'The Study of Changing the World'

Senior Ian Harwood chose to write an honors thesis as a way to prepare himself to effect social change.

“People that I knew had been sexually assaulted in a college setting, and I thought that was really messed up,” Harwood said. “I was really angry and I wanted to do something about it.”

Harwood, a senior from Apex, N.C., joined the Duke Women’s Center as a gender violence prevention intern, and has engaged in a variety of work that has ranged from developing curriculum to running prevention training for bystanders.

His passion for preventing gender violence led him to toy with the idea of writing an honors thesis. Initially ambivalent, he met with Professor Tony Brown, who led him to understand that writing a thesis would make him work harder to learn more about gender violence, which would in turn improve his efficacy as an activist. As Harwood did more research, he became more fascinated.

“I found that not that many people know about this issue,” Harwood said. “People don’t know about the impact of different gender violence prevention programs, what other types of programs are available and what other schools are doing. It didn’t take very long before I knew more than most students and even more than some administrators.”

Under the guidance of Professor Joel Rosch and Amy Cleckler, gender violence prevention program coordinator at the Women’s Center, Harwood began writing an honors thesis.. As he began his research, he learned most universities do not evaluate their gender violence prevention programs, and very few measure behavior change.

Harwood eventually decided to use surveys and interviews to study how universities select gender violence prevention programs.

“I was really interested in talking to the people who are making these decisions about what types of programs to use,” Harwood said.

The universities that Harwood surveyed identified university liability and public image, research and expert advice and student input among the factors that shaped the content of their sexual assault programs. He also researched program effectiveness, and learned that interactive trainings, peer theater programs and courses are some of the most effective modes of sexual assault prevention.

Majoring in public policy was not always obvious for Harwood, who initially planned a self-designed major with coursework in psychology, education, evolutionary biology and public policy. But, he realized the classes he had selected included almost all of the public policy major’s required courses.

“As a first-year student, public policy was the closest thing I could find to the study of changing the world,” Harwood said. “Now looking back on it, I have identified as a public policy major more and more. I’ve adopted a lot of the attitudes that the major brings, like pragmatism, understanding tradeoffs and accepting that incremental changes are not necessarily less valuable than revolutionary ones.”

Last summer, Harwood interned with the California Coalition against Sexual Assault in Pasadena, Calif. He prepared lessons and interviewed administrators, and he was also able to conduct research and interviews for his honors thesis.

Harwood wants to continue working with other people who care about the same issues as he does, and is eager to take a position in a policy or community capacity. He recommends writing an honors thesis as a great lesson in time management and meeting deadlines, as well as understanding how to listen to criticism and adapt your ideas accordingly.

“You become an expert on something. It’s really powerful to know what you’re talking about when you’re trying to get something done,” Harwood