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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - Women's & Gender Studies

Rawan Arar – Middle Eastern Feminism, International Studies
Tatiana Young - Multicultural and Indigenous Feminist and Queer Studies


Graduate Program: M.A., Women’s & Gender Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Native Hawaiian and other indigenous transgender or gender transgressive communities.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Anthropology – Special Honors, The University of Texas at Austin

What is life like as a graduate student?
Time Management is key to success in graduate school. I am not going to lie, there is a lot of work to do in graduate school! Thus, look to balance as a prerequisite for success. Though you may be tempted to think that there is ample time for leisure, it is important to first take care of business before entertaining any such distractions. If you can blend business with pleasure, this will certainly help when writing your thesis and various assignments. Collectivizing your work is a great way to stay on top of assignments. Make friends with nerds and by all means become a nerd by embracing your inner “nerdness”. To succeed in graduate school it is important to balance your home life, work life, school life and social life. All of these elements are critical to success in graduate school.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My M-F routine usually involves waking up early and making breakfast. Following breakfast, I go for a bike ride to Gregory Gym. I work out for about an hour, take a shower and then head to class or the library. I try to spend 5-8hrs on work. My schooling is a full time job and I take it very seriously. Petty distractions (ex: frenemies, drunken parties, going out all the time) receive little investment from me and I strongly encourage prospective graduate students to view your education as a priority in order to take your educational experiences to the next level.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about my graduate program is the interdisciplinary advantage of WGS which provides me with not only a well-rounded understanding of gender and its attendant interrelation to notions of race, class, national identity, sexuality and ability but perhaps, more importantly, allows me to further understand the process of deconstruction with respect to complex social phenomena by enlisting the help of a variety of disciplines including: history, the humanities, literature, sociology, anthropology, social work, the natural sciences and fine arts, to name a few. Interdisciplinary study, while on one hand, seems disorganized and messy, on the other hand, provides students with a well-rounded education. Moreover, interdisciplinary research encourages students to take on proactive roles on and off campus to effect institutional change for the better. Weekly faculty development colloquiums in the program have been a critical part of my first year experience and have allowed me to hone in on my skills as audience member and presenter.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My current project is autoethnographic in scope which involves delving deep into my self conscience in order to unravel scripts (mainly through memory work) relative to my own process of understanding notions of gender, sexuality and race and how these scripts then inform my self-making as a self-identified mahuwahine. Through my research, I connect with other mahu/mahuwahine in order to articulate a more nuanced understanding of the particular collective conditions of Native Hawaiian mahuwahine and how language within this particular community informs self and community self-making and more how this process deviates from dominant cultural systems and how understanding these differences can inform a more nuanced understanding of not only differently racialized groups but also universally shared notions on human sexuality, gender and race.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
Yes, I did participate in an honor's program as an Undergraduate at UT-Austin. My research revolved around transgender significant others and looking at notions of genderless love. I strongly encourage undergraduates to pursue research endeavors that are in line with what you hope to pursue in graduate school.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
Currently, I am collecting autoethnographic data that will later be transcribed and used to affirm or deny different theoretical frameworks that I have chosen to use to inform my research. During my first year, I enrolled in 3 different required courses on feminist theory which helped me to articulate the various theoretical and methodological frameworks most relevant to my chosen research interests.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Though there are some overlapping qualities between graduate and undergraduate school, the biggest difference to me is the freedom factor. However, with freedom comes greater responsibility. While in undergraduate school, you are taught to be more descriptive in thought and deed; in graduate school, you are expected to think more analytically and to articulate cogent arguments more succinctly. Also, in graduate school, it is quietly understood that you are competing with other scholars for conference acceptances, grants, post-doctorate positions and other benefits so it is crucial that you remain tuned in with the latest developments in your area of study.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Apply for as much funding as you possibly can and do so with rigor and punctuality.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a graduate program?

