Students expend a lot of time and energy on their senior theses—devoting a year or more of their academic careers to focus on a particular topic—so it helps if they are passionate about their subject. For Kaziah White ’16, the passion was a given.
A reproductive rights activist who hopes to make a career out of helping women overcome barriers to the health care they need, White has served both as the Clara Bell Duval Reproductive Freedom Project intern for the ACLU and as an access counsellor for the Women’s Medical Fund, the abortion fund for Southeastern Pennsylvania. So it was clear that the anthropology major (who also earned a concentration in peace, justice, and human rights) would study reproductive health in some way for her capstone experience.
As a summer intern at Voices of Witness, a nonprofit that shines a light on human rights crises through an oral-history book series, White developed a deep interest in oral histories as a way to preserve and enlighten others about personal experiences.
So White gathered oral histories of eight abortion-care providers and studied three of the themes that appeared throughout them in her thesis, ” Speaking Abortion: Understanding Stigma, Support Networks, and Faith Within the Lives of Abortion Care Providers,” which won the Wyatt MacGaffey Prize recognizing the outstanding senior thesis in anthropology.
“I hope that anyone reading my thesis would leave with a more nuanced understanding of abortion-care providers, and the important role that they serve within healthcare,” says White, who will spend the next year as a Haverford House Fellow, working for Philadelphia Legal Assistance. “I hope they would also understand the pervasive nature of stigma in regards to abortion care, despite the continuing widespread need for the procedure in the United States. … In general, I think it would be great if more research is done on abortion care—that could play a role in reducing stigma around the procedure, which I think is important.”
How did your thesis advisor help you develop your thesis topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?
I actually had two thesis advisors, Anne Balay and Chris Roebuck. Anne also works with oral histories, and so she pushed me to think through some of the ethical questions and challenges that arise with this type of research. Both Chris and Anne have researched stigmatized populations, and that definitely played a role in our conversations around my thesis. Those conversations then impacted how I analyzed the oral histories, and deepened the questions that I was asking. I think that Anne and Chris offered me advice and guidance that led me to write a more empathetic and insightful thesis, as well as resources that proved useful within the research itself.
What did you learn working on this thesis?
I learned so, so much! Through this thesis, I now have a much deeper knowledge of abortion care and reproductive health and rights within the United States. I better understand how politics and societal beliefs and judgments impact public health. I know more about the importance of support networks for those who work in highly contentious fields, such as abortion care, and how stigma pervades multiple aspects of abortion care providers’ lives. The process of writing this thesis has also made me think a lot about activist scholarship and ethical research.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.