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Susan Heck interns conduct research on women journalists and Stanford history

Isabel Sieh and Hana/Connor Yankowitz

Each summer, Stanford undergraduates conduct gender research through a project of their choosing as part of the Susan Heck Interns program. They work with an advisor on their individual projects and also participate in Gender 101, a series led by a postdoctoral fellow. The experience is capped by a presentation from the interns about their summer work. Learn more about the program and read below about the projects completed by our 2023 summer interns.

Isabel Sieh

My name is Isabel Sieh; I am a rising junior with a computer science major and digital humanities minor. I’ve always wanted to use technology for the betterment of humanity. 

Coming from the Philippines, an issue that piqued my curiosity is the online violence Filipina journalist Maria Ressa faced during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency in 2016 due to her investigative reporting. She received death threats, rape threats, and a myriad of racist and misgonystic abuse and memes. Her abuse speaks to the Philippine’s struggle for press freedom and the normalized sexism in the country amid the rise of social media and anti-news agenda introduced by former populist president Duterte. Her story is one of many Filipina journalists who fear for their safety for reporting the truth. However, what is unique is that she decided to fight back with data. She used data science techniques to uncover patterns of the online violence against her, such as the gendered language, and certain narratives employed by netizens. Understanding these attacks is a necessary step in a safer online and offline world for women.

In my research, I wanted to answer the questions: How can data uncover more stories of online violence for other Filipina journalists? What do these narratives tell us about the Philippines' sociopolitical context that enables online violence toward women journalists? Pia Ranada-Robles is a senior reporter for Rappler who followed Duterte during his presidential campaign, and later became the Malacañang Palace Reporter  (White House Correspondent equivalent). In 2018, due to her critical articles, she became the only reporter to be banned by Duterte from entering the executive office. Ellen Tordesillas is a veteran journalist whose reporting contributed to the takedown of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Today she works on fact-checking projects, and in 2019 she was tagged in a conspiracy matrix presented by the Duterte administration on media practitioners who were allegedly plotting against Duterte. 

I used Natural Language Processing (NLP) analysis to visualize the language and timeline of Facebook posts related to these journalists, and traced this to real-life events in each journalist's career, and sociopolitical contexts in the Philippines. To do this, I took a deep dive into two Filipina journalists: Pia Ranada-Robles and Ellen Tordesillas. I collected and analyzed 54,078 total Facebook texts (posts, comments, and video titles and descriptions). I've included a glimpse of the visualizations I created. I also, in journalistic fashion, I created an interactive online article showing my research, which I’m making public soon. I hope to explain the issue in an accessible way to help inform the public. 

I’m incredibly grateful for the Clayman Institute for granting me the opportunity to study an issue I hold so close to my heart. Under the guidance of my advisor, Claire Marie Urbanski, I found unwavering support and communication. She empowered me to fearlessly conduct natural language processing research, a field I hadn't ventured into before. Her Gender 101 course facilitated a lovely discussion space and introduced me to concepts like feminist intersectionality and the interplay of colonization with gender roles and oppression. Career Chats provided insights into the diverse ways one can pursue their interests. Everyone we chatted with was so willing to help. My fellow intern, Connor, continues to awe me with their expansive work. Finally, Alison Dahl Crossly’s programming and organization ensured a fulfilling research experience.

Hana/Connor Yankowitz

My name is Hana/Connor Yankowitz (they/them) and I am a graduating senior majoring in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies and double minoring in studio art practice and creative writing.

My research this summer continued a project I have been working on for the past year, putting together a history of the Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) as well as the fields of feminist and queer studies at Stanford more broadly.

When I began this project at the start of summer 2022, a year after the program’s 40th anniversary, FGSS did not even have a list of its own directors on its website, and though there were 10 boxes of Feminist Studies Program documents donated to the archives in 2002, none had been digitized. I was initially hired by FGSS to do archival research in order to edit a program history begun the previous summer by another student, Brionna Bolaños. Though her work guided my own, I soon came to realize that the scope of my investigations would be better served in the form of an exhibit than a written history, and adjusted my workflow accordingly, switching to a focus on 1) creating a comprehensive timeline of feminist- and queer-related Stanford events and 2) digitizing archival documents for inclusion in the Stanford Digital Repository.

This summer, under the auspices of the Clayman Institute, I compiled the research I’d collected throughout the school year and previous summer into a digital exhibit for the library website, including a fully cited timeline; a number of short articles on interesting historical tidbits; a lengthy list of resources for those researching the history of feminist/queer Stanford; and several hundred newly scanned documents from the Feminist Studies collection. Through the research and exhibit-creation process, I learned much about the history of those who made Stanford’s feminist community the thriving institution it is today, from the students who pushed for the formation of the Clayman Institute (known at the time as the Center for Research on Women, or CROW) to the committee that designed the Feminist Studies program. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that gender studies was a part of the undergraduate distribution requirements for 16 years (something I’ve often wished were true today), and equally (unpleasantly) surprised to realize that women students were required to wear dresses in central campus into the 1960s.

Senior Scholar Edith Gelles talking with Susan Heck interns Hana/Connor Yankowitz and Isabel Sieh at their research presentation
Senior Scholar Edith Gelles talking with Susan Heck interns at their research presentation

I am continuously impressed by the amount of effort, skill, and care exerted over decades to create interdisciplinary, supportive spaces for gender scholars, and I am honored to have been able to participate in one of those spaces this summer. Having this project become a part of the Clayman Institute’s internship program granted me not only the valuable mentorship of both Adrian Daub and Alison Dahl Crossley, but also vital insights into the world of Stanford’s feminist scholarship outside the confines of the FGSS Program. I’ve deeply enjoyed the opportunity to speak to Institute scholars about their professional projects and interests, covering a vast range of fascinating topics from digital harassment to data science, and I’ve really valued the chance to explore Native and intersectional feminisms through the Gender 101 class taught by Claire Urbanski. I leave this internship so grateful to have met all the wonderful Institute staff (and my fellow intern Isabel!) and very excited to carry on my archival interests into a future career.