Skip to content Skip to navigation

Q & A with Postdoctoral Fellow Melissa C. Brown

head shot of Brown
Nov 18 2019

Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you start your academic career, and what inspired you to pursue sociology?

I started my academic career as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Victoria Plaut’s social psychology lab in the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia. I became inspired to pursue social psychology research after reading Claude Steele’s book Whistling Vivaldi while participating in the Leadership Alliance program as an undergrad research assistant in the Department of Psychology here at Stanford. His book made me realize that you could use scientific methods to study how people of color experienced inequality.

Can you share something about your research?

My research focuses on the visibility of contemporary sexuality on the internet. I specifically study how Black women exotic dancers based in the urban South use social networking sites to self-represent themselves as sexual beings.

What drew you to Stanford and the Clayman Institute? How has your experience so far matched your expectations?

I learned about the Clayman Institute while having a conversation on Twitter with a former fellow. I had never heard of an institute dedicated to research just on gender so I was exceptionally thrilled to learn that it was being led at the time by Dr. Shelley Correll. Her research has been transformational for my feminist praxis, particularly in regard to workplace and interpersonal equity.

So far I’m getting more than I expected! I enjoy participating in Institute events that reach beyond the campus to engage in dialogue about topics relevant to gender scholars and the broader public.

At our recent Whisper Networks event, you lit our Twitter feed on fire with your prolific and excellent live tweeting. How did you develop your social media expertise, and how do you see using it in your career?

Thanks so much! I didn’t anticipate such an engaged response since when I started tweeting, Twitter had only existed for a few years and livetweeting hadn’t even been invented. I started tweeting as a marketing assistant in my first job post-undergrad. When I returned to graduate school, I created the social media pages for the University of Maryland’s Critical Race Initiative. I recognized that whenever we had events, people wanted livestreaming, but we didn’t always have that supplied so I started tweeting summaries of what people said instead. This is a really great way for scholars to connect with the public and people refer to and reference these tweets well beyond the date an event has happened.

In my career I see myself using my social media expertise to uplift Black women scholars in academia. It is important to me that this marginalized group has their hard work broadcast to larger audiences beyond academia.

[Read her live tweeting from Whisper Networks.]

What are some future areas you’re exploring for research?

In the future I would like to think more about the ways women in heterosexual partnerships negotiate their sexuality. Despite the growth and visibility of women’s sexuality in mainstream and social media, many women partnered with cisgender, heterosexual men, continue to render their sexuality invisible and have a fear or guilt about their sexualities. I want to know more about why women do this and how we can encourage women to embrace their sexualities as their own.


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