Women and Girls of Color Research Initiative

Marquette's Women and Girls of Color Initiative

In 2016, the CGSS and Marquette University joined a collaborative of universities and organizations who made an active commitment to invest in research and scholarship on the lives of women and girls of color. Depending on the project and available funds, the Research Initiative Grant provided varying levels of funding to select projects that examined this population. The following projects were awarded funding by the CGSS grant review committee and the provost: 

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Mental Health and Academic Success Among Latina Emerging Adults: The Role of Culture and Gender Expectations by Lucas Torres and Lisa Edwards

As a significant mental health epidemic, Latina women are at increased risk for experiencing depression and other psychological problems partly because of the added burden of experiencing discrimination based on ethnicity and gender. The Latina/o population is one of the fastest growing in the U.S. and, as a group, tend to be younger than other ethnic groups. In addition to mental health disparities, academic inequalities exist such that despite increased enrollment in 2- or 4-year colleges and record numbers of degrees conferred in recent years, Latina/os still lag behind other ethnic groups. Thus, it becomes increasingly important to investigate the risk and protective factors that contribute to depression and academic success among Latina university students who may be exposed to increased cultural and gender stressors while attending a predominantly White institution (PWI). Adolescents and young adults of color are engaged in the additional developmental task of exploring their racial/ethnic and gender identity. Unfortunately, minimal research has examined how the intersection of ethnicity, culture, and gender contribute to psychological and academic well-being. Briefly, the main objectives of the current research proposal are 1) to examine a theoretical model examining the impact of discrimination, based on ethnicity and gender, on mental health and academic success and 2) to gather nuanced accounts of how Latina university students understand their intersection of race/ethnicity and gender at MU including their reactions to ethnic and gender discrimination. This work seeks to address and reduce the health and academic disparities experienced by Latina/o groups in the U.S.

The Impact of Code-Switching Instruction on the Academic Achievement of Low-Income, African American Girls by Maura Moyle

Academic achievement and occupational success are critical issues for girls of color in Milwaukee. In order to succeed academically girls need highly developed literacy skills. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is the second lowest in the nation for reading achievement among African American students, and the achievement gap is the second largest in the country. Given these concerning statistics, it is apparent that more effective, culturally-sensitive instructional methods are needed in our schools. The majority of African American students in Milwaukee speak African American English (AAE). A consistent finding in the research literature is that children who speak AAE are at increased risk for reading and academic delays. Research also demonstrates that students who learn to code-switch between AAE and Academic Classroom English (ACE) exhibit increased literacy achievement. ToggleTalk is a new supplemental curriculum that teaches code-switching skills to young students who speak AAE with the ultimate goal of increasing literacy achievement. The proposed project will involve implementation of ToggleTalk at Cross Trainers Academy in Milwaukee. Students will be assessed and pre- and post- ToggleTalk implementation to investigate the effectiveness of the curriculum. The project will include a particular focus on how African American girls are impacted by this curriculum in terms of code-switching skills, literacy, and attitudes toward school and their future careers. The proposed research is aligned with the social justice mission of the Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies and Marquette University. Its aims include providing culturally-sensitive educational programming to girls of color for the purposes of increasing academic achievement and economic opportunities.

Proyecto Mama: A Community Resource and Needs Assessment of Perinatal Mental Health among Latina Mothers by Lisa Edwards

The goal of this project is to provide the foundation for future programs and services that will positively impact Latina/o families in Milwaukee, particularly Latina mothers coping with perinatal depression. Perinatal depression (PD; depression during pregnancy and postpartum) has negative consequences on mothers and their children, increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems in childhood and adolescence (Fortner et al., 2011). Rates of PD are significantly higher among Latina mothers than their White counterparts, likely a result of the unique barriers to treatment including stigma, poverty, trauma, and lack of access to care (Edwards et al., 2015). There is currently no available data regarding perinatal mental health resources and needs in Milwaukee. Given the large increase of Latina/os within Milwaukee and Wisconsin (Levine, 2016), this information is critical to future generations of children and families in our community. The proposed project, Proyecto Mamá, is designed to gain a comprehensive understanding of the perinatal mental health resources and needs of Milwaukee Latinas. Guided by a framework of assets-oriented community assessment (Sharpe et al., 2000), the project’s aims are to: a) develop an interdisciplinary Proyecto Mamá Task Force of community members and professionals, b) complete an asset map of the key locations and agencies which support Latina mothers’ perinatal mental health, and c) conduct focus groups with Latina mothers, fathers and faith leaders, and integrate all the findings into a summary report to be shared with community agencies, policy makers and other stakeholders.

Changing Responses to Dating Violence Precursor Behaviors: An Action Research Project with Girls of Color and Their Partners by Kristin Haglund, Ruth Ann Belknap, Lisa Edwards, Juanita Terrie Garcia, and Mauricio Garnier-Villarreal

The goal of this project is to assist girls of color and their partners recognize precursor behaviors to teen dating violence and to develop responses that mitigate the risk for violence both immediately and in the future. Involvement in TDV is often not intended or anticipated. Young people often lack awareness and recognition of behaviors that are known risks for violence in dating relationships. This can lead to responses to behaviors that escalate the situation. While dating violence occurs in all ethnic groups, the consequences for girls of color may be compounded by the intersectionality of multiple sources of oppression. For girls, experiencing TDV increases their risk for sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, decreased physical and mental health, and decreased academic achievement. Thus we are seeing to teach girls of color and their partners about risks of precursor behaviors and ways to respond that decrease risk for violence. In addition to dissemination of knowledge through presentations and publications, we intend to produce a monograph that includes scripts for scenarios, instructions and examples to extend the benefits of this project to a larger community.

Information on the Women and Girls of Color Initiative

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What do we know?

Indicators suggest women and girls of color have made tremendous strides towards social justice and equality:

  • High school and college graduate rates have risen. 

  • Unintended pregnancy rates have dropped. 
  • Major growth in business ownership. 
  • More women of color in upper ranks at workplaces and institutions in the U.S.

Issues: Education

Education is still an issue among girls of color who: 

  • lag behind in standardized tests. 
  • are more likely to be suspended from school. 
  • face a school to prison pipeline
  • have higher rates of placement in juvenile detention facilities

Issues: Penal System

Americans with criminal records suffer lifelong consequences, such as barriers to housing, education, and employment. Women of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system: 

  • The number of women in state and federal prisons has increased from 12,300 in 1980 to 107,500 in 2005. 
  • 30% of women prisoners are Black, and 16% are Latina. 
  • Since 1980, the number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate of men. 
  • Black women are incarcerated at 4 times the rate of white women.

Issues: Poverty and Economic Justice

Women and girls of color still face the highest rates of poverty and economic injustice: 

  • 37% of women in prison have incomes of less than $600/mo prior to their arrest. 
  • Women of color receive lower wages for their work. 
  • Percentages of Black women who are full-time, minimum-wage earners is higher than that of any other racial group. 
  • Face huge wealth disparities. 
  • Are often victims of gender-based violence.

In addition, women of color are rarely represented in research: 

  • "Women of color will constitute more than half of all women in the United States by 2050, but they are infrequently the central subjects of scholarly inquiry. This research deficit has meaningful consequences for the ways our institutions contribute to public discourses and policy making." -- Provost Rogan Kersh, Wake Forest University