  1. Find a professor/professors interested in your work and develop a professional relationship with them if at all possible. This will help to not only develop the quality of your work but also will aid in your development as a professional scholar and researcher.
  2. Keep leisure activities to a minimum and stay on top of your studies. This will help you to prioritize your work and related professional functions.
  3. Apply for as much funding as possible and invest in becoming a member of professional clubs (ex: Women's Studies Association, Anthropological Association of America, etc.). Build a network of professional contacts. This will help to offset the costs of graduate school and will help you gain respectability in your field.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which programs were top on your list?
Emory University, University of Minnesota, and University of Washington-Seattle

What interesting websites would you recommend a friend interested in WGS check out?
The Point Foundation – the National LGBT Scholarship Fund and the National Women’s Studies Association - Leading the field of women’s studies in educational and social transformation.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Teaching interdisciplinary courses at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Do you have an achievement you would like to share?
I am a Point Foundation Scholar 2010. Feel free to read my story on the Point Foundation website.

Download Tatiana's Profile


Graduate Program: M.A., Women’s and Gender Studies, The University of Texas at Austin;Research Interests: Economic conditions among Iraqi refugee women living in urban areas of Jordan.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Sociology, Minors in Legal Studies & Women’s and Gender Studies, The University of Texas at San Antonio

What is life like as a graduate student?
You have so many opportunities to get involved on campus and Austin is filled with so many fun things to do! Unfortunately, your time is limited and you have to prioritize your responsibilities. My best advice is to wake up early, make lists, and don’t get discouraged. You have to actively work to find an optimal schedule that takes into account your graduate responsibilities and takes advantage of what UT and Austin has to offer. It is also important to make time to sleep, eat, rest, exercise, and spend time with friends and family. I multitask—a lot. I workout with friends, study with my brother, and attend on-campus lectures that supplement my academic interests.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
It is hard to describe a daily routine, because everyday is different. I spent my first year of grad school in Austin. I attended class three days a week, which gave me a lot of flexibility to manage my time during the remaining days. My second year of grad school was spent in Jordan.

Throughout my grad school experience, I have always needed to make reading a priority. I also benefited from continuous discussions with friends and peers about relevant WGS topics. Making it a priority to attend supplemental lectures and conferences has been an enriching part of my grad experience. You can learn so much! It’s endless!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Support. Women’s and Gender Studies is so supportive. Thanks to WGS, I was able to attend several conferences where I met enthusiastic people and learned about compelling research. I was able to live abroad in the Middle East for a year, researching my graduate thesis and developing a multifaceted understanding of Arab culture. I was able to take a substantial number of RTF (radio/television/film) courses to develop my film work.

What I am trying to say is that WGS let me tailor my education to suit my interests. I did not have to accommodate a bureaucratic program with red tape; they accommodated me. WGS found ways to work within the system to make my graduate experience unique, fulfilling, and always exciting.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My thesis is entitled, “Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper, Onions, Tea, Bread, and Sometimes Tomatoes: Economic Conditions Among Iraqi Refugee Women Living in Urban Areas of Jordan.” I lived in the Middle East for a year while conducting interviews in Jordan as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. My thesis explores economic conditions among Iraqi refugee women living in urban areas of Jordan through open-ended interviews. The research aims to address coping mechanisms Iraqi refugee women use to adapt to their financial situation. It incorporates three overarching themes: First, the research establishes Iraqi refugee women’s financial status by surveying economic security and employment opportunities. Second, the study investigates how living in urban areas of Jordan affects Iraqi women’s economic status. Thirdly, the study explores how Iraqi refugee women approach their financial situation. How have Iraqi women taken steps to exercise control over their financial lives and improve their economic situation as refugees?

