2016-2017 Research Grant Fellows and Projects

Environment, Public Health, and Intersectional Issues for Women and Girls of Color


Marysol Asencio, Professor, Sociology & El Instituto: The Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies

 Project Title“Latina Lesbian (in)Visibility and Social Equity”


There has been a limited amount of research focusing on Latina lesbians and what exists is scattered across decades. The small amount of research available, including some recent important contributions, has addressed issues such as coming-out, the negotiation of multiple identities, family relationships and formations, activism, and migration. A important finding that runs through much of this foundational work (explicitly or implicitly) is Latina lesbian invisibility — whether it is about not being out, considered, seen, taken seriously, or included. Yet, it is also clear from the published research, as well as through biographical accounts, that Latina lesbians are engaged in advancing their visibility and social position. The proposed qualitative research project will build on previous research by investigating Latina lesbian (in)visibility and its connections to social equity. Through fieldwork and in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of adult Latina lesbians residing in major Latina/o LGBT centers (e.g., NYC and Miami) as well as smaller and more isolated areas across the east coast, data will be collected on their visibility, involvement, and interactions with various social institutions (e.g., work, school, government agencies, healthcare, and political, religious, and community organizations) in their negotiations of day-to-day life. The study utilizing an intersectional framework aims to advance our understanding of the structural barriers and taken-for-granted social and institutional assumptions (and policies) based on gender, race/ethnicity, class, and sexuality informing the lives of women of color.

Evelyn M. Simien, Associate Professor, Political Science & Africana Studies Institute

Project Title: “Sex-Trafficking and the 4P’s: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnership in Connecticut”


The present study is about women of color who are uniquely at risk of: sex trafficking and homicide. Once women and girls enter sex trafficking, their average life expectancy is seven years, with homicide being a top killer because they are targets for serial killers. Studies of sex trafficking focus on victims and survivors, not related homicides. While six states – Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas – mandate data collection and reporting on trafficking cases, Connecticut does not. The lack of uniform data is an impediment to developing a comprehensive needs assessment model, and a longitudinal, comparative analysis of survivors and victim-related homicides. The goal is: 1) to collect data to inform a coordinated response that serves to improve victim services for survivors of sex trafficking, and 2) to collect data that identifies resilience factors that allowed victims to escape homicide. My research strategy is varied, relying on case study, elite interviewing, content analysis of primary and secondary source documents, as well as participant observation. Most of the case-specific empirical data will come from newspapers and court documents, homicide reports, conversations and oral interviews with survivors and family members of the victims, community leaders and activists, health professionals, elected and appointed officials, law enforcement agents, and members of other state agencies. To develop a database on victims of sex trafficking, including those who survive and those who lost their lives, is timely and important. Such evidence-based research can inform criminal investigations and legal proceedings, resulting in prosecutions.

Graduate Students

Crystal M. Hayes, Ph.D. Student, School of Social Work

Project Title: Are All Mothers Created Equal: Race, Birth Behind Bars, &  The Anti-Shackling Movement in Massachusetts


Incarceration rates in the United States have soared by 500% in the past 40 years, with women as the fastest group of newly incarcerated people (The Sentencing Project, 2015). The United States is excessively incarcerating women, with less than 5% of the world’s female population, yet 33% of the world’s incarcerated women (Correctional Association of New York, 2015). However, the vast majority of those women are disproportionately poor, working-class women of color, under 50 years old, and at the peak of their reproductive years (Guerino, Harrison, & Sabol, 2011; The Sentencing Project, 2015). Moreover, nearly 25% of incarcerated women are pregnant or have recently given birth at the time of arrest (Correctional Association of New York, 2015). This substantial increase of incarcerated women is an urgent issue with major implications for prison reform policies regarding women’s reproductive healthcare needs.

The research project will comprise a pilot study using focus groups to better understand the birthing experiences of incarcerated women in Massachusetts. The study seeks to identify what are the most salient issues for the Prison Birth Project’s anti-shackling advocacy campaign in Massachusetts and the impact the organization has on the actual birthing experiences of women and girls of color. Data will be coded and analyzed through a human rights and radical Black feminist lens to determine themes and implications for the anti-shackling movement and prison reform policies. The pilot study will provide preliminary insights for future dissertation study, women specific prison reform policies, and advocacy work.

Danielle Kloster, Ph.D. Student, Natural Resources, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources

Project Title: Women of Color and the Environment: The Role of Intersectionality in Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors


Historically, people of color have been largely excluded from the mainstream environmental conversation, and both people of color and women have been marginalized in the field of natural resources. With women of color expected to make up half the population of women in the United States by 2050, it is crucial for the fields of environmental science and natural resources management to gain an understanding of underlying motivations for and barriers to environmental behaviors (e.g., recycling, buying pesticide-free food) for this segment of the population. Some studies have hypothesized that women of color may behave differently or have different attitudes from white women, but did not have a diverse enough sample to investigate this question, indicating the need for purposive sampling of women of color. Additionally, the intersectionality of race and gender in impacting environmental attitudes and behaviors has not been explored. The objective of this study is to examine the role of intersectionality of race and gender for women of color in their environmental attitudes and behaviors. First, national survey data from the General Social Survey related to environmental attitudes and behavior will be analyzed to provide preliminary comparisons between different segments of the population. Focus groups of women of color will be conducted to evaluate environmental attitudes and identify motivations for and internal and external barriers to environmental behaviors. Finally, in-depth semi-structured interviews will provide further exploration of topics from the focus groups.

