600 articles. 5 researchers. 1 study. The story of a content analysis.
Before entering the CSAA program, I thought I knew what it meant to conduct research. Coming from an undergraduate institution that provided me with a great research foundation I naively thought I had all the tools to conduct doctoral level research. It was with that mindset I joined Dr. Chris Linder’s Sexual Violence research team this past summer.
Chris was extremely energized by the research project, and her energy was contagious. I remember sharing how excited I was to get a crash course in campus sexual violence literature before stepping foot on UGA’s campus. It did not occur to me to stop and think WHY. Why did we need to conduct a content analysis focusing on the past ten years of campus sexual violence literature? I wish I had stopped to reflect on the why before jumping in to prepare myself for the inevitable emotional strain this specific research study would have on my colleagues and me.
My first doctoral level research study was characterized by assumptions. Assumptions I held about research and specifically campus sexual violence research. In this blog post, I will discuss some of my initial assumptions and what I learned through this experience.
Assumption #1: Campus sexual assault is well-researched by critical and intentional scholars.
Whoa, was I wrong! This study taught me that as scholars it is hard for us to conduct research separate from the biases and assumptions we hold. How did this manifest during the content analysis? A lot like “feminist” scholars discussing sexual violence without acknowledging power, privilege, and oppression. Or a lot of scholars assuming alcohol leads to sexual violence instead of alcohol being a tool used to manipulate and overpower victims. Research is not synonymous with power-conscious.
Assumption #2: Research is not emotional.Wrong again. I assumed research was done in a vacuum separate from our emotions. Although I was researching a very traumatic topic I did not think reading hundreds of articles on sexual violence would bring up the intense feelings of anger and sadness I felt while coding. I figured if the content was in a journal article I could distance myself from the harmful rape myths, lack of personhood given to participants, and extremely high prevalence rates of campus sexual violence perpetrated by cis-gender men.
HAHAHAHA. What was I thinking? Research is messy. You can plan and prep and strategize, but there will always be barriers or issues that arise. My key to getting through the mess was the ability to be flexible and not be afraid to ask questions. Without the help of my research team, I would still be sitting in front of my computer screen trying to understand our spreadsheet. (I still have nightmares).
Through this experience, I learned several things. First, it is okay to be critical of research while understanding that all scholars operate in an oppressive system that impacts our consciousness and ultimately our research. For me to be a strong researcher, I need to remain reflective and self-aware. Secondly, emotions are a valid part of research. And lastly, good research does not need to be organized and neat but instead intentional.
Niah Grimes is a first-year doctoral student in the College Student Affairs Administration program at UGA. Her research interests are related to dismantling systems of oppression present in institutions of higher education. Currently, she is researching campus sexual violence through a power-conscious lens. Niah earned her B.A. in Sociology with a concentration in Inequality & Social Change from George Mason University and her M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Wake Forest University.