The façade of Cheever House rises among the trees of Route 16 as if out of nowhere. Chipped white paneling and brick chimneys provide the exterior with its own distinct character, while the aging wood hints at a lengthy history. For many years now, the estate, along with Waban House and the Stone Center, has been home to the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), one of the “largest research centers in the country dedicated to issues affecting the lives of women, children, families, and society,” according to their literature.
Hailed nationally for its work, WCW “reaches a wide range of audiences, including federal, state, and local government; colleges and universities; early childhood education programs; schools; educational agencies; and corporations,” its website notes. Through their ongoing projects, the Centers have been able to influence various aspects of government policies and their research has been implemented in a number of different areas.
The institute traces its origins back to 1974, when then-President Barbara Newell established the Center at Wellesley for the Study of Women in Higher Education and the Professions, which was, at the time, a place for innovative interdisciplinary studies focusing on a number of educational issues relating to gender. In 1981, the Stone Center for Development Services and Studies was founded to mitigate psychological problems and promote overall wellbeing. The two formally merged in 1995 into the Wellesley Centers for Women and have since carried on the tradition of conducting impactful social research.
In order to continue their investigations, the Centers retain eight senior researchers as well as active scholars and trainers. Each researcher works for a different project within the institute. Senior Researcher Wendy Robeson is a member of the Work, Families and Children Research Group, which has “30 years of experience conducting research in early childhood education and care and is an important source of policy-relevant research.”
Other topics covered include education, women’s rights and gender violence. Each research group purses studies in its given field. The outcomes of their discoveries have been used in a variety of ways, often to inform major policy decisions. Robeson recalls that some of her research has “improved quality in many early childhood programs and improved practice by educators.”
The Wellesley Centers for Women, now directed by Dr. Layli Maparyan, is entering its 21st official year with a new vision for progress.
“With all that has been going on nationally and internationally — not to mention in all of our home communities — this election is likely to determine the tenor of life for years to come,” she writes on the WCW website. “Earlier this year, WCW began its own Campaign 2016 that we’ve been calling ‘Policy Recommendations for the Next Administration.’ The idea is that our researchers and project directors are a treasure trove of policy advice in their respective areas of expertise.”
Although WCW has been working to bridge the gender gap for years, it has yet to fully bridge the gap between itself and the College.
Lauren Mostrom ’18, who interned at WCW this past summer, argued that this divide should not exist.
“The work they do is really interesting, and more people should know about those projects,” Mostrom said.
To help solve the problem, the institute has tried to make itself more accessible. Their lunchtime lecture series has brought in a number of compelling speakers to address topics that many students find intriguing.
In addition, the Centers also provide five internships, which connects students to a mentor and allows them to pursue investigations in areas that they choose. Mostrom managed to find research opportunities through a “speed dating” event put on by the organization. There, she met Wendy Robeson, to whom she expressed an interest in analyzing sex education.
“We started talking, we hit it off and we thought my project would be interesting. I submitted an application and was accepted to an internship with Wendy,” Mostrom said.
Together, they created a study in which she “asked students and friends about their sex education backgrounds and their outcomes in terms of how they reflect on that experience, how it made them feel about themselves and their sexualities and also their current sexual behaviors.”
Through her experience, which culminated in writing and submitting a paper for publication, she was able to make preliminary conclusions about the downfalls of abstinence-only education.
Robeson recalls that she has enjoyed working with a number of students during her time at the Centers.
“[W]e have had students work every academic year, Wintersession and summer session for us on so many of our studies. Many of our students stay with us for their entire time at Wellesley,” Robeson said.
Through these opportunities, many people have managed to connect with the Centers. For the students that intern there, the institute becomes a space integral to their Wellesley experience. They hold that the research being done is fascinating, and often maintain their connection to WCW throughout their time at the College.
Still, Mostrom argues that there needs to be a way to more strongly integrate the institution into student life at Wellesley College. “I definitely think [WCW] isn’t connected enough to the student body, because now that I have a relationship with them, I hear about more of their events, like lunchtime lectures,” Mostrom explained. “If they held more programs on campus, and made it clear that these lectures are accessible to people, they would have better attendance. It’s really cool research they’re doing.”
It is hard to believe that such groundbreaking research is taking place only a few miles away from the heart of campus. As they enter another year of researching, the Wellesley Centers for Women continues to push the agenda outlined by their beloved motto: “A world that is good for women is good for everyone.”