Sian Charles Harris, Ph.D. Student, Curriculum and Instruction, Neag School of Education and Mar’Kee Thomas, Ph.D. Student (LCSW), School of Social Work

Project Title: Capacity Building: Risk and Resilience in Black American Teen Girls


The purpose of this research is to add to the growing body of evidence-based resilience-building school programming to combat the negative cycle of violence and re-victimization that black teen girls face. This study examined the relationship of the school-based intervention program GirlsOnly! on adolescent black female students (n=20) identified as at risk for adverse outcomes. The study design is a pretest-posttest control group design with random group assignment. The researchers hypothesize that study participants (n=10) who completed the 16 week, 1.5 hour resiliency building program would demonstrate increased positive sense of self, assertiveness, problem solving skills, and prosocial skills at the completion of the GirlsOnly! Program, when compared to the control group participants (n=10). Should the researchers’ hypothesis be supported, outcome data have far reaching implications, including increasing funding for programs; increasing reliance on racially- and sexually- sensitive programming; unskewing the disproportionate rates of black girls who get involved with the juvenile justice system; and utilizing the school setting as a community-based organization.

Khris-Ann K. Small, Ph.D. Student, Human Development and Family Studies, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Project TitleAn Evaluation of the Positive Parenting Program: Incorporating Black Parenting Practices


The Obama administration has placed a focus on reducing the number of African American girls who are expelled or suspended from schools. Behavior problems at school are a major cause of these disciplinary actions. Suspension and expulsions contribute, in turn, to a higher risk of failure to graduate and to incarceration.

One approach to reducing the incidence of school behavioral problems is the administration of parenting programs. Although many parenting programs are considered to be effective regardless of race or ethnicity, there is a discrepancy between research findings on effective parenting techniques for Black American families and current parenting program protocols. Current research on Black parenting highlights the importance of parents communicating messages about race to their children, to reduce problem behaviors and increase academic achievement. The incorporation of protective Black parenting practices are lacking in modern parenting programs.

The Positive Parenting Program (Triple-P), currently being implemented in Hartford, CT, is an intervention program that provides parents with techniques to manage developing problem behaviors in children. However, limited research has examined the efficacy of the Triple-P program for Black parents and their children. In this study, we will conduct focus groups with Black mothers who have completed the Triple-P. The content of parents’ discussion about the Triple-P will be analyzed for dominant themes, using qualitative and quantitative techniques, with the ultimate goal of creating a better understanding of how the concerns and beliefs of Black parents can best be incorporated into the Triple-P and other parent education protocols.


STEM Pipeline Framing and Intersectional Issues for Women and Girls of Color


Laura Burton, Associate Professor, Sport Management, Educational Leadership, Neag

School of Education, http://education.uconn.edu/person/laura-burton/

Jennie Weiner, Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership, Neag School of Education,


Project Title: “Shedding Light, Activating Voice, and Building Community: Investigating the Experiences of Women of Color in Educational Leadership”


Women of color experience both overt and subtle bias in their preparation, hiring experiences, and perceptions of effectiveness in educational leadership positions, specifically among those opting to serve in ‘turnaround’ schools (Burton & Weiner, 2016; Weiner & Burton, in press). Such bias has real implications for women of color’s career trajectories, and, given the special nature of the sector, the opportunity of young women of color to see role models serving in positions of authority and leadership to inspire them to similar heights. Moreover, female principals of color are largely absent as research participants, thus, creating a real need for exploration into their experiences and means of engendering greater equity in the field. As leadership work has gathered momentum regarding the influence of implicit bias in evaluation of minority and non-minority women, we propose to examine how such biases impact women of color in educational leadership by engaging an in-depth interview study with 10 women of color currently in school leadership positions. Our objective is to bring voice and focus to their experiences in accessing and experiencing leadership. Social role theory will guide this work including the development of our interview protocols and analytic process. Further, we hope to extend this study, not only to explore the barriers and supports women principals of color may face in leadership development and exercise of leadership, but also to help develop a shared space, both physically and remotely, to support these women in the continued development of their leadership skills.

