Rachel Williams ’12 becomes published academic with study of love

Originally posted: March 9, 2012

Rachel Williams went to Nepal to study love. And then she returned to Whitman to write about it.

“I wanted to challenge myself and do something that was completely outside of my comfort zone,” Williams said, explaining why she chose to study in Nepal.

In the fall of 2010, the sociology major spent a semester in the cafes and restaurants of Kathmandu talking to Nepali women about their love lives. Her interviews were part of an independent research project that culminated in a paper titled “Cosmopolitan Romance in Nepal: An Investigation of Emerging Views on Marriage and Dating Held by Young Newari Women.”

“I chose to focus on Newari women, because I had inside access to members of this particular ethnic group, and also because Newari culture is known for being slow to adopt modern gender roles.”

Sociological Insight, the University of Texas at Austin’s undergraduate research journal, will publish William’s paper in May.

Williams landed in Nepal after working with Whitman and the School for International Training’s Social Entrepreneurship in the Himalayas program. She wound up living in Nepal’s urban center of Kathmandu with a local homestay family.

“Living with a local family was an integral part of my experience,” said Williams, who spent nearly four months in Nepal. “It forced me to pick up Nepali quickly, because they didn’t speak any English, and I became very close with my family, especially my Nepali mom.”

In fact, Williams found the inspiration for her research project from her host family.

“Observing my host parents’ relationship inspired my independent study research project,” she said. “There were palpable tensions between them that gave rise to hierarchical gender issues related to their marriage.”

Fascinated by the topic of marriage and relationships in general, Williams felt the urge to investigate the dynamics of Nepali marriages even further. She found participants through “snowball sampling” – making connections with young women through her advisor and her host family.

“I met participants in cafes, restaurants and sometimes at their homes. Most were very forthcoming in sharing their stories, although I think some of the women found it curious that I was interested in hearing about their dating lives,” Williams said.

Over the course of four weeks, she conducted 14 interviews with Nepali women between the ages of 20 and 30 and compiled her research into the first draft of the paper currently being published in Sociological Insight.

In her paper, Williams argues “a recent shift in marital views among the youth has led to more courting among young Newars, and a significant increase in the number of love marriages, rather than arranged marriages. Newari women’s views of marriage and courtship are gradually becoming more cosmopolitan.”

She also contends that “being a cosmopolitan Newari woman requires a negotiation of traditional gender roles and requires a balance between tradition and modern aspirations.”

Williams credits Whitman for helping her find a home for her research. Whitman alumna Caitlyn Collins ’08, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, told Williams’ adviser, Michelle Janning, assistant dean of faculty and associate professor of sociology, in an email that the editors at Sociological Insight were looking for submissions.

Janning then forwarded the email to the sociology major student mailing list, where Williams caught wind of it.

William’s looks forward to reading her work in print, noting that “it’s exciting to see your academic work outside of the Whitman context.”

After graduating this spring, she plans on moving to the Bay Area to work as an intern for Practicing Freedom, a small organization that does consulting work for non-profits.

“Eventually, I plan on pursuing a graduate degree, possibly in sociology or education, but I haven’t made any definite decisions yet,” Williams said.

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