Stretching, Growing, Going

GWU Student Researcher Gains Insight on Victorian-Era Gender Roles and Mental Illness Perceptions

Ideas about Victorian-era gender roles and their association with insanity intrigued a Gardner-Webb University English major, so she decided to embark on substantial research over the summer in order to learn more.

Caroline Burnette (Asheville, N.C.) was one of 10 GWU students who conducted research during the summer term with a grant from the GWU Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The students worked 40 hours a week for five weeks on their projects, which they are required to present in a professional forum. Each one had a faculty mentor or collaborator who worked with them. Burnette’s mentor was Dr. June Hobbs, professor of English and director of Undergraduate Research at Gardner-Webb.

For her project, Burnette examined the correlation between gender roles and the treatment of mental illness in women during the Victorian era through critical analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Although she felt fairly confident in what she would discover, Burnette’s findings went far beyond her initial expectations.

Her research process involved assistance from Hobbs as well as GWU Reference and Instruction Librarian Dr. Pam Dennis. “While I thoroughly enjoyed my research and the time I spent on it, my greatest challenge had to do with search terms and finding resources,” Burnette shared. “As my research progressed, I knew I was looking for a very specific thing, but until I found the exact search term, it was difficult to track down sources that would give me the information I wanted.”

After graduating from Gardner-Webb next spring, she plans to attend graduate school in the United Kingdom to pursue a master’s degree in nineteenth-century literature with an emphasis on gender studies and feminist criticism. “Not only will the content of my research serve as excellent preparation, but the opportunity to conduct independent research will also provide great experience for my future dissertation.”

She currently is entertaining three offers of publication for the completed academic article that summarized her research findings. “Doing a project like this will change your life,” she reflected. “But you have to be ready for it. If you want to have that experience—if you want to stretch yourself and grow, then go for it.”

Learn more about the Department of English Language and Literature