Student Profiles

Isabel Martin '18: In Her Own Words

As the proud daughter of Brown alumna Jean Chiaramonte '82, I continue a legacy of strong Brown women. Growing up on the South Shore of Massachusetts and visiting Brown often with my mother and her incredible group of alumnae girlfriends, I have always been particularly aware of this connection. She was an English concentrator; I study literature. She lived in Everett 4th floor (Keeney) her freshman year; I lived in the exact room translated one floor below. She was fond of the Rock and the Athenaeum; I find myself frequenting the same study spots, following in her footsteps.

In my fourth semester, I began working at the Pembroke Center Archives, specifically on the Brown Women Speak oral history project and in the Feminist Theory Archive. I was serendipitously engaged in a project of tracing the literal steps Pembroke/Brown alumnae like my mother took – in their hobble skirts to tea with the Dean in the beginning of the twentieth century, around the Van Wickle Gates and Main Green in the 1920s, into Brown dormitories in 1972 – and then into the courtroom, Congress, boardroom, and Federal Reserve throughout their illustrious and groundbreaking careers.

As my formal introduction to the Pembroke Center, my work in the Archives not only brought me closer to my Pembroke genealogy, but brought together my two academic passions – feminist theory and stories – in an extended project of power analysis, retrospective research, and feminist advocacy. It is in the Archives that I began to explore and interrogate the ways of writing history, and the importance of a subversive methodology and perspective in historiography. In the Archives, I found individual experience, with human emotion at its core, as a means of exposing the production of difference and normative social categories and institutions. At the Pembroke Center, I discovered the intersection of my passion for literature and language, feminist activism, and histories of gender and knowledge production. And in highlighting the legacies of Pembroke alumnae, I began to build my own.

This year, I am also working on differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies as editorial assistant to Denise Davis '97 A.M., '11 Ph.D., managing editor. Involved in formatting manuscripts, copyediting, and preparing material for print, I have had the privilege of learning about publishing an academic journal. Moreover, the content is inspirational for my own studies, and challenges me to think across disciplines, across difference, and to engage with theoretical material from new perspectives.

Through my participation in the gender and sexuality studies concentration, the Pembroke Center Archives, differences, and the many fascinating events at the center (I saw Judith Butler speak last year!), I have come in to my own identity as a feminist, student, and activist. The Center is about expanding knowledge past normative modes and critiquing difference. At Brown, the Pembroke Center allows me to think differently, beyond boundaries of discipline and driven by passionate critique and inquiry. I love how theoretical, dedicated, and groundbreaking the Pembroke Center is, and the ways in which it continually emphasizes the work of thousands of pioneering alumnae.

An enclave of intellectualism, the Pembroke Center fosters scholarship that draws strength from its multigenerational context and women’s history. The voices of thousands of alumnae, preserved in the Archives and the scholarship of the Center, support, encourage, and provide opportunities for students discovering their passions and pursuing new paths. It really does feel possible to change the world!


Sara Erkal '16

During her senior year, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Political Science double concentrator Sara Erkal '16 worked in the Pembroke Center Archives, focusing on oral histories the Center recorded with Brown alumnae.

"I have long been interested in the lives of women and the stories my sisters can tell me. The Pembroke Center gave me access to those stories," explains Erkal.  "The archive is so often informed by dominant discourse, but the Pembroke Center Archives speak with a vibrant, refreshing, multifaceted voice. While at Pembroke I felt I had some small part in the making of momentous history."

Erkal's work in the Pembroke Center Archives was enhanced by her courses in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

"During my senior seminar, as I re-read some of the discipline's foundational texts, I found myself simultaneously tracing the evolution of thought within the Academy and within the stories of the Pembroke Center Archives. I was amazed at how everything could be connected," recalls Erkal. "My coursework made me think about the ways in which the archive, even one centered around women, can be limiting."

"How can we expand our archive?" she asks. "How can we make sure all voices are acknowledged, represented, and disseminated so as to come closer to making the dominant discourse more inclusive?"

Erkal found a path for her life after Brown through the Gender and Sexuality Studies concentration housed at the Pembroke Center.

