Undergraduate Research Projects

Exploring Rape Culture Amongst Informed Students on a University Campus - Teresa Smith and Paula Barata, PhD

In terms of campus rates of sexual assault (SA), approximately one in four North American university-aged women will experience a SA during their academic career (Canadian Federation of Students, 2016). The current literature describes the culture of campuses as problematic in terms of perpetuating sexual assault occurrences (e.g., Abbey, 2002; Armstrong, Hamilton & Sweeney, 2006). The term rape culture is used to describe a society that is accepting of attitudes which propagate victim blaming and trivialize SA occurrences (Buchwald, Fletcher & Roth, 1993; Burt, 1980). This study will use co-cultural analysis as a basis for explaining the manifestation of rape culture and the rationale for exploring co-cultural groups such as on-campus clubs & organizations, and individuals who are passionate and informed about rape culture prevention and awareness (Burnett Mattern, Heraokova, Kahl, Tobola & Bornsen, 2009). The study will employ the Photovoice method, selected for its strengths in: encouraging participants to reflect on issues in a given community and capture their perspectives in a creative medium (i.e. photographs); engaging participants in critical dialogue and the sharing of knowledge through focus group discussions; and finally, the ability to create a social action piece (e.g., a zine or poster), with the resulting photographs and themes discussed (Wang, 1997). Thematic analysis will be used to analyze the subsequent data, due to its ability to capture an array of perspectives, whether voiced by few or many (Braun & Clarke, 2006).


Previous Undergraduate Projects:

Emotional Memory Narratives of Women - Brittany Danishevsky and Paula Barata, PhD

Background: Current practice in the field of neuroscience often focuses on male samples and generalizes to the female population. This has a variety of negative medical and social implications. Brittany Danishevsky's undergraduate thesis project is one of the first to explore the emotional memory narratives of a female only sample. Building on past findings by Dr. Larry Cahill and Dr. Edna Foa, this project aims to explore the various characteristics of female emotional memory narratives, such as fragmentation, organization, and accuracy. In a world where female trauma testimony is often mistrusted, an understanding of trauma narratives and how they are recited, could eventually lead to fairer policies and practices from law enforcement agencies. 

Methods: All participants are exposed to an element of stress and emotional arousal, and then asked to preform a free recall memory test, and a multiple choice memory test. Half the participants preform the memory tests after a half hour delay, during which they are asked to think about the stimuli which they saw. The other half preform the memory tests immediately after exposure to the emotionally arousing stimuli. A time delay is hypothesized to alleviate the stress, resulting in a more organized and less fragmented narrative. 


An Evaluation of an Early Childhood Support and Educational Program Offered at a Shelter for Abused and Homeless Women – Sara Kohtala and Paula Barata, PhD

Background: Intimate partner violence (IPV), characterized by any type of aggressive act between married, separated, common-law, or dating partners, is one of the leading forms of violence against women in Canada. Further, 60% of victims of IPV report that their children had heard or seen at least one violent episode between themselves and their partner. Exposure to IPV in childhood results in a variety of negative outcomes, including aggression, delinquency, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and difficulties with social and regulatory functions. Given these negative outcomes, many women’s shelters offer children’s programs to ameliorate or reverse the effects of IPV exposure. However, women’s shelters are frequently constrained within a tight budget, therefore, it is important to ensure that the programs that the shelter can afford to offer meet the needs of mothers and their children

Methods: Participants included mothers and program staff from a women’s shelter in Southern Ontario. Mothers with children attending a childhood support and educational program were interviewed using qualitative, semi-structured methods. These interviews focus on mothers’ understanding of the program, her child’s reactions to participating, and any behavioural changes seen in their children as a result of the program. Interviews with program staff concern the development and structure of the program, as well as program goals and anticipated outcomes

Analysis: Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using qualitative thematic analysis methods. This project is still in the analysis stage, however, next steps will include drawing connections between mother’s understanding of the program and perceived changes in their child’s behaviour with the program staff’s intended structure of the program and it’s anticipated outcomes for changes in the children’s behaviour. Additionally, the nature of the program will be compared with similar programs from the literature to draw conclusions on the efficacy of this program. Based on this analysis, suggestions for improvements to the program will be made to shelter staff.