Zebrafish research: The impact of gender bias social group in risk-taking behavior in zebrafish (Danio rerio)
BA, Biology '17
Advised by Maria Abate
My fascination with the zebrafish stems from the fact that they have a similar genetic structure to humans. They share 70 percent of their genes with us, used in studies involving diseases, and in test for drugs for antidepressant and anxiety. The zebrafish has the same major organs and tissues as humans. Any type of disease that causes changes in these body parts in humans could be modeled in zebrafish.
Ashmita Kc, my research partner, and I are building on a previous HDL student, Olivia Smiaroski’s, work on zebrafish involving their genders and behaviors. Olivia investigated if gender influence zebrafish behaviors during risk-averse situations. Her expectations were that females would be more risk-averse, while males were more likely to explore the environment. The results were quite the opposite.
Our study now focuses on why the results were the opposite. To do this, we will run an equal sex ratio test, male bias test, and female bias test to look for behaviors that would indicate if a specific gender is risk-averse or risk-taking. Ashmita and I also want to understand how social groups influence behaviors and genders, and the reproductive outputs of the female zebrafish. At the end of the HDL seminar, we will be able to have experimented, collected, and analyzed data fresh from our tests.
The Hazel Dick Leonard Seminar has allowed me to expand my fascination for zebrafish and to take my research so many steps further. Through the generous funding, Ashmita and I can run our own tests and see fresh results regarding gender and behaviors of the zebrafish and write a research paper from our experiments.
Sex Sells: An Analysis of Selected 19th Century and Modern Literature on Sex Work
BA, English Literature '17
Advised by Kelly Hager
My research in the summer of 2016 through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Simmons (SURPASs) focused on legal statutes regarding sex work in several selected states and at the federal level. With generous funding through the Hazel Dick Leonard Fellowship, I have expanded my focus to discuss literature on sex work through the writings of 19th century scholars such as Margaret Fuller and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as modern writers like Catherine MacKinnon and Jennifer Musto.
My project was inspired by my studies abroad in Amsterdam, the Netherlands at Vrije Universiteit. The university offered a course on sex work, which sparked my interest in studying sex workers in the United States specifically. The course professors were both sex work researchers, though in different areas of the world, and brought personal stories and important statistics into the class discussion. A tour of the Red Light District encouraged additional interest in the topic, as the Museum of Prostitution has a huge amount of historical and practical information about sex work in the Netherlands. During the period in which I completed SURPASs research in the summer of 2016, I completed my most focused work in this area of study.
I used the funding offered through HDL for literature from both the 19th century and modern authors I chose to study. Additionally, I attended the Desiree Alliance Conference in New Orleans in July of 2016. I spoke with sex workers, advocates and other researchers about rights for sex workers, concerns of modern sex workers, and considerations for researchers. Additionally, I attended a performance of "Sell/Buy/Date" at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York City. Set in the future, writer and performer Sarah Jones plays a sociology professor studying the lives of sex workers in the 21st century. In combination, these experiences allowed me to broaden the discussion of sex work as it appears in my final written project.
In the spring semester, I plan to create a research presentation to present at the Simmons College Symposium in April. Additionally, I will craft a research article that is formatted to be published in journals focused on law or gender studies. I hope that my research will offer current and future researchers useful recommendations as they attempt to study sex workers in a respectful and sustainable way.
I want to work with other scholars to examine issues of gender in an interdisciplinary manner. Additionally, I look forward to fruitful discussions and useful feedback concerning my research and writing on sex work. I feel that this fellowship has created a truly unique space for passionate discussion, constructive feedback, and supportive scholarship.
Zebrafish research: The impact of gender bias social group in risk taking behavior in zebrafish (Danio rerio)
BA, Biology ‘19
Advised by Professor Abate
My HDL project with my research partner, Monivan Cheth is understanding the impact of manipulated social groups in zebrafish. As for previous research performed in Professor Abate research lab, when solitary sex tank were tested male zebrafish demonstrated more risk aversive behavior whereas female zebrafish were more proactive and exploratory in the environment. Since the results were contradictory to previous researches, it interested us to look further if male (zebrafish) bias tank would demonstrate more exploratory behavior if they are among few female zebrafish. It might increase their competitiveness to mate as a result making them more proactive and enhance their ability to deal with stressful situation.
This research is interesting for me as it allows me to understand behavior and impact of gender on different species. As zebrafish has very similar genome to human beings, it gives me an opportunity to correlate with human behavior to different environmental or social changes.
This program has provided a wonderful platform for me to broaden my understanding of gender through various disciplines. It has helped me understand the various ways of research, enhanced my writing as well given a better perspective of working together on gender studies but through various lenses in our independent groups.
We used the funds to purchase the zebrafishes, filters, various materials needed for the experiment. I hope to continue my research on zebrafish in upcoming years at Simmons College. I will be further working on understanding the change in reproductive output in various social groups of zebrafish. Monivan Cheth and I hope to publish our research work.
