|Katy Finley Wins Marshall Scholarship to Study Mideastern Gender Dynamics
December 08, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
Davidson senior Katy Finley has received a Marshall Scholarship for two years of fully funded study to earn a graduate degree at a British university. Marshall Scholarships are as competitive as the Rhodes Scholarships, and carry comparable benefits. Just 40 students were selected this year from among 900 applicants. Finley is the seventh Davidson student overall to win a Marshall, and the first since 1990.
|Katy Finley '09|
Finley, who was raised in a working class environment in the small northern Wisconsin town of Boulder Junction, won a John M. Belk Scholarship to attend Davidson, and has used the summer stipends available to Belk Scholars to develop the interests in gender studies and Arabic social and political systems she will pursue through her Marshall Scholarship at either Oxford University or London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
“Ultimately, I plan to craft a thesis that analyzes the effects of Middle Eastern governments, civil society organizations, and international development organizations on gender dynamics,” Finley explained. “Through integration of political institutions and social citizenship, I hope to help empower Middle Eastern women and, by extension, their communities as a whole.”
Those goals may seem lofty, but in Finley’s case they are well informed. She had no previous outstanding interest in Arabic studies, but signed up for the introductory language course almost haphazardly as a sophomore when her other choices of courses were filled. Something about the challenge of learning a very difficult language clicked within her, and she became more and more engaged with the subject.
In summer 2007 she decided to use her Belk Scholarship stipend to fund two months in Yemen studying Arabic. Last summer she again visited the Middle East, spending eight weeks studying Arabic in Aman, Jordan, and traveling for six weeks through Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
As a conspicuous Western woman traveling on her own, Finley exercised care about where she ventured and with whom she visited, but she almost always felt safe. It never got any worse than occasional offers of marriage, which she learned to deflect by telling suitors she was already engaged.
She judges her language fluency now as “intermediate to advanced.” “I can carry on a conversation, read a newspaper, and read a novel with a dictionary,” she said. She also watches Al Jazeera news on a satellite-fed television in the lounge of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program at Davidson, and watches You Tube clips of Arabic television shows.
Her mastery of the language, and her gender in the largely male-centric Arab nations, created extraordinary opportunities during her travels.
When shopkeepers or merchants first saw her, they spoke to her in English or a European language. “It would really surprise them when I replied in Arabic,” she said. “People got very excited. I would convince them in Arabic I didn’t want to buy anything, that I just wanted to speak with them. They would often end up serving me tea, or inviting me home for a family meal.”
A friendship she struck up with a man on the streets of Tripoli, Lebanon, led to her most memorable experience. A bus bombing one day sparked sectarian fighting in town, and a friend invited her to his hillside apartment to watch the explosions and tracer bullets in the city below from his balcony. She was bothered by the voyeuristic attraction of admiring the undeniable beauty of exploding weapons as the assailants tried to kill each other. “I found myself caught between feeling like spectator and participant, unsure of what I could do,” she said.
As the fighting worsened, she was advised to leave the city, and did so.
Finley was particularly interested in her travels in gender relations in Arabic countries. She has volunteered throughout her Davidson experience as a rape and sexual assault counselor, and helped people re-enter relationships and communities that have become alien to them after a crisis. She developed ways to make reporting assaults easier, broadened support networks for survivors, and presented sexual assault workshops to her peers. She also served on the executive board of the Gay Straight Alliance, and on a task force debating whether to add gender identity to the college’s non-discrimination clause.
|Finley touring the ancient city of Petra in Jordan|
She learned that many people creatively negotiate their social, religious, and sexual identities. She met a Syrian woman who developed a socially acceptable means of spending time with her boyfriend by marrying him in a religious ceremony, but not in a civil ceremony. She is writing her political science honors thesis about the status of women in liberalizing autocracies in the Middle East.
Though she learned a great deal about the Arab world during her two summers of travel, it was not until this semester that her career plans crystallized. Finley accompanied Professor of Political Science Ken Menkhaus to a week-long seminar in Djibouti about development and humanitarian issues, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and politics, culture and history in the Horn of Africa countries. She explained, “It really crystallized for me when we heard a presentation from a woman who specializes in pastoralist populations in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. She said, ‘This is what these people would like you to know about them. This is what they think about how your policies affect their lives.’ I had never heard someone phrase their work in that way before, and I knew it was something I’d like to be involved in. I would like to be in a neutral position to connect the interests of both common people and the people who have an influence over them.”
She ultimately hopes to work with an international nongovernmental organization in the Middle East, or work with the United Nations Development Fund for Women Arab States office on issues of governance, peace, and security in Arabic countries. “I am drawn to the holistic approach that these projects adopt because they combine policy work with civil society organizations to integrate awareness of gender concerns across different development and political sectors,” she said.
Professor Menkhaus has no doubts that she will make a difference in whatever career she pursues. “Katy has been a joy to work with,” he said. “Even in a pool of incredibly talented classmates at Davidson she has stood out as an exceptionally bright and promising future leader. The opportunity to work with students like Katy is what makes it so gratifying to teach at Davidson.”
The Marshall Scholarship Program began in 1953 as a gesture of gratitude to the people of the United States for the assistance that the UK received after World War II under the Marshall Plan. This highly competitive scholarship is a UK government-financed program that offers talented young Americans the chance to study for up to three years at a British university of their choice. Since the program’s inception there have been more than 1,500 Marshall Scholars. The program awards some 40 scholarships each year to Americans studying a range of subjects.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz