwise known as social and emotional learning (SEL), is especially poignant now. Raising awareness of how these skill sets and competencies intersect with interpersonal, situational and structural inequities is even more so…

Pain of exclusion

In my blog article on the social-emotional, neurophysiological pain of racialized exclusion and strategies to remain resilient, there is discussion on how pain is perceived and received across racial lines. Particularly relevant is mention of the well documented racial empathy gap that occurs for people of color, especially in healthcare settings as well as in education. This is important to keep top of mind during this COVID-19 crisis in light of emerging national data revealing the glaring disparities occurring along race for both contracting and dying of the disease, as well as getting access to testing and treatment.

What is clear is that the pain of racism occurs both directly and indirectly. So as communities of color hear and experience more of these disparities, even while not surprising, the impact is felt whether target or watching from the sidelines. Already strategies of resistance have been activated among people of color to buffer and recreate in the midst of this, which includes a call for increased awareness and action by all. Furthering these strategies to remain resilient will be crucial for the long haul calling for intentional awareness to stratified privilege, disrupting inequities, supporting affinity networking, and deploying collaborations with resources of all kinds.

Staying physically distant and socially connected

While we adhere to vital mandates to stop the spread of the virus which can require quarantine and separation, it is important to be aware of language that indicates social or relational disconnection. We are wired for connection and thrive mentally, physically, and emotionally from being in healthy relationship. The limits of the terminology have recently come forward and will likely continue.

Inclusive language that encourages staying socially connected in safe ways is vital. This means honoring the diverse personalities and profiles of individuals falling along the spectrum of introvert to extrovert by making room and opportunities for everyone to find comfortable and necessary methods to stay connected without assumptions of “one size fits all”. By using the term physical distancing it also forces us to look at the range of physical settings people are in while braving this storm. Thus, it is even more important to address the implications and remain aware of the physical constraints and necessities that are realities across the country and for so many.

A current context in the climate of COVID-19

It is not unusual that during times of extraordinary crisis that prevailing stressors become worse. For communities already chronically marginalized by race, ethnicity, gender, class…an increase in volume, intensity, and impact occurs. In addition, a climate of crisis also heightens awareness of social, structural, and systemic inequities. Over the past few weeks we have experienced COVID-19 hit our communities and we are beginning to hear stories and see data that brings this point to a head.

From physical appearance to physical location, the ugly truths of marginalized existences are coming to bear. An African-American man living in Boston expressed this tension in a news article describing the risk and worry he has of being a man of color wearing a facemask to prevent illness while fearing for his safety due to bias. We see the economic intersectional realities during this public health pandemic across many communities and how it is specifically playing out given the disproportionate rate of pre-existing and socially influenced health conditions among communities of color. And sadly rates of domestic violence and abuse are likely spiking especially with quarantine and stay at home recommendations and mandates in place. The backdrop of the growing rise of suicide among Black youth sharpens the need for paying attention to the mental health needs of us all right now and especially within communities of color.

As educators and practitioners of SEL it is vital now more than ever that we remain vigilant in our efforts to defeat COVID-19 while staying aware of how its impact is inextricably tied to issues of bias, equity, and wellness. It will require and invite opportunities for self-reflection personally and professionally that center cultural fluency, emotional intelligence and agility. Before us is a call that compels intentional, active, and inclusive engagement within affinity networks and with racially culturally diverse thought-partners and leaders to seek and create solutions for much-needed healing.

Karen Craddock, Ph.D., is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women. As an applied psychologist, her work centers on issues of equity, wellness, leadership, and partnership. Her studies on psycho-social functioning have included explorations of race and gender intersectionality, models of optimal resistance and resilience, social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and the neuroscience of inclusion.

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Social vs. Physical Distancing: Why It Matters

Social connection and social distancing during COVID-19 coronavirus pandemicThis article was originally posted by Amy Banks, M.D., on April 12, 2020, on her Wired for Love blog on Psychology Today.

To protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from the devastation of the coronavirus health experts are strongly encouraging everyone to “socially distance” — to stay 6-10 feet away from other people.

I am concerned — not by the strategy but by the way people are enacting it. The few times I have ventured out to a grocery store or for a walk around my neighborhood, I've seen people not only keeping distant from one another but also seeming afraid. They pass each other on the street or in a store without looking at each other or exchanging greetings.

It’s as if we were each locked in a personal bubble that no one can enter. The threat of COVID-19 and the stress it induces can understandably cause individuals to become terrified and myopic — to turn inward in an attempt to stay safe. While a week of that may be more stressful to some than others, months of this type of social isolation is dangerous. Research clearly shows us that our physical and emotional health and well-being are dependent on loving relationships and physical touch. To weather this pandemic, we need one another.

Weeks ago, my colleague and friend, Roseann Adams, LCSW, recognized that the national strategy of social distancing was a double-edged sword. She identified that social distancing can be a threat to all of us as it leads some people to socially isolate potentially causing further stress and, over the long haul, impairing our bodies’ immune system. In fact, strict social distancing may set us up for other illnesses.

Within the first few days, she was encouraging people to physically distance with social connection. Differentiating physical distance from social distance acknowledges the virus’s malignant ability to be transmitted from person to person but also acknowledges that the virus has no power over our ability to support and nurture one another in this time of extraordinary threat.

Think about the power of social isolation in society. Solitary confinement is considered the worst punishment a human can receive. In fact, most civilized communities consider it a form of torture. The physical and emotional toll it takes over time includes a worsening of mental health issues, an increase in self-injurious behavior and even suicide.

Isolating individuals is perhaps the most common first step domestic abusers use to gain power and control over their victims. He or she begins to control who you can see, where you can go, what you can wear. When a person violates the rules set by the perpetrator the punishment is harsh and swift.

Social distancing, as it has been presented, can feel like that. In fact, in my work with trauma survivors during this time, I have heard people describe feeling trapped and threatened again. That is not sustainable. Becoming socially isolated may keep the majority of us alive, but not well.

By naming the national strategy as physical distancing rather than social distancing and emphasizing the need for human connection we can stay safe from the virus but also hold onto the heightened need we all have for one another right now. Each of us needs an extra dose of being seen and held within our connections during this extraordinary time. Perhaps now more than ever we must be intentional about giving our neural pathways for connection a workout.

In fact, we need to go out of our way to make eye contact, wave, move, or loudly say "hello" from behind the mask. This gives our smart vagus nerve and our mirror neurons a workout. Literally, the sound of a friendly voice and seeing the eyebrows of another person raise in greeting stimulates your social engagement system, which in turn sends a signal to your stress response system to stand down. Those moments of interaction may make the difference in the long run as to how we, as a society, survive the pandemic.

The human nervous system is amazingly adaptive. Our brains will adapt to social isolation over time, but the burden of stress the isolation causes will lead to long-term health problems. As a society we will not be well at the end of all of this — not because of COVID-19 but because of the message we take in that being with others can be dangerous.

That is why each of us must do our part to not only stay physically six feet apart and to wear masks but also to go out of our way on the street, in the grocery store, through FaceTime, Zoom, or whatever platform you can use to reach out to one another. We all must know that nurturing the relationships we have and reaching out to others who may be isolated is as essential to surviving the pandemic as physical distancing.

Let’s add another important directive to our national policy of containing the coronavirus — to reach out each day to three other people — to check in on them, simply hear their voice, or share the pain or joy of the day. This is a wider strategy to not only survive the pandemic but to keep our humanity alive.

Amy Banks, M.D., is a senior scholar at WCW and founding scholar of the International Center for Growth in Connection, which began as the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at WCW. Dr. Banks has spoken throughout the U.S. on the neurobiology of relationships and is the co-author, with Leigh Ann Hirschman, of Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships.

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