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Interview with Caitlin Lowell, winner of the 2015 Women's and Gender Studies Award

July 2, 2015

IRWGS is happy to announce the 2015 winner of the 7th Annual Women’s and Gender Studies Award.

This year, Caitlin Lowell (CC '15 and Political Science and American Studies major) has won the Women's and Gender Studies Award for her essay "Justice Is Not An Institution: The University of Michigan and the Alternate Responses to Sexual Violence on Campus." We interviewed Caitlin to learn more about her work and her plans for the future.

1. What inspired you to focus on The University of Michigan and sexual violence on campus as your senior thesis?

Throughout my work doing sexual violence organizing, I was struggling to find models that worked for transformative and restorative justice within the university. I had been inspired by community-based literature that grappled with how to create transformative responses to violence, especially Andrea Smith's preface in The Revolution Starts at Home. As we're facing a moment where some lawmakers are calling for greater police involvement in college adjudication processes, I wanted to find a case study of a school that had engaged with socially just restorative and transformative approaches to violence. 
I focused on the University of Michigan because it is one of the few schools nationally that has a long and established history of using restorative justice approaches in response to sexual violence. It also is a school that has received much praise over the past few years for its responses to sexual violence, as well as a great deal of backlash from some survivors and an ongoing Title IX investigation during this same time period. This made the University of Michigan a useful case study to examine this pivotal moment that's happening nationally as colleges are reexamining their responses to sexual violence.
2. You are graduating this month with a degree in Political Science and American Studies. How have you been able to integrate your interest women's studies in the work you have done here at Columbia?
One of the reasons why I loved American Studies as a major is that it allowed me to be truly interdisciplinary in the work that I did here. I focused my courseload on intersections of gender, queerness, and race in America, and was able to take many women and gender studies classes this way. These classes have in turn affected my activism around sexual violence, mental health, and LGBTQ issues on campus throughout my time at Columbia.
3. What are your plans for the future?
I'm going to spend the year following graduation as a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow through the Congressional Hunger Center. This is a fellowship that addresses issues of economic justice and hunger through a social justice and anti-racist lens. I'm going to spend the first half of the fellowship doing direct work in field site somewhere in the U.S. and the second half of the fellowship continuing to work on these issues in a policy placement in D.C. In this fellowship, I hopefully will get to work in placements that address how issues of gender and sexuality intersect with economic justice work.