Elyse Gessler, a doctoral student in IUP’s
Communications Media department, is hoping her summer research project will
make some change in the world.
In the Research Experiences for Summer Scholars
(RESS) program, Gessler is using data she collects to dig deeper into the
#MeToo Movement, which has been in the headlines for the past year. She’s using
news accounts, social media posts, and
interview transcripts to break down how
the people accused of sexual harassment have explained their behavior.
“I wanted to get involved in this movement somehow
and my research allows me to do that,” she said.
The #MeToo Movement was a response to several
allegations against prominent members of the news, movie, television and music
“As a woman, empowering other women is important to
me. When all this was happening, it was so tragic—because of what happened—but wonderful at the same time because there was finally a chance for women who
didn’t have a voice to now be heard.”
Gessler, a native of Austintown, Ohio, found
inspiration for her project in an elective class from the Department of
Sociology last year.
In the class, taught by Christian Vaccaro, Gessler
read about a landmark journal article in American
Sociological Review from 1968 called “Accounts,” by Marvin B. Scott and
Stanford Lyman. The article, Gessler said, basically states that most people
will explain their bad behaviors in one of two ways: either by making excuses
or by offering a justification and that
few people simply accept the blame for their actions.
Gessler has been scouring various sources for
information about more than 200 cases of people in media industries who have
been accused of sexual misconduct. Then she applies the theory from “Accounts”
to see how each person responded to the accusations, and then show the effects
of such explanations.
Her work only considers cases of individuals who
have neither admitted guilt nor denied it. It’s solely based on people who
offered explanations for their alleged behavior.
“My results will be very preliminary,” Gessler
said. “When we use justifications and excuses, we perpetuate a culture of
denial of injury. But when you harm someone, you have to take responsibility
Gessler said she appreciates the opportunity the
RESS program has given her this summer. She’s able to do some work that she
might not otherwise have had the chance to do.
“I just wanted an opportunity to engage in research
that wasn’t in a class or an assignment,” she said. “I wanted to immerse myself
in a topic that was a bit outside my comfort zone, and I’ve found it.”