Announcing 2020 Graduate Student Research Awards


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image of abstract colors and lines with text reading"IRWG Graduate Student Research Fellowships: 2020"
image of abstract colors and lines with text reading"IRWG Graduate Student Research Fellowships: 2020"

The Institute for Research on Women and Gender has awarded 12 graduate students funding to support wide-ranging projects related to women, gender, and sexuality.

Two Boyd/Williams Dissertation Grants were awarded for projects related to women and work. Through this award, IRWG supports projects that promote knowledge about and enhance understanding of the complexities of women’s roles in relation to their paid and unpaid labor (e.g., philanthropy, volunteerism, community involvement, domestic work, and political activity). This prestigious dissertation fellowship is named for two sisters: Ruth Rodman Boyd (1892-1981), a longtime community activist, and Shirley Rodman Williams (1894-1999), who had a long career in the Detroit business community.

Ten IRWG/Rackham Community of Scholars summer fellowships were granted to students from disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, public health, nursing, and education whose dissertations focus on women, gender or sexuality.

All awardees participate in a weekly interdisciplinary seminar during May and June, with time for individual research during July and August. The students were selected from a highly competitive pool. Their diverse set of projects demonstrates the scope of women and gender studies at U-M.

Boyd/Williams Dissertation Grant recipients and their projects are:

Ronke Olawale, PhD Candidate, Social Work and Anthropology, College of LSA
“Ebola in Liberia: Women’s Role as Caregivers and Community Mobilizers During Humanitarian Emergencies”

This project examines the experiences of Kissi women in Liberia during the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak and their roles in post-Ebola times. Increased adult mortality during the pandemic contributed to the existing generation of orphans occasioned by HIV/AIDS and 14 years of violence, leading to gap in caregiving. The index case of the Ebola epidemic was a toddler in Guinea. His mother and grandmother who cared for him also became infected and they all died. But his father survived. I focus on women’s uncelebrated and unpaid works, including domestic labor as wives, mothers, and caregivers, grandmother parenting, and community mobilizers during emergencies.

Gabrielle Peterson, PhD Candidate, Sociology, College of LSA
“Minority Motherwork: Exploring Working Class Minority Mother's Involvement in their Children's Racial Socialization and College Preparation”

This dissertation draws from 60 interviews of minority working and lower-middle-class mothers across 3 cities in Southeast Michigan who describe their efforts to prepare their children for college. The narratives of minority mothers who navigate work schedules and forms of structural discrimination to educate their children address various controlling images that have stigmatized and constrained minority reproduction with evidence of their commitment to education. Data will demonstrate the challenges to higher education access among working class families within a global workforce that has increased the valuation of a college degree, and a culture of intensive parenting.

IRWG/Rackham Community of Scholars Fellowship recipients and their projects are:

Alexander Aguayo, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, College of LSA
“Miriam Alves's Poetics of Punctuation”

This dissertation examines contemporary Afro-Brazilian women’s poetry through Miriam Alves’s poetry and transnational editorial work. Through an analysis of poems, translations, anthologies, and interviews, the project argues Alves produces a poetics of punctuation––a poetics which punctuates the presumed “speaker” of poetry. Instead of a universal speaker, Alves’s work posits a silenced and deferred poetic subject whose racialized and gendered position repudiates hegemonic theories of poetic “speakers” circulating among Brazilian and American literary networks. The project contributes to a corpus investigating women’s poetry of the Afro-Americas through an analysis of histories of gender, genre, and race.

Shanice Battle, PhD Candidate, Epidemiology, School of Public Health
“An Illness of Place and Power: Structural Vulnerability and Depressive Symptoms”

Depression is a major contributor to non-fatal disease burden and a leading cause of disability worldwide. There is evidence to suggest depression is arguably more disabling and chronic for Black American women. Existing research on depression etiology predominantly focuses on individual characteristics and experiences as risk factors. In addition, measuring the impact of sexism, racism and classism as structural factors that predict depressive symptoms relies on individual perception. Therefore, developing a measure of exposure to structural vulnerability will deepen our understanding of the relationship between oppressive social systems and mental health.

Kayla Fike, PhD Candidate, Psychology and Women’s Studies, College of LSA
“Exploring Perceptions of Neighborhood Quality with Black Adults”

The construct of perceived neighborhood quality developed without enough attention to how social identities contribute to people’s perceptions. In my dissertation, I use interview data to explore the ways that young Black adults describe urban neighborhood quality through their gendered, classed, and racialized experiences. I use McKittrick’s (2006, 2011) concepts of “Black Sense of Place” and “Black Women’s Geographies” to focus on the agentic ways Black people know their homeplaces and to investigate gendered experiences that affect Black people’s perceptions of their environments. I investigate how young Black people’s neighborhood evaluations provide insight into place-making and resistance in urban areas.

