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The Clayman Institute cultivates intellectual exchange and innovation through its Faculty Research Fellows program

Mar 7 2018

What does an opera on the Christmas tale, a program to prevent violence in Nairobi, and a robot that can sense human touch all have in common? 

All are topics du jour at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research this academic year. These are just three of the eleven faculty research projects presented on by the 2017-2018 cohort of Institute Faculty Research Fellows. The program brings together scholars from across Stanford’s campus with the goal of cultivating intellectual exchange and innovation through interdisciplinary gender scholarship.

The 2017-2018 fellows come from six of Stanford’s seven schools. The fellows reflect a wide range of academic disciplines, from musicology to medicine, robotic to law. Each fellow receives a research stipend and presents their project to the cohort during bimonthly lunches throughout the academic year. This year, the projects touch on a variety of gender-related fields of inquiry, from the intertwined history of women’s suffrage and disability rights in the US by Law School Fellow Rabia Belt, to the effects of providing child care for working mothers in Indian factories by GSB Fellow Aruna Ranganathan. 

Current Fellow Londa Schiebinger, who founded the Faculty Research Fellows program a decade ago during her tenure as Clayman Institute Director (2004-2010), said that her objective in creating the program was to foster intellectual exchange about gender research across Stanford’s seven schools. The residential fellows program at the Center or the Study of Advanced Behavioral Sciences served as the inspirational model. Rather than drawing in scholars from other institutions, FRF focused its efforts internally to promote dialogue and ongoing collaboration on campus. 

The goal of facilitating academic exchange dates back to the Clayman Institute’s origins. When the Institute was founded in 1974 as the Center for Research on Women (CROW), one of its primary functions was to convene interdisciplinary conversations on gender. At that time, it was rare for an academic department to have more than one professor doing research on gender. Gender scholarship, a new and burgeoning field, needed a site to build roots on campus.

Since 2007, the Clayman has had 117 Faculty Research Fellows, many of whom have served multiple years—a sign of the program’s ongoing importance in Fellows’ research agendas. Laraine Zappert, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, is one example. She returns to the Clayman as a Research Fellow this year after having been a fellow back when the Institute was CROW.

Wendy Skidmore, Fellowship Manager at the Clayman Institute, organizes the program. According to Skidmore, a paramount goal is to “inspire and support a gender component to research.” She explained how not all of the fellows consider themselves gender scholars, per se, but all have a project that brings forth a social problem or puzzle pertaining to gender. The fellowship provides a meeting place for soliciting feedback and building inspiration from a community of gender scholars.

Schiebinger’s research, for one, is evidence of the fruits of this exchange, and how new collaboration grows out of the fellowship’s aim of intellectual exchange across disciplines. During her time as director of the Institute, the Faculty Research Fellows introduced Schiebinger to Marcia Stefanick at the WSDM Center (Women and Sex Differences in Medicine) at Stanford Medicine. Now, Schiebinger and Stefanick are co-directors of Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment

Gendered Innovations is only one example. Schiebinger recalled how Shelley Correll, Faculty Director of the Clayman Institute, reached out to her to say, “Did you know we have a fellow in mechanical engineering, Allison [Okamura], who does robotics?” Schiebinger and Okamura are now organizing a workshop on gender and robotics in the spring.

On the benefits of the program, Schiebinger said, “It’s just a great networking opportunity to create work with sparkle and pizzazz and ratchet it up. I don’t bump into mechanical engineers in my every day. I don’t bump into medical professors in my every day. It creates a meeting place for important intellectual work.”

The fellowship creates an ongoing meeting space that prompts scholars to rethink the boundaries of gender scholarship, and even what constitutes data or research within their fields. This sparks ideas for collaboration and, in some cases, elicits an emotive or sensory response to the research. 

For example, Heather Hadlock presented her analysis of The Wise Women: A Christmas Mystery Fable, a one-act opera composed byConrad Susa. As part of her presentation, Hadlock invited the three stars to perform an excerpt for a packed conference room at the Clayman Institute’s Serra House. Marie-Louis Catsalis, the musical director and a Stanford lecturer in music, accompanied them on the keyboard. The event took place on a stormy day in November. The booming voices of three singers—all freshmen and sophomore women—drowned out the pouring rain. Stanford University students and staff performed the full 45-minute opera this past December.

Correll beamed as she remembered the sound of the students’ voices that day. She said, I knew they were coming early, and I was sitting in my office working with Stata [data analysis and statistical software] and I heard the singers practicing. I was transformed to a different world. I heard these huge, beautiful voices coming from these young college women. It was not what I expected, and I was instantly blown away.” 

Hadlock followed the performance by presenting the history of the opera and its significance for gender scholarship. Correll spoke to the significance of the live performance in allowing the audience to “feel” the data—a novel experience for a sociologist. She recalled, “I have little background in the arts and I know very little about opera. Yet the performane gave me the ability to feel the kinds of “data” scholars like Hadlock work with.

To Correll, Hadlock’s presentation captured why the fellowship program is “core to the overall goal of the institute.” She said, “It’s these kinds of moments when you begin to make broad intellectual connections, moments that make you think ‘I’ve got the greatest job in the world.’ This is the core of what is so wonderful about academic life.”

A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.