The Sexual Violence Problem and Anti-Violence Work on American College Campuses, 1950 to 2000
Desiree Abu-Odeh

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Columbia University

Primary Discipline

Using archival and oral history methods, my dissertation examines the sexual violence problem's emergence and responses to it on American college campuses in the post-World War II period. After the war through the 1980s, there was an unprecedented increase in women's enrollment in colleges and entry into academia, law, medicine, and other previously closed-off professions. That coincided with the ``second wave`` of American feminism in the 1960s and 70s, during which women's liberation practices led many to develop an anti-rape consciousness and new theories of sexual violence. These twin developments made the American university a particularly productive space to address and prevent sexual violence. Universities possessed enormous intellectual and material resources. They espoused commitments to truth and free inquiry. And, increasingly, they needed to comply with emerging anti-discrimination and campus safety regulations. All of these features provided those doing anti-violence work with a language to invoke and tools to marshal to see through long-term changes in colleges' responses to rape and sexual harassment. These changes included innovations in campus security, counseling services, health education, and sexual misconduct policies. In revisiting the ways we've thought about and responded to campus sexual violence over time, my work discerns and contextualizes those areas in which we've made great progress and those where there's still work to be done. As such, my work has the potential to inform programs and policies that could make universities safer, healthier, and more inclusive.
About Desiree Abu-Odeh
Desiree Abu-Odeh is a history-track Ph.D. Candidate in Columbia University's Department of Sociomedical Sciences. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Desiree earned an MA in Bioethics from the University of Minnesota and an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia. While earning her MA, she became interested in social and political histories of science, medicine, and public health, and intermeshed constructions of gender, sexuality, race, and disease. These interests are reflected in Desiree's MA thesis on the impact of body ideals and obesity on people's identities and her MPH thesis, a historiographical essay on gendered and racialized understandings of addiction and their relationships with anti-narcoticism and drug control policies in the U.S. Desiree's bioethics and public health work has been published in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, Public Health Reports, and the American Journal of Public Health. As a doctoral student, Desiree studies the history of public health, women's history, history of social movements, and history of higher education. Her dissertation examines responses to sexual violence on American college campuses in the post-World War II era. In addition to a NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship, she has received funding for her doctoral studies and dissertation research from her department's Predoctoral Fellowship in Gender, Sexuality and Health, the Columbia Population Research Center, Harvard's Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Barnard Library, and Smith College Libraries. She is currently an Editor and Social Media Manager for the online blog NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality.

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