Undergraduate interns conduct research in economics, healthcare, film, and more
This summer, four Stanford undergraduates joined the Clayman Institute as part of the Susan Heck Interns program. An Institute founder, Heck was passionate about providing training and mentorship to undergraduates as well as focusing research on underserved populations. As part of the 10-week, full-time program, each intern works on a project of their choosing, complete with individual mentorship from a PhD with expertise in gender research. In addition, they participate in a weekly seminar led by a postdoctoral fellow. An interdisciplinary community of peers, access to scholarly mentorship, and the experience of launching a research project stand among the important benefits students gain from the program. Following are reflections from this year’s interns.
My name is Emily Molins (she/her), and I am a rising senior at Stanford majoring in economics and social and engineering systems design. Entering college, I knew I wanted to study economics—it’s a field I had fallen in love with in high school for its pervasive relevance and one that I eagerly looked forward to pursuing at Stanford. However, with each passing quarter after ECON 1, I found myself frequently needing to convince myself that economics was indeed the field for me. Reflecting on my past three years at Stanford, it is impossible to ignore the fact that not a single economics class I have taken has been taught by a woman. Many of my classes have seemed dominated by male peers, not only in composition but in voice. It is from the questioning of my own identity within economics that I ask why? Why does a field that supposedly studies how “people allocate scarce resources” only attend to the voices of a select few “people” all the while feeling disconnected from the humanness at its core?
[I]t is impossible to ignore the fact that not a single economics class I have taken has been taught by a woman. Many of my classes have seemed dominated by male peers, not only in composition but in voice.
This summer at the Clayman Institute, I had the opportunity to unravel this theme of representation in economics. Noting that underrepresentation of women and minorities in the field begins at the very start, I chose to focus on the population most accessible to me: undergraduate students. The breadth of my research focused on answering three key questions: (1) What is the current state of underrepresentation of women and minorities majoring in economics across leading departments?, (2) What have education scholars proposed as strategies for fostering academic inclusivity and have they been successful?, and (3) What best practices should undergraduate economics departments adopt to close existing gender and racial gaps?
Following a mixed methods research approach that integrated qualitative research, quantitative analysis, case studies, and interviews, I garnered a deeper understanding not only of the depth of economics’ gender and race problem but of promising strategies for addressing this said problem. Notably, the percentage of women majoring in economics within the top 25 departments has remained stagnant at approximately 34 percent for more than two decades. Further, in 2020, only 2.6 percent of economics majors were Hispanic women and less than 1 percent were Black women. Indisputably, within the discipline the gender gap remains wide and the race gap wider. Examining case studies and consulting both education literature and scholars, I considered the presence and efficacy of academic inclusivity initiatives. From these analyses, I formulated a series of best practices for undergraduate economics departments that included evaluating departmental climate and culture, demonstrating multifaceted institutional commitment, making public the commitment to diversity, bolstering role models–both peer and professional, and developing inclusive and socially focused curricula. To provide insight for my own academic community here on campus, I crafted tailored recommendations for Stanford in light of our department’s composition and existing programming.
At the Clayman Institute, I was met with encouragement and resources to tackle a question that I find both profoundly personal and incredibly important. Under the gracious guidance of my mentor, Alison Dahl Crossley, I was supported through every stage of my research process and connected with inspiring individuals working in this space along the way. My research was complimented with workshops led each week by Fatima Suarez, whose impassioned perspective helped cultivate a deeper understanding of and appreciation for feminist intersectional scholarship. And, aided by programming led by the wonderful Shivani Mehta, I felt connected to my fellow interns whose research was engaging to learn from. I will always be grateful for this summer at the Clayman Institute–for the intellectual growth, research support, and community I found here.
Intern Sommer Alex focused her research on security and surveillance practices, applying theoretical frameworks from feminist studies, queer studies, media and performance studies, and more. Her paper says: “Airport security is one important site for examination of the normative effect of surveillance practices and its consequences for individuals marginalized by race, class, and gender hierarchies. The determination of physical differences and categorizations of the ‘othered’ individual is made necessary through national efforts ostensibly responsible for securing the safety of American citizens. By examining the experiences of marginalized people in airports, my research investigates how notions of public safety and national security are constructed and challenged.” She further considers the role of background checks, credit score systems, and numerous government databases, as well as biometric approaches to surveillance.
Overall, I really appreciated this internship for the experience it gave me in conducting a self-directed research project that allowed me to examine my academic interests with guided feedback...
Reflecting on her experience, Alex writes: “It was initially very intimidating to start this research project, given that we had so much freedom over our research topic and how we wanted to pursue the project, but it gradually became easier. Working with the other interns made a big difference in feeling like I was not just doing this research by myself. Additionally, having a research mentor who was there throughout the process was really helpful for all the guidance I received, especially since Fatima had past research experience.”
