For Zoe Frazer-Klotz and Lizy Szanton, a collaborative social-developmental psychology thesis project emerged as a way to effectively engage with intersectionality in research and to find inspiration and energy in a world of pandemic Zoom classes.
Their theses explored children’s perceptions of race and gender nonconformity through the theoretical prism of the third-party prejudice effect—the idea that people often accommodate prejudices held by powerful third-party actors even if they don’t hold these prejudices themselves—and intersectional invisibility theory, which posits that people oppressed in multiple ways aren’t seen as such. “Our work supports this theory of intersectional invisibility and shows how gender presentation, race, etc. may intersect to mediate how children interpret societal messages about who they should associate with and who they should exclude,” said Frazer-Klotz.
Conducted in Assistant Professor of Psychology Ryan Lei’s Intersectionality in the Social Mind Lab, Frazer-Klotz’s and Szanton’s study built on their previous collaborative developmental psychology research project that examined gender essentialism and gender nonconformity in children. “Our thesis project has essentially two novel contributions,” said Szanton. “ First, it applies the concept [of third-party prejudice] to children for the first time (previous work is with adults), and second, it looks at prejudice that encompasses multiple social categories simultaneously, in this case, race and gender conformity, whereas previous work has only looked at sexism.”
Starting this summer, Frazer-Klotz will be working at Epic Systems in Madison, WI, doing quality management. Next year, Szanton will be researching motivation for prosocial behavior in a social psychology lab at Boston College. Both graduates plan to eventually pursue graduate study in psychology after spending a couple of years in the industry or research, and both note how valuable their analytical and research skills are for their career choices.
How did your thesis advisor help you develop your thesis topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?
Zoe: I would say that we worked very closely with our advisor: we had our normal weekly meetings where we would discuss findings from papers and our methodology, and we were also all on Slack. Lizy and I would send Ryan questions through instant messages all the time, which was really helpful as problems and questions arose. Even after graduation, we’re still working with Ryan on other, non-thesis-related projects.
Lizy: Ryan really balanced guiding us through the various stages of research while also trusting us to figure things out on our own. There were a lot of skills, from designing stimuli to coding for statistical analysis in R [a programming language used in statistical computing], that we learned through some guiding instruction, but also largely through trial and error and collaboration with the other seniors in the lab. Though at times it felt like we were being tossed in the deep end, I think we came out of this project with a lot more independent knowledge than we would have otherwise.
What did you learn from working on your thesis? What is your biggest takeaway from the project?
Zoe: When you are working as a research assistant, you usually don’t get to see a project through from start to finish; you just work on little chunks. Working on our thesis project definitely taught me about the process of conceptualizing, creating, and reporting a full scientific study. I’d say my biggest takeaway from the project is probably the value of teamwork and maintaining a strong working relationship.
Lizy: Working on this project really hammered in the importance of using intersectional paradigms in social and developmental research. Most research until now has only considered one facet of a person’s identity—for instance, gender—when examining social phenomena. In our project, we captured a lot of effects and interesting interactions that we wouldn’t have seen if we had worked within a non-intersectional framework. This is definitely a lesson that I will take with me in my future work.