By Caroline Dobuzinskis
Since joining staff in September as the Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow, Rhiana Gunn-Wright has brought great energy to IWPR’s offices. She is passionate about helping women through policy and education, demonstrated in her accomplishments at IWPR and in previous roles.
Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a double major in African American studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies. During her time at Yale, she embraced women’s issues completely—from the focus of her thesis to her extracurricular volunteer work both on and off campus. Gunn-Wright’s thesis looked at welfare policy and its impact on poor black women by analyzing methods for managing teen pregnancy in the city of New Haven, CT. In her spare time, Gunn-Wright volunteered to mentor and teach sexual education to girls in eighth grade at local public school. “Low-income girls of color often get lost in education because people assume they will be fine when, in fact, they need a lot of attention and assistance,” said Gunn-Wright.
Gunn-Wright also served on the board of the on-campus women’s center at Yale for two years, managing staff and resident groups. In this role, she conducted outreach to other groups at her university in order to make the center more inclusive. “When I came in [as board member], the women’s center was almost exclusively upper-class white students so I did outreach to communities of color and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] groups,” said Gunn-Wright. “We also started doing activism around sexuality on campus.”
As part of this activism, Gunn-Wright helped start a pioneering student forum to talk openly about establishing sexual respect on campus and building a healthy sexual culture. These talks involved a diverse range of students, including student faith groups. Some participating groups took the baton by hosting their own talks, and the entire initiative eventually grew into a larger program now called Sex @ Yale.
When Gunn-Wright came across the description of the Mariam K. Chamberlain fellowship with IWPR at her campus, she immediately thought it would be a good fit. One of the aspects that Gunn-Wright enjoys about her fellowship is being able to answer queries and point people to relevant research on women’s issues. She is also appreciative of the opportunity to work on issues that she is most passionate about, particularly education, by assisting with the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI).
“I enjoy the work we do on student parents and looking at the intersection between welfare, race, class gender, and education—especially for a population that isn’t usually recognized,” said Gunn-Wright. “It’s nice to build a community especially when people are as invested in it as they are in SPSI. They are invested in seeing student parents do well.”
Following her fellowship, Gunn-Wright will be continuing to pursue her passion for education with Teach for America. She also has plans for graduate school.
Gunn-Wright’s biggest tip for incoming fellows? “Be mindful of remembering that you really are working to better the status of women,” she said. “It’s easy to get caught up in work tasks, but you are working on a daily basis to make things better, more tolerant, and more loving.”