"It was here that I truly figured out my purpose," says Erkal. "My dedication to intersectional anti-oppressive work and sexual violence advocacy was undoubtedly shaped and nurtured by the concentration's faculty, peers, and texts."

When thinking about her time at Brown, Erkal recalls the words of Audre Lorde: "I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." 

Chanelle Adams '15.5

Having been a student at Brown for less than two months, Chanelle Adams attended a Pembroke Center event that introduced her to the groundbreaking work of an esteemed faculty member. This professor's work would give focus to Adams' intellectual path at Brown.

"My connection to the Pembroke Center has been central to my time at Brown. I first encountered Pembroke as a first-year student during Family Weekend," recalls Adams. "I brought my Mom to a talk with Dr. Anne Fausto Sterling about nature vs. nurture. From that moment forward I knew I wanted to work in Science and Technology Studies."

Anne Fausto-Sterling was at that time the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies. Now retired from the faculty, Fausto-Sterling remains a leading expert on the development of sexual identity as well as the biology of gender.

"Anne Fausto-Sterling's connection between Science and Technology Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies served as a model for interdisciplinary learning that I wanted to emulate," says Adams.

Research in Madagascar
Adams delivering an English lesson to members of AVUMPA, a medicinal plant education association of Malagasy people.Adams delivering an English lesson to members of AVUMPA, a medicinal plant education association of Malagasy people.For her senior thesis in Science and Technology Studies, Adams conducted field research in Madagascar. Her work is situated within the traditional healthcare system of northern Madagascar, called "pharmacie gasy." Her thesis traces a complex network of culture, tradition, power, health and knowledge between the marketplace and rural surrounding areas.

"My work serves to examine the ways in which marginalized communities play an active role in knowledge production and global circulation of knowledge. The contributions of these communities to global health, while overlooked by dominant discourses, are immense."

In late 2014, the Pembroke Center awarded Adams its Linda Pei Undergraduate Research Grant, established in memory of the late Linda Pei '67, P'10. The $1,000 grant supports undergraduate research related to issues of women's empowerment.

Adams conducting a focus group with vendors of pharmacie gasy.Adams conducting a focus group with vendors of pharmacie gasy."The Linda Pei Research Grant made it possible for me to return to my thesis work with marginalized forms of health knowledge in Madagascar," says Adams.

"Going back in 2015 to visit communities that I worked with in 2013 not only re-established connection and trust, but also allowed me to deepen my work, collaborate and research with communities to put forth their narrative and stake in global health conversations.

Adams with Maman Velomisy, a well-respected midwife (sage femme).Adams with Maman Velomisy, a well-respected midwife (sage femme)."In Madagascar, I interviewed women tradi-practitioners and vendors of medicinal plants. Working on a project for knowledge production justice, it was important to me that I provided fair compensation to each of my Malagasy colleagues. Therefore, much of the grant funds were used to ensure that all translators, guides, and informants were fairly compensated. The funds also supported my ability to afford traveling gear and resource books," says Adams.

Finding Community
Pembroke Center student grant and prize recipients, May 2015.Pembroke Center student grant and prize recipients, May 2015."The Pembroke Center's support was crucial to my ability to return to Madagascar, but also provided a community with whom I could share my work. The other recipients of Pembroke Center research grants all do really amazing work, and I was honored to be inducted into that circle. The grant also boosted my confidence in my capabilities as a student researcher," observes Adams.

Adams with Pembroke Center Associates Council members Bev Zweiman '66, P'01 and Carol Lemlein '67.Adams with Pembroke Center Associates Council members Bev Zweiman '66, P'01 and Carol Lemlein '67."While I never took a GenSex course at Brown, it was omnipresent throughout my experience. As editor-in-chief of Bluestockings Magazine for two years, I often grappled with issues discussed at the Pembroke Center.

"Many of the Center's seminars and conferences provided impressive opportunities for Bluestockings staff writers to interview guest speakers and participate in conversations," says Adams.

A New Chapter
Adams completes her A.B in Science and Technology Studies in December 2015.

"After graduation, I will be taking the position of managing editor for Black Girl Dangerous and doing freelance writing and editing on the side," says Adams. This reader-funded, non-profit grassroots arts and media project helps amplify the voices of queer and trans people of color.

