Dr. Juli Parker, the director of UMass Dartmouth's Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality, has been awarded the $100,000 Roy J. Zuckerberg Leadership Prize, which she will use to spark a movement across the state to break down gender stereotypes among middle- and high-school students.
Dr. Parker will train students at all five UMass campuses over the next two years to go into local schools and lead discussions that question gender roles and stereotypes in the media.
The long-term goal of the program, which is based around Miss Representation, a documentary is to create a pipeline of young women and men who will become critically engaged in what they see on television and the internet and the movies.
As the film points out, today in America:
* Women hold only 3% of executive positions in the mainstream media
* About 25% of girls will experience teen dating violence
* The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on those 18 or younger more than tripled from 1997 to 2007; and
* 65% of American women and girls report having had an eating disorder.
"From the beginning of my career here, I have wanted to design programs that would have not only an impact on UMass Dartmouth students, but also on the communities we serve," said Dr. Parker. "I believe that leadership on campus and in the community on gender issues and social justice can have a far-reaching positive effect for all of us."
She also cited one experience that inspired her to create the program and apply for the Zuckerberg grant:
"This spring, we showed the full version of the film to a group of approximately 60 people, many of whom had brought their daughters with them. After the conclusion of the film, I got up to facilitate a discussion.
"I asked the women and men in the room, 'Who considers themselves a feminist?' A few women raised their hands and one girl, probably about 13 years old, yelled out 'I do now!'
"The girls in the audience begged us to bring the movie to their schools. This was the moment when I realized that we had to find a way to bring this movie to as many high schools and middle schools, as we could. The level of raised consciousness on issues of media representation for women and girls was astounding."
Dr. Parker has directed the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality (the nation's second-oldest university women's center) since 1995, where she oversees the Mentors in Violence Prevention program and LGBT Programs.
The mission of the Roy J. Zuckerberg Leadership Prize is to "reward people of courage, conviction and selflessness who have devoted their talents to helping the University of Massachusetts accomplish its goals."
Dr. Parker will use the funds to hire undergraduate and graduate staffers to assist her with the project, as well as organize a Feminist Media Literacy Conference to train student leaders.