Keith Plummer '17, a self-designed major in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program, presents his capstone experience titled "Avowal and Queer Liberation: Discourse, Identity, and Social Change" during the 2017 Academic Conference.

Keith Plummer '17, a self-designed major in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program, presents his capstone experience titled "Avowal and Queer Liberation: Discourse, Identity, and Social Change" during the 2017 Academic Conference. 

Advanced research opportunities are available to students with their capstone experience, where they work closely with a faculty member and present their research at the end of the year at the Holy Cross Academic Conference. The capstone experience may be a culminating research paper, artistic project, or performance. View examples of recent papers on CrossWorks.

2018-2019 Capstone Projects

In 2016, five of the most successful and well-known female soccer players in the United States filed a complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation regarding unequal pay between the men’s and women’s professional teams. This complaint grabbed the attention of media outlets around the entire country, but the harsh reality is that this inequality has existed for over 20 years. From as early as 1996, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team has had to deal with lower wages, unsatisfactory playing and travel conditions, lack of award recognition, second tier media coverage, and unfair public profiling through the press and sponsorship opportunities. This historical analysis seeks to bring attention to the inequalities that have plagued this team, despite their long-standing success on the field.

My capstone explores the marked increase in feminist rewritings of the Cinderella tale in film and various narrative forms and the feminist scholars who have felt the need to rewrite the Cinderella tale because of her “passive” and “anti-feminist” nature. In my view, these scholars fundamentally misunderstand Cinderella’s passivity as a negative trait, when it actually represents much strength, such as honing intuition and introspection through the Eastern spiritual tradition of Hesychasm which may be interpreted — especially in western culture — as undesirable “passivity.” My interpretation turns the feminist retellings on their ear by assigning a positive value to what scholars regard as “negative passivity,” which reconfigures perceptions of what seems to represent authentic heroic attributes — transforming essentialist ideas of womanhood in relation to heroism.

In my research analysis study, I analyzed the inherent association of the term “bullying” with educational institutions, and how this association may be problematic, particularly for LGBTQ students. I wish to determine how the focus on bullying solely within educational institutions disregards homophobic harassment faced by LGBTQ youth in their daily lives outside of school. In doing so, my goal is to expose the negative impacts surrounding this initial association, as well as to determine how “bullying” has morphed throughout America’s history. To conclude this paper, I wish to shed light on support systems and organizations available to aid LGBTQ students in navigating through homophobic bullying both within their educational institutions, as well as within their lives outside of school.

In the United States today, women comprise 19.8 percent of Congress, placing the United States as 104th in the world in terms of women representatives in parliamentary bodies. While the United States lags in terms of representation, the number of women of Congress is higher than ever before, raising the question of why women’s integration into Congress has occurred so slowly over time compared to other professional fields. Throughout my paper I examined the major factors contributing to the increasing number of women being elected to Congress as well as what current research points to as the most effective strategies to further increase women’s entry and success in seeking public office.

I paired my capstone with a seminar taught by Professor Hayaki on “Eating and Its Disorders.” For this class, I wrote a paper on how social expectations of masculinity and femininity influence the development of eating disorders. For my capstone project, I extended my focus to explore how expectations of sexual orientation and gender may influence eating disorders in gender and sexual minorities. After discussing how societal norms can influence disordered eating, I explain how psychologists should be aware that gender and sexual minorities are overrepresented in the rates of eating disorder diagnoses, which reflects the added stress such individuals may feel. There is little research on disordered eating in gender and sexual minority individuals, which suggests future research should focus more on such populations. 

2016-2017 Capstone Abstracts

Our mental image of the ballerina is of a majestic, poetic creature gifted with the technical and expressive abilities to tell a story. However, this romantic understanding fails to acknowledge the complex social and cultural history of the ballerina, who was once sexualized and taken advantage of physically by male spectators – some even lived double lives as prostitutes. In this capstone, I give a biographical and visual analysis of dance images from the nineteenth century to present, exploring the dialogue between ballet and the visual arts to consider the story of ballet that these images tell, as the well as the ones they exclude. Since the Romantic Movement, ballerinas have progressed from being viewed as sexual objects to skilled, artistic individuals who are admired for their strength, technicality, and grace. I argue that even in the present day, while images of the ballet celebrate the ballerina, they continue to objectify her feminine body in different ways.

The Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) is an archive that seeks to provide an online hub for trans related historical materials. The goal is to increase the accessibility of materials related to variant gender identities and practices. The website has thousands of materials of many different types of media and this can be difficult to navigate for new users. For my capstone, I worked in the DTA and created a Starters Guide to the website. I created this page for anyone new to the website so they had a place to start in their exploration of trans history and the DTA.

Raha Maalin’s Extending Title IX to Transgender Students offers a legalistic approach to the application of Title IX on the transgender community and its historical significance. Maalin analyzes the differing legal interpretations of “sex” and “gender” in the Gavin Grimm’s case, and in North Carolina’s House Bill II Law. Lastly, this article argues for the extension of Title IX based on the historical development and medical differentiation of “sex” and "gender."

Over the course of history, the development of advertising and the advertising industry has had a profound impact on society and culture both nationally and internationally. In order to examine some of the processes involved in advertising, as well as its function in context, I have posed several research questions revolving around the relationship that advertising has with culture, the consumer, and gender. In conjunction with this, I examined the experiences of two female characters in the popular television series, "Mad Men," in order to locate the relationships between female’s embodied experiences and the advertising industry. Through this process, I have found that the advertising industry has an incredible amount of power to change and control culture and society through the manipulation of commodified images and therefore the gendered consumer. The embodied experiences of women throughout history in the context of the advertising industry will help to further explore this element of cultural control.

My study examined the relationship between discourse, identity, and social change in the movement for queer liberation in the United States over the long twentieth century. Through employing a phenomenological discourse analysis of queer identity (i.e. analyzing the prevailing ideas surrounding different historical iterations of queerness such as homosexual, homophile, gay, lesbian, LGBT+, etc.) as represented in print books during this era I was able to explore the relationship between discourse, institutionalization, and actorhood. I drew two main conclusions from this study of queer liberation. First, that there is a dynamic and iterative relationship between structure and discourse. Just as new discourses of identity provide unique opportunities for contestation, organization, and mobilization that changes structure, changes in structure must also provide new socio-political landscapes to construct and morph identity anew. Second, each iterative term of queerness comes with its own unique opportunities and restrictions at given historical moments.

Academic Internship and Community-Based Learning Programs

Students frequently take part in academic internships and community-based learning related to gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. Sites have included Abby’s House, the Nativity School of Worcester, Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, YWCA/Daybreak, Community Harvest Project, and Worcester Common Ground. For more information, visit the Academic Internship Program and Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning sites.

Washington and New York Semester Programs

Students also have the opportunity to further their learning by participating in the Washington and New York Semester Programs. Over the past few years, concentrators have had internship placements at a number of interesting sites, including the Human Rights CampaignGirls Inc.National Organization for Women, and Congressional Offices: House and Senate offices. For more information, visit the Washington Semester Program and New York Semester Program sites.

Study Abroad

Students have the opportunity to extend their learning about issues in gender, sexuality and women's studies by attending any one of a number of excellent study abroad programs. Below is a list of place where concentrators have recently studied:

  • Loyola University of Chicago (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
  • Mansfield College, Oxford University (Oxford, England) 
  • National University of Ireland (Cork, Ireland)
  • National University of Ireland (Galway, Ireland)
  • Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland)
  • Universidad del Salvador (Buenos Aires, Argentina) 
  • University of A Corúna (Corúna, Spain) 
  • University of Bologna (Bologna, Italy)
  • University of Leicester (Leicester, England)
  • University of Melbourne (Melbourne, Australia)
  • University of Saint Andrews (Fife, Scotland) 
  • University of Sussex (Brighton, England)

 For additional information, visit the study abroad site.

Student Organizations

Students interested in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies are frequently involved in community and campus activism.

Concentrators are well represented in Feminist Forum, which sponsors events, lectures, and discussions designed to make women and men more aware of women’s issues, and to foster a free expression of ideas and a greater understanding between the sexes; and Pride, which raises awareness of issues related to LGBTQ students, furthering acceptance and providing support for Holy Cross students of all sexual orientations.

Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Award

The annual award is given to a senior concentrator on a competitive basis for:

  • academic excellence in the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program
  • development and articulation of a feminist critical consciousness
  • engagement demonstrating the link of theory and practice.