Leigh Thomas '15

As a concentrator in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Public Health, Leigh Thomas '15 learned a lot about the changing roles of women in academia and the benefits of being part of a scholarly community.

Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA)

Thomas, along with classmate Bennett Knox '15, was awarded an UTRA at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. They helped conduct research for the Center's exhibit, The Lamphere Case: The Sex Discrimination Lawsuit that Changed Brown.

"I spent last summer in Providence working alongside Professor Debbie Weinstein, who was also my academic advisor, transcribing oral histories, reading and exploring legal documents and newspaper articles, and helping draft exhibit text," said Thomas.

"The project," she said, "challenged me to develop my research skills and allowed me to form meaningful connections with the professors, staff, and alumnae working on the exhibit.

"The experience significantly enhanced my sense of connection to Brown and my commitment to the study of women in academia."

Gender and Sexuality Studies

The concentration, housed at the Pembroke Center, helped Thomas gain leadership experience and undertake rigorous research.

"I became the leader of the concentration's departmental undergraduate group. As the group leader, I had the opportunity to contribute to Pembroke Center events," said Thomas.

At the Pembroke Center's Family Weekend program, "A Pivotal Moment for Women Worldwide," Thomas introduced Nancy Northup '81, P'16, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"As a senior Gender and Sexuality Studies concentrator, I had the rewarding experience of completing a capstone project as part of the seminar," Thomas said. Her research project was titled "Activist Narratives and ACT UP: Rights, Sovereignty, and Responsibility in AIDS Treatment Organizing."

"My last and favorite memory of the Pembroke Center is my graduation ceremony in Pembroke Hall," said Thomas. "I loved receiving my diploma among professors and Pembroke Center staff and supporters I knew well, with classmates I had studied alongside for four years, from the program that most significantly contributed to my academic growth at Brown." 

Katherine Davis '12

Kathryn Davis'12 discusses her experience as a Gender and Sexuality Studies concentrator and how what she learned in the concentration was instrumental to her successful job search. 

"If someone were to ask me to identify the central lesson of my Gender and Sexuality Studies (GNSS) concentration, I'd have to cite the balance between (1) how to compellingly critique a theory or piece, and (2) how to empathize, if not agree, with another's perspective," said Davis.

"Critique and empathy: these dual skills, and the self-directed questions they inspire –– What can I improve? How can I learn from others? –– have been the most critically important take-aways from my entire time as a GNSS concentrator.

"This is not at all to say that these were the only valuable skills and experiences I gained in college: through my GNSS classes, I learned to question the status quo, communicate my thoughts effectively, and collaborate with my peers." 

The Value of the Senior Thesis

"I improved dramatically as a writer and a public speaker. The process of researching and writing a senior honors thesis taught me countless lessons on patience, persistence, and having faith in my own voice –– lessons that helped sustain me through my long job search," Davis explained.

"I produced work that demonstrated my knowledge and highlighted my academic strengths; my thesis presentation even helped me land my current position as the Operations and Communications coordinator at a small nonprofit."

What Matters in the Job Search

"After many rounds of cover letters, phone screenings, and in-person interviews, the characteristics that seemed to most impress my interviewers almost always boiled down to a critical eye and an empathetic stance, both skills I attribute to GNSS," said Davis.

"In today's wild and wooly job market, asking 'What can I improve?' and 'How can I learn from others?' isn't just an effective way of standing out –– it's essential for keeping focused and staying sane." 

Lasting Connections with Faculty

"If critical sophistication and empathy have been key skills in my life after Brown, GNSS professors, who without exception exemplify these strengths, have been more than key players. The GNSS faculty comprises a small group, but a group that is hugely supportive of its students," Davis said.

"I have been very fortunate to continue to receive that generous time, energy, and support. Not only have my former GNSS professors acted as job references, taking emails and phone calls from a revolving cast of characters, but also they have shared their insights with me, talking to me about their own career experiences and job search advice.

"In all of the ways my Gender and Sexuality Studies concentration has helped me since graduation, my GNSS professors, through their wisdom and support, have been at the heart of them."