Elizabeth Harlow, PhD Candidate, English Language and Literature, College of LSA
“Fictions of Progress: U.S. Pragmatism, Feminism, and Social Change 1880-1930”

This original intellectual history excavates literary women’s theorizations of lived experience, democracy, and individual and collective change. Pragmatist philosophy’s interactions with literary labor and Progressive Era reform in the United States remain underappreciated, and I argue that feminist writers developed philosophical pragmatism in the form of fiction to motivate social change in the early 20th century and that pragmatism shaped narrative responses to social conditions. Using John Dewey’s philosophy as an anchor, it pairs authors and social issues as case studies: Anzia Yezierska on immigration, Jessie Fauset on race, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, contrasted with Mary Austin, on the environment

Lanora Johnson, PhD Candidate, Sociology, College of LSA
“Fragile Stability: Dating and Risk in Eastern Kentucky”

Research on heterosexual dating and marriage has emphasized that women’s economic stability is enhanced by marriage to stably employed men. I use interviews with 24 women in Eastern Kentucky to argue that in economically disadvantaged communities, characterized by high rates of substance use, unemployment, and disability, romantic or sexual engagement with men more often threatens women’s economic security and physical and mental health. Nearly all of my participants described dating as a risky paradox. Finding a stable man could enhance security but engaging with men at all created risks of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and drains on material resources.

Haeun Lee, PhD Candidate, Health Behavior and Biological Sciences, School of Nursing
“Understanding the Impact of Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILCs) on Household Wealth and Access to Reproductive Health Services in Rural Zambia”

For many women in low resource countries like Zambia, the lack of financial resources is a significant barrier to accessing reproductive health services. Savings Groups (SGs) have been identified as a crucial intervention to reach the ‘poorest of the poor’ and have gained much attention in global settings. Despite their recent popularity, there are limited studies that examine the potential benefits of SGs on maternal health outcomes. The proposed study aims to bridge the gap between established SGs and their potential to help women, their partners, and family members to secure financial resources to access necessary reproductive health services.

Sadiyah Malcolm, PhD Candidate, Sociology, College of LSA
“‘Contested Rituals of Black Girlhood’: Power, Violence & the Transition to Adulthood in Downtown Kingston”

This project explores the role of violence in the transition to adulthood for Black girls in developing contexts. It asks: How do community dynamics inform the development of precocious social markers in the transition to adulthood for Black girls in downtown Kingston Jamaica? Utilizing a mixed-methods approach (comprised of participant-ethnography, interviews, and socio-spatial mapping), it probes Black girls' negotiation of violence during the transition to adulthood at the intersection(s) of race, class, gender, and space in Jamaica’s urban epicenter. It argues, local factors intersect with communal, national and global processes to shape the length and content of paths to adulthood.

Kyle Nisbeth, PhD Candidate, Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health
“Parental Racial Worries: Examining the Pathway Between Experiencing Racial Discrimination and Psychological Distress for Black Mothers”

Although extensive research establishes the link between racial discrimination and psychological outcomes in Black Americans, less is known about how racism influences the parent-child relationship. Black parents not only contend with everyday stressors and general parental stress, they cope with culturally specific stressors that have implications for their parenting behaviors. This study examines the pathway between experiencing racial discrimination and psychological distress for Black mothers. Black mothers parenting while encountering racism are not only concerned for themselves, but also carry fear for their children. This study also presents parental racial worries as a novel concept for study along this pathway.

Gordon Palmer, PhD Candidate, Psychology and Higher Education
“There's a Place We Can All Be Free: Sociopolitical Development Among Urban Residing Emerging Adult Women of Color”

This dissertation explores how gender, race, spirituality, and urban spatial contexts inform the sociopolitical development of emerging adult women of color. Using sociopolitical development theory and SET-RS Urban, a conceptual frame grounded in urban studies, Black urban theology, Black feminism and womanism, intersectionality, I leverage intentional critiques of the literature and to advance our understanding of sociopolitical development. Using a reflexive narrative methodology, I will explore how gender, ethnoracial identity, and spirituality impact emerging adult women of color’s views of injustice and their commitments to social action as they develop socio-politically in urban contexts and urban higher education institutions.

Shira Schwartz, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, College of LSA
“Yeshiva Quirls: A Textual Ethnogaphy of Jewish Gender, Sex and Reproduction”

I investigate the queering of Orthodox Jewish gender, sex and reproduction through the changing norms of educational institutions. Weaving together late-antique rabbinic and contemporary Orthodox women’s iterations of the yeshiva, I use textual and ethnographic analysis to demonstrate the sexed/gendered body’s centrality in transhistorical Jewish learning spaces. Centering women’s yeshiva students’ biomaterial bodies, I rethink the sex/gender divide by following hormones and secondary sex traits that change when students’ genders break down, as they enter the roles that create Jewish men. I argue that Jewish education operates as an alternative reproduction, enacting its own forms of sex/gender, desire/sexuality and queerness/transness.

IRWG graduate fellowships are offered once per year. 

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