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The Kinsey Institute Student Research Grant Program

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2014 Grant Recipients

Mina Farahzad, Medical College of Wisconsin
Safak Kilictepe, Indiana University, Department of Anthropology
Sarah Merrill, Cornell University, Department of Human Development
Trenton Mize, Indiana University, Departments of Sociology & Statistics


Mina Farahzad, Medical College of Wisconsin

Research area: The Association between Loss of Custody and Substance Use, HIV Risk, and Depressive Symptoms among Female Street Sex Workers

Female street sex workers (FSSWs) are an extremely disadvantaged group with complex histories of loss. They experience high levels of stigma, poverty, and violence. In addition, FSSWs have higher rates of illicit drug use, greater HIV risk, and poorer mental health than women not involved in sex work. Despite these many hazards, it is estimated that between 70% of FSSWs are mothers, a role that they highly value. Moreover, motherhood helps position sex workers in a resistive discourse, shirking the prevalent perception of sex worker as one lacking moral worth.

However, many FSSW mothers lose custody of their children. Previous work suggests that following the loss of children, women feel increasingly lonely and depressed. In order to cope with these feelings, they often increase drug use, further exacerbating the cycle of drug use and sex work. Moreover, continued sex work and drug use inhibits women’s ability to regain custody of their children.

To date, there has been no systematic evaluation of the association between loss of custody and substance use, HIV risk, and depressive symptoms among FSSWs. This study will evaluate this association using quantitative surveys. Furthermore, in order to add depth and context to the quantitative findings, FSSWs will be engaged in in-depth interviews to provide their experiences of substance use and mental health as it relates to their children.

Safak Kilictepe, Indiana University, Department of Anthropology
Research area: Pronatalist Government Policies and Politics of Reproduction in Turkey

Reproductive policies have multiple effects on women’s biological, social, and political bodies (Ginsburg and Rapp 1991). In the last decade, the Turkish government has become increasingly concerned with decreasing birth rates. To increase the fertility rate in Turkey, the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been encouraging families to have at least three, preferably five children. The government has introduced new regulations in the medical system for family planning purposes by limiting abortions and C-section births, allowing doctors who have detected pregnancy in married and unmarried women to inform the families of these women about their pregnancies, giving married heterosexual couples incentives for child bearing, and providing incentives for early-age marriages.

By conducting ethnographic research, namely in-depth interviews and participant observation in Turkey, this study aims to investigate the extent to which pronatalist policies have shaped women’s reproductive experiences and their decisions about reproduction, to learn about how women are responding to new legislations about reproduction, and to understand how these policies have affected women’s bodies and everyday lives.

Sarah Merrill, Cornell University, Department of Human Development
Research area: Effect of Stimuli Environment and Peripheral Attention Bias on Female Discordance in Genital and Subjective Sexual Arousal

Measures of genital arousal have illuminated specific sex differences: most men show genital arousal almost exclusively to one sex, while most women show substantial genital arousal to both sexes regardless of their sexual orientation. Given the influence and import of context as a determinant of female sexual response, it is plausible that the discordance between female subjective and genital arousal reported thus far is partially a function of the experimental environment utilized.

In this study, Sarah proposes to examine this possibility by systematically varying the type and intensity of visual sexual stimuli participants are exposed to, in the hope that differences in the degree of discordance between female subjective and genital arousal may be detected. This arousal will be assessed by self-report, vaginal photoplethysmography, and pupil dilation measurement. Additionally, eye-tracking will allow investigators to pinpoint within stimuli conditions what participants are focusing on, as well as comparing these attentional biases to different levels of concordance between the three related measures.

Trenton D. Mize, Indiana University, Departments of Sociology & Statistics
Research area: “Status Disadvantages for Gay Men and Lesbian Leaders: Orientation or Masculinity?”

Gay men and lesbians face discrimination, harassment, and violence based on their identity and also face inequality in laws that limit their legal rights. Prior studies have detailed the discrimination that sexual minorities face in the labor market, in the law, and in dealing with physical violence, with recent studies showing discrimination in the hiring process and outlining income penalties for gay men.

Despite the multiple studies on inequality due to sexual orientation, the reason behind the discrimination remains underexplored, with little research examining why sexual minorities face biases in social interaction. Using experimental methods, Trenton will examine the disadvantage gay men and lesbian leaders face in order to disentangle the effects of a sexual minority identity from masculinity and gender conformity to uncover the mechanism behind disadvantage.

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