She offered some helpful feedback about the process, including the benefits of viewing more past research ideas and paper examples to help in honing in on a project of appropriate scope. Alex acknowledged the challenges of tackling a research project in just 10 weeks. “If I could go back in time, I would tell my past self to start thinking about my presentation earlier. At the very least, I think if I had kept it in mind as I was writing, it would have been easier for me to structure the presentation so that it best reflected my research findings and would have saved me a lot of stress in the final weeks of the internship, where I was trying to juggle finishing the paper and preparing for the presentation.” She concluded: “Overall, I really appreciated this internship for the experience it gave me in conducting a self-directed research project that allowed me to examine my academic interests with guided feedback, and I am super grateful to everyone at the Institute who made this project possible.”
Caro de Sá
My name is Caro de Sá (they/them), and I am a rising junior in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. In my free time, I enjoy writing poetry, hiking, and rock climbing.
As a queer and trans Latinx person interested in healthcare, I am passionate about the intersection between biology and queer studies.
As a queer and trans Latinx person interested in healthcare, I am passionate about the intersection between biology and queer studies. This summer, my research explored the ways in which introductory-level college biology textbooks frame reproduction within a cisgender and heteropatriarchal lens. In this case, heteropatriarchal refers to a social structure that favors heterosexual men above everybody else. I originally thought of this research question while taking the core introductory-level biology courses required for the pre-medical track. Because biology textbooks are considered to be objective and factual, the use of gendered or other forms of non-inclusive language can frame the gender binary, heterosexuality, and the sex binary as natural.
With the guidance of my research mentor, Arghavan Salles, I performed a thematic analysis and a content analysis of three commonly used biology textbooks: Biological Science (Freeman et al.), Campbell Biology (Urry et al.), and Life: The Science of Biology (Hillis et al.). My main findings from the thematic analysis were that gendered language based on anatomical differences was used throughout the reproduction chapters of all three textbooks and queer reproductive experiences were consistently erased, framing reproduction within the cisgender heteropatriarchal relationship model. The content analysis revealed that less inclusive terms were often used more frequently than more inclusive terms, and no textbooks contained language related to sexuality.
I am grateful to Shivani Mehta for being a wonderful intern program coordinator, Fátima Suárez for supporting us throughout the program during Gender 101, and Arghavan Salles for being an incredible research mentor. I am also grateful to everyone at the Clayman Institute who took the time to give us advice on our projects, share their professional stories, and create a welcoming environment for us throughout the summer. Additionally, I am thankful to Emily, Sommer, and Tobi for being lovely interns to work with throughout my time at the Clayman Institute.
My name is Tobi Bankole and I’m a rising junior majoring in history and minoring in creative writing and classics. The Susan Heck internship has been an invaluable experience for me in so many ways. I was able to formally engage in gender research for the first time, I learned under the mentorship of so many accomplished people who cared about me and my work, and I got to produce a completely self-directed project that combined my interests in film, writing, and history.
I was able to formally engage in gender research for the first time, I learned under the mentorship of so many accomplished people who cared about me and my work, and I got to produce a completely self-directed project that combined my interests in film, writing, and history.
My research this summer centered around representations of gender in revenge cinema, and what can be gleaned by observing the patterns in male- and female-led films. I used feminist film theory, particularly the concepts of the male gaze and phallocentrism, to analyze the 22 films that I watched over 10 weeks. I was interested in how narrative and visual spaces are gendered in male- vs. female-led revenge, and what this means for an audience. By analyzing three types of cinematic “gazes,” film aesthetics, realism and narration, the presence of violence, and cultural context, I found that male-led revenge films utilize the male gaze and typically reflect male anxieties relating to a loss of control or emasculation. Female-led films can depower the male gaze by having a woman confront its inherent violence and tell grounded stories of female rage and resilience, which is a relatively new phenomenon.
This project addresses the effect that cinema has on a viewer, regardless of its intent. Male-led films can function as wish fulfillment, fantasy, or a source of taboo pleasure to a masculine gaze but at the same time be alienating, objectifying, or uncomfortable to a feminine one. Female-led films can be cathartic or empowering to a feminine gaze but uncomfortably self-reflective to the male gaze.
I came into this internship intending to work on a completely different project, but with the guidance of my mentor, Adrian Daub, I created a new research project that I was even more passionate and curious about. I am grateful to him, to our program director Shivani Mehta, our Gender 101 teacher Fatima Suarez, and everyone at the Clayman Institute for supporting and guiding me.