The Racialization of LGBTQ Muslims
MA in Gender/Cultural Studies ‘17
Advised by Saher Selod
Racialization is a useful concept for discussing the experiences of Muslims in the transatlantic world. Even though research has indicated that racialization is a gendered and sexualized process, to my knowledge no existing research explores the specific ways that LGBTQ Muslims are racialized. The purpose of my project is to examine how LGBTQ Muslims are racialized in the contemporary United States by conducting a content analysis of 6 blogs created by LGBTQ Muslims.
I have been studying and working in the field of gender and sexuality studies for the past six years. Broadly speaking, my interests include transgender studies, critical race theory, and transnational studies. In particular, I am interested in how biopower and necropolitics operate transnationally to shape the lives of transgender people of color. My HDL project is a culmination of all of these interests.
I have used HDL funds to purchase research materials, including several books and journal subscriptions. I plan to use the remaining money to travel to conferences to present my work.
The HDL program has given me the opportunity to learn about the range of ways that Simmons students are conducting research related to gender in a variety of fields, to give and receive constructive feedback on my research and writing, to connect with established scholars in my field by inviting an outside scholar to Simmons to speak on my topic, and to develop my presence as a scholar in my field.
I have been accepted into Oregon State’s PhD program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies for Fall 2017. I intend to publish and present my HDL project/MA thesis and may continue to explore this topic in my dissertation. I ultimately hope to become a professor in this field and to set up an independent feminist bookstore and kava bar.
Socialist Feminism, Theoretical Slippages, and Change Over Time
MA, Gender & Cultural Studies '17
Advised by Sarah Leonard
I am looking into Socialist Feminism across three time periods to find places where earlier theories can supplement current theories. I am specifically looking at a small group of women from roughly the turn of the century and seeing if their work can be added to Second Wave theories and contemporary theories. Broadly, I am seeking to expand the historical lens of gender theory to strengthen that theory. I became interested in this specific project because of a history class on socialism and gender.
I am using my funds for books that provide primary sources and theoretical texts and to travel to a conference. I am excited to work with other Simmons students outside of my program and see the range of research into gender.
I would like to further my study of this topic across a greater set of sources, time periods, and geographic locations.
Student Leaders Demanding Diversity: Organizing for Institutional Change in Higher Education
BA, Sociology ‘17
Advised by Saher Selod
In November 2015 students of color at colleges across the country presented demands to their administrations. My study uses interviews with students who helped write demands and administrators at those colleges to explore this surge of activism and its impact. My study focuses on the persistence of whiteness in higher education and the tendency of administrators at predominantly white institutions to rely on and exploit students of color even in their attempts to promote diversity and inclusion.
I became interested in this work after students of color at Simmons presented demands and I began to think critically about the ways Simmons relies on its student leaders, especially student leaders of color.
I hope to continue studying the ways whiteness reinforces itself within institutions as I pursue my PhD in Sociology.
MA, English Literature ‘17
Advised by Renee Bergland
My project concerns the formation of group identities and focuses on the paradoxical problem with essentialism; while it is a powerful tool for political efficacy, it also acts as a weapon for exclusion. Is there a way for national, racial, religious, gender or cultural groups to be formed without this exclusionary violence? My project explores these possibilities through the work of two American writers, Toni Morrison and Emily Dickinson. Specifically, I will examine Morrison’s representation of utopias in her novel Paradise and the fractal conceptions of space and home in Dickinson’s poetry.
I have been interested in the subject of cultural identity my entire life because of my own mixed cultural heritage. Growing up in the suburbs of D.C. with an Iranian mother and Ecuadorian father instilled in me a sense of expansiveness that subverted traditional models of national and cultural identity. In hybridity, I find a construction that can help make sense of the essentialism paradox, and thereby help build a common ground where intersectional identities and communities can flourish. My coursework at Simmons sparked my interest in these particular American women writers, and my personal interests help weave them together.
I hope to publish my HDL essay as a journal article and present portions of it as conference papers. I also plan on expanding on this project with my work in an English doctoral program.
Exchanging Women of Circumstance: The Gendered and Material Implications of the War on Drugs
MA in Gender/Cultural Studies; MS in Education ‘17
Advised by Jo Trigilio
My HDL project examines the gendered and material implications of the war on drugs, with a specific focus on women of circumstance. Women of circumstance are involved in criminal drug cases as a result of their intimate or familial relationships with drug traffickers who are men. Using a materialist lens, I interrogate the web of exchanges that occur between the carceral state and the criminalized drug economy that utilizes women of circumstance as commodity and exploits their labor, assets, and physical bodies.
Scholars have recognized that the war on drugs is in fact a “war on women.” Mandatory minimums and conspiracy charges disproportionately affect women and fail to take into account the social context in which they are involved in criminalized drug activity. I am interested in this topic because although the sentencing policies have changed, the same racist logic and systematic structure remains intact.
I will use my funds to purchase books and present at conferences, such as the Fourth International Conference on Advances in Women’s Studies in Toronto. I hope to publish a shortened version of my project, present at conferences, and apply for PhD programs next year.
