Doctoral Student Digs Deeper Into the Me Too Movement

Posted on 7/30/2018 3:50:05 PM

Elyse Gessler a doctoral students in Communications MediaElyse 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 industries.

“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 for it.”

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.”