The objective of this project is to promote women’s empowerment by creating an open dialogue about Iraqi women’s struggles. The research highlights steps that women take to improve their situation—viewing women as survivors, not victims. The study suggests steps that can be taken to aid Iraqi refugees.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergrad, my thesis was entitled “The Westernization of Women in Jordan.” The project was both a written thesis and a documentary film. The research explored the lives of women in Jordan, addressing topics relevant to modern feminist movements. These topics included education and women in the workplace, body image and beauty ideals, dating and marital relationships, and family. Westernization was also explored through topics that are particularly relevant to Jordanians, such as Palestinian immigration and women in Islam. My undergrad research has been instrumental in preparing me for graduate school and for my graduate thesis work.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am about to graduate, and it is a fulfilling accomplishment. UT’s Women’s and Gender Studies program has given me so many unique opportunities. I am lucky to have met such inspiring peers and studied with such insightful professors. Academically, I was able to explore a broad range of subjects including gender, class, race, power dynamics, international relations, economics, sociology, history, anthropology, politics, literature, and art. But I was also given the opportunity to think about knowledge and knowledge acquisition. I have developed a deeper and more well rounded appreciation for academia, education through the experiences of others, and varying approaches to learning.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Grad school is a continuous pursuit for knowledge and academic growth. It does not end when you finish reading your assignments or when you’re done writing a paper. You are expected to push yourself and explore your potential. Your classes will guide you, but that is only the beginning. Grad school isn’t about grades or a class paper; it is a holistic educational experience. The possibilities are inspiring.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
Study groups are very helpful, especially when it comes to understanding some of the complex reading assignments that you will face in grad school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Be yourself. Your personal story and the insight that comes with that story is something that only you can offer the program and your future peers. Women’s and Gender Studies incorporates varying approaches to education, one of those being your personal narrative.
  2. Just do it. If you want to apply for something, if you want to say something, if you want to try something new… just do it. WGS is a supportive program. They will help you succeed, but it is your responsibility to take on new challenges and examine new pursuits.
  3. WGS is an interdisciplinary field. As a WGS student, you can benefit from many professors and programs available at UT. Make yourself familiar with faculty members who conduct research in your areas of interest. Learn about the resources available to you through other departments and other faculty members.

What should students consider when researching WGS graduate programs?
When looking for WGS programs, ask about the courses offered at other institutions. Look for schools with strong programs in other fields that you are interested in. For me, I would look for a school with a strong Middle Eastern studies department or a strong sociology department. Others may be interested in literature, natural sciences, or political science.

What websites would you recommend a friend interested in WGS to check out?
Because women, men, gender, race, class, nationality, culture, and so much more, come together to define WGS, there are many different websites that I would share with my friends. After all, so much of our education is an analysis and critique of culture. Popular feminist blogs include Feministing and JezebelFeminism 101 can be a good resource as well.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be actively involved in public service! I am not exactly sure where that will take me, but I am confident that I will enjoy the journey. Public service is what gives meaning to my education, and WGS is a perfect balance between activism and academia.

I hope that ten years from now I will be reading, writing, filming, and drawing.

Do you have a grad story you would like to share?
“Our teacher asked us,” she continued visibly disturbed by the question that would follow, “What country do you love more, Jordan or Palestine?”

I spent some time in the Baq’a refugee camp at an all girls’ school in Amman, Jordan. The girls surrounded me like a football huddle, getting closer with each question.

“We have never known Palestine,” she said as her brow wrinkled with emotion.

One young girl interrupted, “We didn’t know what to say. Jordan is the country that fed us, clothed us, and gave us a home.”

“But Palestine is under occupation. It is not Palestine’s fault that we can not live there,” a voice from the crowd retorted.

A few girls broke out into side discussions to further explore the topic among themselves; one girl started to cry. Everywhere I looked the girls were emotionally engaged in this very serious discussion, waiting for me to respond. I knew exactly what to say.

I felt like my entire education was leading up to this one moment. I stood there, about a foot higher that the group of girls surrounding me, most of them looking up waiting to hear my response.

“No one has the right to ask you such a question,” I told the girls.

“It is like asking which arm do you love more: your left or your right. You can love, respect, and appreciate Jordan—the country that has fed, clothed, and educated you. And you can love, respect, and appreciate Palestine—the country where you come from, the country that has given you an identity, and the country that you struggle everyday for. “

I watched their conflicted faces relax. In a few sentences, the conversation turned to pop stars, artwork, and other thirteen/fourteen year old girl topics.

Download Rawan's Profile

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