Skip to content Skip to navigation

Fostering young feminist change agents

Jan 18 2016

“One of the most important things we do at the Clayman Institute is mentor the next generation of feminists, and encourage them to think about how they can foster change starting now,” enthused Ann Enthoven, the Institute’s director of programs and leader of the Institute’s internship programs.

Throughout the year, the Clayman Institute welcomes around a dozen high school and university-level interns to Serra House to collaborate with and learn from the staff and fellow interns. The program is particularly active during the summer, when interns from surrounding schools come together to experience, as former summer intern Kia Watson put it, “a rare and beneficial opportunity to work in an environment where women’s needs and ideas are cherished… and to learn how to empower ourselves.”

Clayman’s summer internship program began about three years ago, when two high school students reached out for help starting a feminist club. From that modest beginning, the summer internship program expanded to include weekly workshops on gender issues and personal development, discussions on key feminist literature and the opportunity for interns to participate in current research projects as well as pursue their own research interests under the guidance of Institute staff.

This past summer, ten enthusiastic interns filled Serra House with their curiosity and passion. They convened in Clayman’s student room, where they found a “comfortable space where they could bounce ideas off one another,” said former intern Jesse Valdez.  

The power of research

Not surprisingly, research is a key focus of the internship program. With a grant from the vice provost for undergraduate 

education, Stanford undergrads can focus on important research areas with the mentorship of key researchers affiliated with the Institute. Last summer, one project examined the ways young feminists use social media to discuss gender and race issues, as well as questioned whether certain groups are being included or excluded from those conversations. Other students assisted with research conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership (CAWL) at research sites throughout Silicon Valley and beyond. Interns Noemie Cloutier and Isadora de Castro, for example, learned the importance of business models, funding and revenue models for nonprofit startups.

Underserved populations

The Susan Heck Summer Internship, established in honor of one of the founders of the Institute, seeks to combine mentorship of undergraduates with research on an underserved population, such as low-income and minority women. Watson, 2015 Susan Heck intern, focused her research on incarcerated Black women. She was deeply impacted by the personal narratives of incarcerated women, fueling the purpose and focus of her research. Watson plans to create a podcast to help others learn about the experiences of previously incarcerated women.

2014 Susan Heck intern, Tanvi Jayaraman, is continuing her research on sexual assault on university campuses. At the end of her summer internship, she executed a bystander intervention theatre show to engage students. “The Susan Heck internship was a launching pad for my work,” she said. “Without the guidance of incredible mentors at Clayman, research support and the resources to dive into a topic I am passionate about, none of this would be possible.” Jayaraman later presented her work at TEDxStanford and is piloting a peer-education group through her partnerships with on-campus organizations.

Personal and professional growth

Clayman’s internship program creates a space for participants to learn from one another about gender, race and social issues. “Our mission is not only to do research, but to use it to create some form of change,” said Enthoven. This past summer, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for Graduates gave interns an opportunity to share their thoughts and connections to their own experiences. “This was one of the highlights of the summer for me,” exclaimed Valdez. “We could share different opinions and gain insights on new ways of thinking about issues.” Cloutier agreed, “We learned how to articulate gender issues in a way that we weren’t able to before.”  

“Readings and weekly meetings not only encourage interns to collaborate and discuss their experiences,” said Caroline Simard, senior director of research for CAWL, “they also teach them to think about what an inclusive culture means to them, how they can participate to make sure cultures are included, and bring that with them to their college experience, classroom or first job.”

Interns also participate in leadership development workshops. Past summer interns were challenged to think about leading with purpose during a workshop with Sara Jordan-Bloch, director of leadership research and programs. The group was asked about the purpose behind their work and how that connected to what they would like to pursue in the future. “I really liked that workshop,” explained former intern Emma Waldspurger. “I often find things frustrating because I’m not doing them for the right ‘whys.’ In the future I can focus more on the ‘why’ and then move to the ‘how’ and ‘what,’ not the other way around.”

Learning to lead

The Clayman Institute is proud to provide a space for the interns to learn and grow together. As Cloutier noted, “Being with so many professional adults and people my own age so passionate towards solving gender inequality, made me confident that change will be made sooner rather than later.”

Jordan-Bloch summed it up. “These are young interns who will soon be out there working as engineers, designing policies, managing others... It’s really powerful to think about how we can best equip them to get what they want out of their own lives, achieve their full potential and be the kind of leaders who make inclusive organizations where everyone can thrive.”

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