Brace Faculty Fellowship Continues Legacy of Education and Advocacy

Vidal directs the Brace Center and helps organize the fellowship. program.

Since 2015, the Brace Center for Gender Studies has offered faculty the Brace Faculty Fellowship, an opportunity to research gender through lenses of equity, inclusivity, and intersectionality. This year’s Brace Faculty Fellow is Lilia Cai-Hurteau, Instructor and Chair of Chinese and Japanese.

Former Brace Faculty Fellows have covered a wide variety of topics including black masculinity and Latinx student experiences at Andover. This opportunity provides faculty with time and resources needed to conduct their research.

According to Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center, Cai-Hurteau is focusing her research on deconstructing social norms and empowering women, specifically by examining female roles in Asian religion and culture.

“[Cai-Hurteau’s] project involves looking at Eastern religions and investigating the reason which they have been used in ways to help suppress female agency in Asian culture. But, she’s trying to flip that [situation] and figure out ways in which those same traditions and religions can be used to empower Asian women,” said Vidal.

Cai-Hurteau also helped create the affinity group Asian Women Empowerment (AWE) last year, which, according to Vidal, ties into Cai-Hurteau’s research.

“[AWE] has already had positive consequences on the community, because this club has been formed and students are excited to be a part of it,” said Vidal.

According to Hazel Koh ’21, Co-Head of AWE, the affinity group has created a safe space for Asian women at Andover.

“I think it’s really important that we have affinity groups on campus in order to provide a support system and a safe space where we can address topics unique to our identity as an Asian woman. Through discussions we learn from each other and inspire each other. Together, we can instill in each other pride in our identity,” wrote Koh in an email to The Phillipian.

Zaina Qamar ’21, an AWE representative for her class, highlighted the inclusion that the group has brought to the Andover community. Qamar said that having a dedicated faculty advisor like Cai-Hurteau was encouraging.

“One of my favorite parts about AWE is that it is inclusive. As a board, we really try to emphasize that Asian means so many different things: it means Asian-American, South Asian, East Asian, Southeast Asian, half or a quarter Asian, and so much more. We aren’t concerned with mirroring the general perception of what it means to be an Asian woman; our goal is to create an environment where those that identify as being an Asian woman can feel comfortable and relaxed,” wrote Qamar in an email to The Phillipian.

Like AWE, the Brace Center creates spaces for students and faculty to discuss certain aspects of identity — particularly gender-based identity. The Brace Faculty Fellowship then extends the Center’s support for individual research. Like past Fellows, Cai-Hurteau is to present her research later this school year.

“[The Fellowship is] an opportunity for faculty members who are interested in ideas of gender equity and inclusion, more specifically if they have an interest in intersectional gender or multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary perspective to take some time off from other duties and dedicate that time to doing some research on an aspect of gender that is interesting and important to them,” said Vidal.

The fellowship has been addressing perceptions of gender at Andover since the early years of the Brace Center, which was founded in 1996. Although it was discontinued in the early 2000s, it was reinstated under Vidal’s direction three years ago. It is now endorsed by the school and by Patrick Farrell, Dean of Faculty, and his office.

“He [Farrell] has been very generous and happy to support the fellowships so we were able to bring that back… His office firmly supports the initiative and the workload reduction that has to happen for people to have their time [to research],” said Vidal.

Vidal said that the school has made progress concerning sexual violence and assault, a serious issue on campuses across the nation. The curriculum has also expanded over the past few years to incorporate discussions of equity and privilege relating to gender identity, race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.

“I think we are getting better also at identifying areas in the curriculum where we work towards gender equity. Not just gender — race, class, sexuality also. We see it more and more referred to and talked about and teachers thinking very intentionally about these issues as thwey build their courses,” said Vidal.

Vidal, however, says that Andover still has more progress to make. According to Vidal, one of the fellowship’s goals is to urge students and faculty members to change their viewpoints on campus.

“We are improving and we are making progress, but the culture of our school is still very traditional and very steeped in privilege. Changing all of that conversation is important. Change in culture, deconstructing patriarchy, is a big piece. That’s our work,” said Vidal.

The Brace Center has organized programs like the recent programming for juniors about toxic masculinity, the consent bracelets at orientation, and Take Back the Night last spring, an event to end sexual violence around the world.

“Still, we have much work to do; our job is nowhere near finished,” said Anthony Minickiello ’20, a member of the Brace Student Advisory Board.

According to Vidal, the Brace Faculty Fellowship also takes part in supporting Andover’s academic aspects. It encourages people to face and explore their identities. Vidal emphasizes learning beyond simply classroom teaching.

“We are a school, we are an intellectual community where education and learning is certainly at the center of everything we do. Academic research is the heart of learning. We need to figure out the history and the reality of the issues that affect us on a daily basis,” said Vidal. 

In addition, the Brace Center runs a student fellowship, with several students presenting their findings over the course of this year.

“I hope people get excited to have a lot of good projects and to pick somebody who will do another fantastic project that will move our community forward,” said Vidal.