Years ago after taking my first set of prelims I was at the post-prelim BBQ and worrying about not having received a certain fellowship or something. My dear friend and mentor Katherine Luke said, quite simply in her usual reassuring tone, "We all have our own path." I have tried to remember that as that path takes (unexpected) turns. My family, both biological and "fictive," is where it all started for me. They were a combination of scholarly (even those without much formal education), socially-minded and always exacting in their expectations of me to attend college.
I began my undergraduate career at UC Davis studying to be a Registered Dietitian through the then-named Dietetics major. It was an interdisciplinary major so I took courses ranging from Food Science to Psychology. I also worked various campus jobs including at the admissions, office but the most influential was the Women’s Resources and Research Center where I interned multiple times and later worked as a student affairs officer. Organic Chemistry was my turning point so I switched my major to Women and Gender Studies mere days before I flew to study abroad at the University of New South Wales. After my year there, I was invited for an Honors Year in Sociology, which got me thinking about graduate school. After my return, I participated in UNC’s Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP). Back at UCD, I took courses in Sociology from Dina Okomoto and Katrina Bell McDonald, which excited me about the field. In pursuing a minor in English, I took many fun courses including one with Pam Houston. To further develop my research skills, I participated in the Mentorships for Undergraduate Research in Agriculture, Letters & Sciences (MURALS) program under the direction of Milmon Harrison. I completed my WGS Honors Thesis under the mentorship of Kimberly Nettles. In my "gap year," my half-time appointment as the WRRC's Program Coordinator became full time.
Doctoral and MSW work
I was in the first cohort (2004) of University of Michigan's Joint PhD in Sociology & Women’s Studies, integrating courses, research and faculty perspectives from the Department of Sociology and Department of Women’s Studies. The graduate school culture and rigor required an adjustment at times. However, the structure of the joint PhD program provided unparalleled opportunities for me to pursue my research interests, which is why I had chosen that program over higher ranked and warmer ones. Thankfully, I also experienced the generosity of many graduate school colleagues and faculty at Michigan.
The most important continuing influence came from an unexpected place: my peers. My sociology cohort and many students ahead and behind me (including GEO union colleagues) were important. When I think of graduate school, I think of my workgroups. While we are no longer physically in the same space, through the wonders of modern technology--and professional conferences--we continue to meet.
The May after my first year, a second-year Sociology/Social Work joint PhD student, Katherine Luke, e-mailed a few of us, asking whether we were interested in creating a group. We began to meet and named ourselves the Gender and Sexuality Sociology Study Group(ies). Laura Hirshfield, David Hutson, Emily Kazyak, Katherine Luke, Carla Pfeffer, Kristin Scherrer, and I met biweekly to read each other’s work, share ideas, encourage each other and the like. We also celebrated each other’s birthdays, shared dinners and conference panels, welcomed new children, and danced at a wedding or two. When Katherine and Carla defended their dissertations (in May and June 2009, respectively), they showed the rest of us we could do “it”: do theoretically interesting research, secure grants, mentor students, publish, and just be generally thoughtful, giving academics with lives.
Daniela Pineda started WIPIWG to bring together students from different joint PhDs. She, Megan Gilster, and Valenta Kabo and I met frequently. The latter three of us continued meeting through our defenses.
Writing Group (2007-present)
The group that Jeannie Thrall started changed participants over the years, but they all read many drafts of material that we were probably tired of seeing. So, thank you to Alice Gates, Michelle Hughes, and Stephanie Osbakken. Kristen Hopewell, Maria Johnson, Lynn Verduzco-Baker, and I continue to carry the torch.
I am forever grateful I met Elizabeth Cole in my first year. I eventually worked for her on the US site of the Global Feminisms Project, and she encouraged me to conduct the interview with Loretta Ross. This eventually led to my dissertation work, which has introduced me to many inspiring activists and scholars. For WS891 (2nd prelim), Jayati Lal served as my chair and Karin Martin and Elizabeth Cole as committee members. My article “Marching Towards Reproductive Justice” is a revised portion of that prelim aided no doubt by their pushing me.