Student Perspectives on Sex Education in Public US Schools
BA, Sociology and English ‘17
Advised by Valerie Leiter
My project is an interview-based study of sex education in public US high schools, in which I have interviewed young high school grads about the knowledge they’ve gained from their sex education classes. I’m particularly interested in the differences between the experiences of heterosexual/cisgender students and students identifying as LGBTQ.
I became interested in this work when I was a high school student, myself. I had a semester of sex education which was informative, but was not sensitive to my experience as an LGBTQ teenager. During a WGST course at Simmons, I discovered that this was a common experience for many other students, who attended high schools across the US. Now, I’m able to explore this problem in a formal research setting.
I used my funds to purchase books to broaden my knowledge about sex education, and to cover the costs of having my interviews transcribed. I was able to submit my work to a New England Sociology conference and through the interview process. I’ve connected with students who feel as passionate as I do about asking for the education they need in order to make informed and healthy decisions about their bodies.
The program has allowed me to see the intersection of health, education, gender, and sexuality, through my own project and the work of other 2017 HDL scholars. I hope to continue to study the sociology of youth, gender, sexuality, and education at the graduate level.
Navigating the Constructs of Sex and Gender on the Fringes of the Reproductive Economy: An Analysis of Tropes and Trends in American Literature
MA, English Literature ’17
Advised by Renee Bergland
My HDL research considers young characters, often identified as female but physically nonconforming, in American literature and examines the influence of the social constructs around sex and gender, particularly regarding participation in the reproductive economy and its impact on characters’ subjectivity. I am analyzing how these characters are portrayed and how they assert control of their own narratives and counter their experiences of body dysphoria, frequently through the physical journeying or isolation associated with transformation. Novels by Jeffery Eugenides (Middlesex), Julia Ward Howe (The Hermaphrodite), Toni Morrison (Paradise), and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), among others, are central to my research.
Existence outside of the reproductive economy and sexual difference are intellectual questions that have personally interested me and need further scholarly contributions. I wanted to see what kinds of literary protagonists have challenged the paradigm of the reproductive economy. I was curious about their visibility – or invisibility – within American literature. In addition, medical science is a topic that reappears throughout these texts. I think the intersection of science and literature is fascinating and reveals a lot about how we engage with the world.
I plan to use my HDL funding to purchase texts, conduct local research travel to places like Concord, MA, and to pay for resources like journal subscriptions, conference registrations, and memberships as needed.
I will compose a piece of long-form journalism, analyzing contemporary texts related to my topic and contextualizing them within the current conversation about sex, gender and reproductive rights. I will also write a scholarly article examining the same topic through the lens of nineteenth century literature.
In addition to the chance to hone my independent research skills and scholarly discipline by developing a project of personal interest, HDL has provided the opportunity to be part of a wonderful interdisciplinary community that has been very supportive and provided helpful insights, including a scientific point of view. My work will benefit from that different perspective as an English student addressing medical topics. HDL is a perfect chance to learn more about what it means to be part of a contributing member of an academic community.
My goal is to pursue a career a career in journalism and I will attempt to get the writing I completed for HDL published. I also hope to apply my HDL research to a work of narrative nonfiction or creative writing addressing the same topics. As someone who, as a young reader, felt the absence of the types of characters that I encountered during the course of my research, writing a young adult novel or developing relevant programming for adolescents, fostering creativity, self-esteem, and community, are specific ambitions that I am exploring.
Irene Adler as an Anomaly to Her Time: A Feminist Perspective
BA English and Psychology, ‘18
Advised by Kelly Hager and Kristin Dukes
My HDL project is centered around doing an interdisciplinary analysis and contextualization of the anomalous Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes. In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” she is known to Sherlock Holmes as “the woman”, as she is able to outsmart Holmes, the man who is supposed to be unbeatable in a canon that is traditionally sexist and misogynistic. She is then reimagined in the BBC’s Sherlock as a dominatrix, and in CBS’s Elementary is conflated with Moriarty, Holmes’s arch nemesis. I really want to know how Freud would interpret this woman who is able to outsmart a man who is not supposed to be outsmarted? How does this interpretation change with Horney’s more feminist reinterpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis and current feminist psychology? And how do her characters in Sherlock and Elementary relate to modern feminist psychology, if at all?
I first read “A Scandal in Bohemia” in my English 199 course here at Simmons, and when I heard about the HDL seminar I kept thinking about Irene Adler and how I would think of her in my some of my psychology courses. It ended up evolving into a really great interdisciplinary project that combines both of my majors.
So far I have only used my funding for books, but I hope to use it to travel to a conference at some point! I want to create a research article and an interactive website that integrates media from the TV shows I’m looking at and in-depth looks at some of the psychological theories I’m using.
I have gained a better appreciation of the work and process that goes into research and pushed myself academically. I’m learning a lot about myself and my writing process for a longer and more challenging paper. As I look forward to my senior year and applying to Clinical and Forensic Psychology Psy.D. programs, I’m really using this for my last real in-depth project for my English major before my focus shifts primarily to psychology.