Many Rivers to Cross: Center for Research on Women Studies Health and Related Barriers to Women's Wellbeing

By Terrell, Rebecca L. | Business Perspectives, Summer-Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Many Rivers to Cross: Center for Research on Women Studies Health and Related Barriers to Women's Wellbeing


Terrell, Rebecca L., Business Perspectives


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In 2007, the Center for Research on Women (CROW) at the of Memphis celebrated its 25th year of research on social inequality as it relates to gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. Although Center scholars have conducted research on a broad range of women's issues over the last two and a half decades (including work, wages, and immigration in the U.S. South), this past year's work focused on some pervasive health-related inequities among genders, races, and classes in our own community. These included infant mortality rates, unintended pregnancies, sexual harassment in schools, and violence against women in college.

Infant Mortality in African American Communities

Memphis has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. The rate at which children die before their first birthday in Memphis is more than twice the national average. In fact, there are poor neighborhoods in the city where babies die at a higher rate than they do in some developing countries. Babies born too soon and too small account for a growing proportion of infant deaths. And, infant mortality rates for African American women are double to triple those of Caucasian women.

In January 2008, the Center for Research on Women (CROW) began a comprehensive, four-year evaluation of "Community Voice," a new intervention by the March of Dimes intended to reduce infant mortality in African American communities. The program's strategy is to train individuals as "lay health advisors" who will then, through their social networks in the community, spread critical information on pregnancy, the importance of prenatal care, and specific newborn parenting techniques. CROW was contracted by the Tennessee Governor's Office of Children's Care Coordination to conduct this extensive "empowerment evaluation" in which evaluators contribute to the project's success by sharing information gathered along the way.

Sexual Harassment of Teens in Memphis Middle and High Schools

Sexual harassment in middle and high school denies girls full access to educational experiences and often has profound impacts on physical and mental health outcomes. A study by the American Association of University Women in 2001 reported that approximately 80 percent of students in public schools experience harassment from peers or school personnel when in school buildings or on school grounds. Another recent report indicated that 9 out of 10 teen gifts report experiencing sexual harassment, and majorities say they have received discouraging comments about their abilities in school and athletics because of their gender.

In 2008 and 2009, working in partnership with the Memphis Area Women's Council and with the support of the Urban Child Institute and the University of Memphis Faculty Research Grant Program, Center scholars conducted an investigation of the frequency, types, and long-term impact of sexual harassment experienced by teenagers in Memphis middle and high schools.

Among many disturbing findings, the CROW study showed that of the 590 students surveyed over 90 percent reported being sexually harassed at least once while in their current school. This pattern held in both public and private schools, with 91.3 percent of public school students and 85.5 percent of private school students reporting being sexually harassed by a student at least once while in their current school.

Violence Against Women on College Campuses

Current research estimates that as many as 1 in 20 young women experiences rape during college. Counter to widespread stranger rape myths, in the vast majority of these crimes--between 80 and 90 percent--victim and assailant know each other. Less than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes of college students are brought to the attention of campus authorities and/or law enforcement. In fact, half of all student victims do not label these incidents as "rape" even though they would be defined as such by current law. …

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