After that prelim, I walked into Margaret Somers' office. She was thrilled a student was working on human rights and in the US no less. I took the qualitative research practicum with Frederick Wherry and conducted a pilot study of SisterSong. Sandra Levitsky reviewed my short (3 page?) early musings on my dissertation ideas. When we met, to my surprise she handed me a 2-page single-spaced document with feedback and questions for me to consider. Intrigued I inquired and she referred me to Zissner’s book. She also noted my work could be a good fit for NSF’s Law and Social Sciences dissertation grant, of which I, like many, was unaware. I applied and upon winning the grant became the first University of Michigan student to do so. Kiyoteru Tsutsui joined the faculty, which was fortuitous as he did work on global human rights movements.
As I began data collection for the PhD, I also began in the Master’s of Social Work program to broaden my theoretical understanding of social change. (Note that many of my explicitly anti-racist, social-justice oriented working group members had degrees in social work. While correlation is not causation, this fact did help me consider social work in a new light. Along with UM's support for interdisciplinarity, a word I heard about 15 times during PhD recruitment weekend.) My emphasis was in Community Organization/ Community Social Systems. I completed a teaching practicum with Lorraine Gutiérrez who had literally written a book on women of color. Other faculty who influenced me in a variety of ways included Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Lisa H. Harris, and Andrea Smith.The indefatigable Kerry Ann Rockquemore deserves special recognition for her consistent honest guidance.
My dissertation committee eventually represented my three main degree areas and due to the jointPhD structure, met regularly throughout the process:
Margret Somers, Sociology, co-chair
Elizabeth Cole, Psychology and Women’s Studies, co-chair
Kiyotero Tsutsui, Sociology
Sandra Levitsky, Sociology
Lorraine Gutierrez, Social Work and Psychology
At University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee I was a Diversity Fellow in the Department of Sociology. Kent Redding served as my sponsor during an all-too short program that exposed me to a different type of department and one of the most underrated cities.
At University of Wisconsin, Madison I was a Mellon Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellow in Human Rights in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Myra Marx Ferree, who is as incisive and generous as everyone says, and globetrotter Aili Tripp served as the sponsors. I was also affiliated with the Department of Sociology. In true "Wisconsin nice" fashion, faculty in many departments including Howard Erlager welcomed me, but I appreciated the support of Mara Loveman, Pam Oliver,and Jenny Higgins in particular. In addition to the Sawyer seminar, the FemSem workshop, PSC brownbag, and Institute for Legal Studies were important spaces for intellectual exchange.
At UC Berkeley, I was a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow with Kristin Luker and Charis Thompson serving as my sponsors. I was housed in the new Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at Berkeley Law, the brainchild of Kristin Luker (Founding Faculty Director Emertia) and Jill Adams (Executive Director ). I was also affiliated with the Department of Sociology and the Center for the Study of Law and Society. I appreciate the insightful conversations with Alisa Bierria, Laura J. Enriquez, Calvin Morrill, Sheila O’Rourke, and Sandra Smith in particular. I began my postdoc a week before Jill started her directorship. Being an accidental co-founder of CRRJ challenged and enriched my research in countless ways. I created and facilitated the Reproductive Justice Working Group, was lead author of an annual review article, trained a group of undergraduate researchers through URAP, started a UC Press book series with Rickie Solinger and Khiara Bridges and much more. Krista and Jill cheered me on as we grappled with the joy and frustration of forging innovative interdisciplinary partnerships professionally and personally. My time at CRRJ also put me in (continuing) conversation with theorists who advocate (or advocates who theorize) like Darcy Baxter, Emily Mann and Sujatha Jesudason. Over the years, the Bay Area Write-on-Site I started included Liberty Barnes, James Battle, Anne Finger, Liza Fuentes, Chris Hannsmann, Tomomi Kinukawa, Sarah Lamble, Christin Munsch, Victor Pineda, and Danielle Watts. My fellow writers were a consistent source of writing accountability and inspiration.
UC Santa Barbara
I am currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara . I am active in the department's Gender Workshop and Social Movements workshop. In addition to finishing my book project, I am the Principal Investigator for the Mobilizing Millions project that examines the worldwide Women's marches that occurred January 21, 2017. I teach courses on reproduction and social movements. In my first year, I started a Write-on-Site for Assistant Professors with my colleague Sarah Roberts. Along with Gabriela Soto Laveaga and Laury Oaks, I co-convene the UC-SB Health, Medicine and Care working group.
In my last class of the MSW our instructor Katie Richards-Schuster (Sociology/Social Work PhD alumni) reminded us: creating community is about building relationships. Graduate school and the dissertation process were about building relationships, building relationships while building knowledge—the work is never done. What a beautiful privilege.