news-category: Academics

Through Undergraduate Research, Scholar Develops Skills for Future Academic Pursuits

Samantha Wilkie poses in an outdoor settingn
Photos by: GWU Student Ely Thompson

Samantha Wilkie, ’21, Studies Women’s Rights in India

After taking two classes at Gardner-Webb University that examined women’s rights in other countries, Samantha Wilkie was intrigued. “I realized how little I knew about how women of different cultures are treated,” she reflected. “This realization fueled my desire to know more.”       

She narrowed her focus to studying women’s rights in India and received a grant from the GWU Undergraduate Research Scholars Program to explore the topic. She was one of 11 students who participated in the program. With assistance from a faculty mentor, the students spent 40 hours a week for five weeks researching their topics. Wilkie’s mentor was Dr. Cheryl Duffus, associate professor of English.

Wilkie, of Hendersonville, N.C., is majoring in English and minoring in political science. Her goal is to attend law school and become an advocate for the oppressed in society. While gaining more knowledge about her topic, Wilkie developed skills that will benefit her in graduate school. “This research has allowed me to test my time management skills and self-discipline,” she observed.

She appreciated Duffus’ guidance throughout. “She has been instrumental in helping me pick out my reading materials and in what order I should read them,” Wilkie stated. “When I felt overwhelmed, she quickly relieved my stress by reminding me that this feeling is normal.”

Wilkie looked at education disparities within the Indian culture and patriarchy, a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded. “I chose to specifically address Indian culture, because India is a country where the voices of women are not greatly publicized or welcomed,” she expounded. “Indian culture is prevalent in the United States through immigration, as well as throughout the world, but these two issues are rarely discussed.”

She began her research by reading novels about India by Indian authors. “Novels are a place where readers can develop an empathetic relationship with the characters and become one with them,” Wilkie noted. “Even though these books are fictional, they are still reliable, because they are based on realistic aspects of society and culture. Exploring different literary texts related to women’s rights enhanced my knowledge of gender studies and Indian culture. The two novels I chose were ‘Fasting, Feasting’ by Anita Desai, and ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai. Both novels explore family conflicts and the trials that can arise for women in Indian culture.”

She also looked at autobiographies, a textbook, and read peer-reviewed articles. She was surprised to learn that education reform is slowly happening in India. “It has been a long process for Indian women to have even somewhat of the same freedom as Indian men to go to school and learn about the same things, not just domesticated and traditional subjects,” she offered. “A woman I have loved learning about is Pandita Ramabai, who fought relentlessly to bring education to fellow widows. She vocally criticized Hinduism and advocated for women to have the capability to support themselves through education.”

Because of the large amount of information Wilkie had to process, Duffus advised her how to prioritize and organize her work. “Dr. Duffus was instrumental in helping me pick out my reading materials and in what order I should read them,” Wilkie shared. “I read my two primary novels first and then began reading through more factual information. This way, I could focus on the facts that would be important for my research and developed into my mini-podcast series, paper, and presentation.”

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