(October 16, 2015)

Alumna establishes herself in research on gender-based violence

Dessie Clark

SHREVEPORT, LA — Dessie Clark '13 is a second year master's student in the Community Development and Action program at Vanderbilt University, and she has big plans on the horizon. Stemming from her studies at Centenary where she earned a B.A. in Psychology, Clark has taken specific interest in research that can explain and prevent acts of gender-based violence such as domestic and sexual violence. She is also assisting a Vanderbilt faculty member on a longitudinal study that examines interpersonal violence in low socioeconomic areas of Nashville. Her research has helped her find valuable internships, influenced her future in academia, and given her the opportunity to present on her findings at both national and international conferences.

"I am so thankful for my experiences and professors at Centenary and how they shaped the way I approached graduate school. It would have been easy for me to go into a psych program and stay close to home," said Clark. "My professors challenged me to get outside of my comfort zone and were instrumental in getting me to Vanderbilt. Dr. Amy Hammond and Dr. Michelle Wolkomir specifically were critical in helping me find a program that combined by love for psychology and macro-level systems thinking."

Through a required practicum component of her program at Vanderbilt, Clark was able to land two internships at local community organizations in Nashville. The first, MEND, is a start-up organization housed in the local YWCA. This organization works to elevate, educate, and engage males about issues related to masculinity, sexism, and assault. Clark is currently conducting a program evaluation for MEND to assess the impact of their intervention on the greater Nashville area.

Dessie Clark

Clark is also interning with the Nashville Sexual Assault Center (SAC), an organization that balances both individual treatment for survivors and community wide education. Clark serves as the Director of the SAC's Youth Advisory Council, which engages local high-school youth in a collaborative effort to end sexual violence. She also represents the Sexual Assault Center on the Adolescent Sexual Responsibility Committee for Alignment Nashville, a community wide initiative that brings organizations together to support adolescents in making sexually responsible decisions.

Through her participation in both internships, Clark discovered the subject of her master's thesis and current research. As she observed instances of domestic violence and sexual assault making national headlines, Clark became particularly interested in the intersection of sports culture and violence against women and began collecting data. Clark's research examines how the culture of athletics interacts with the culture surrounding violence against women, and the research focuses on athletic officials—such as coaches—and their relationship with athletes. Clark's thesis research examines whether or not coaches can intervene effectively with their athletes, promoting attitudes that encourage gender equality rather than dominance and aggression.

Clark's research has recently been accepted for presentation at the World Congress on Elite Sport Policy in Melbourne, Australia, in November 2015, the National Youth-At-Risk Conference in Savannah, Georgia, in March 2016, and the Sixth International Conference on Sport & Society in Manoa, Hawaii, in June 2016. Additionally, Clark is presenting "Navigating the Organizational and Institutional Constraints of Conducting a Program Evaluation as a Master's Thesis" at the American Evaluation Association's 29th Annual Conference in Chicago, IL, in November 2015.

"The academic rigor of Centenary really set me up for success. I sit next to people who went to amazing Ivy League schools and I can keep up," said Clark. "There's definitely a learning curve for graduate school, but I was able to jump right into this program, maintain all A's, and be one of only three people to design an original study and write a thesis. I think that's due to the preparation I received at Centenary, for sure."

Currently, Clark is preparing to apply to Ph.D. programs and hopes to begin in the Fall of 2016. The short list of institutions has yet to be finalized, but Notre Dame, New York University, and the University of Hawaii top the list. Upon admittance to a Ph.D. program, Clark hopes to continue her research on masculinity and further delve into how gender roles relate to violence against women.