John Settlage,Professor, Science Teacher Education, Neag School of Education, http://education.uconn.edu/person/john-settlage/

Project Title:   Signposts Along the Pathway: Increasing Access to Quality STEM Education for Women of Color


By most measures, women of color are denied access to STEM opportunities despite evidence of equivalent interest and performance throughout elementary and middle school. The project’s goal is to identify features of STEM education that nurture the academic advancements by women of color. To date, most research on STEM access has emphasized negatives—under-participation in Advanced Placement courses, lowered expectations by high school STEM faculty and guidance counselors, inhospitable learning environments in STEM college programs, etc. This project will document positive influences upon women of color about STEM education.

Drawing upon urban STEM-themed high schools, we will conduct focus groups with female students of color who aspire to pursue STEM majors in college and STEM careers upon graduation. Rather than consider human capital (e.g., grit, intelligence, or learning styles), we will attend to social capital influences (trust, norms, and networks) that students indicate as supporting development of STEM identities. Interviews will be subsequently conducted with adults identified as contributing to the growth in students’ STEM identity. Project outcomes will consist of a catalog of instructional practices, curriculum designs, informal experiences, mentoring relationships, and school designs associated with STEM education success for women of color. Findings will be communicated to other secondary schools to inform efforts to enrich STEM opportunities for women of color. The outcomes will also be distributed to STEM higher education programs to counter the myths that women of color are disinterested in STEM and lack the capacity to be successful in STEM courses and careers.

Blanca Rincon, Assistant Professor, Higher Education and Student Affairs,

Neag School of Education,http://education.uconn.edu/person/blanca-rincon/

Milagros Castillo-Montoya, Assistant Professor, Higher Education and Student Affairs,

Neag School of Education,http://education.uconn.edu/person/milagros-castillo-montoya/ 

Project Title: Examining Race Dialogues as a Tool for Mitigating Racial Climate for Women of Color in STEM


This study examines the use of race dialogue as a strategy for mitigating negative racial climates within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) departments for women of color. Using data from qualitative interviews and reflection papers collected from undergraduate women of color at a research-intensive public university, this study seeks to understand: (1) how women of color in STEM experience their department climates before, during, and after participation in a series of race dialogue sessions (2) how women of color in STEM discuss their own and others’ social identities, and (3) how women of color in STEM discussions of their own and others’ social identities shift, as they participate in a series of race dialogue sessions.

 Graduate Students

Monique Golden, Ph.D. Student, Leadership and Education Policy, Neag School of Education

Project Title:   “MAGNET-ic Repulsion: Why Aren’t CT’s Magnet Schools Attracting Girls of Color to STEM”


Research and labor market data indicate an underrepresentation of both women and people of color in STEM fields. Despite numerous efforts to promote the STEM pipeline for women of color, in particular, there is little evidence of success at scale. One potential pathway to promote access and success in STEM fields is through STEM-themed K-12 schools, and often through schools of choice. The researcher will be exploring the high school school-choice process in central Connecticut, where there is a supply of STEM-themed magnet schools, as well as a high density of women of color. The existing gap between concepts of racial and gender equity associated with the spirit of Magnet schools and the determining factors that attract or repel, particularly, girls of color from attending STEM Magnet schools needs exploration. Because these schools enroll only people who have expressed interest, understanding their impacts on students also requires understanding how and why students apply to attend such schools is critical. This information may offer suggestions to better promote STEM Magnet education to girls of color. Additionally, policymakers are interested in understanding the long-term impact of STEM education participation on student outcomes, such as college enrollment/persistence, employment and income. Institutions like the University of Connecticut, with an espoused mission that prioritizes the expansion of educational opportunities, research, and diversity with an emphasis in STEM disciplines, have a vested interest in the participation and success of girls of color in STEM high school programs.

Monique S. Negron, Ph.D. Student, Neag School of Education and Renée M. Gilberti, McNair Scholars Program Coordinator 

Project Title: One Bad Grade Does Not Define Me: Counter-Stories of Resilience from Women of Color in STEM 


 In the United States, one of the major challenges facing our educational system is the alarming and perpetual underrepresentation of women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Previous research highlights the numerous barriers facing this population, including racial and gender stereotypes, pervasive microaggressions, lack of mentorship, and feelings of being overlooked and unsupported (Justin-Johnson, 2004; Ong, 2005; Varma, et.al 2006). Little is known, however, about the ways women of color pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM persist and excel, despite encountering different challenges. Therefore. the purpose of this study is to investigate the key factors that contribute to the resiliency of women of color in pursuit of STEM degrees. A unique aspect of this study is the focus on women of color, who have experienced a documented challenge (such as a low grade in a gateway STEM course), but continued to pursue a degree in STEM towards graduation. Data will be collected from in-depth, individual interviews and focus groups. Researchers will use a strength-based model and counter-storytelling methods to better understand and help amplify the voices and experiences of women of color. Findings from this study will provide meaningful insights to key stakeholders at secondary and postsecondary institutions to develop programming that facilitates positive academic experiences and outcomes in order to increase the likelihood of higher retention and completion rates for women of color who are pursuing STEM majors.