Kansas State University


Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies

Keep Your Eyes on Women’s Studies: Dr. Valerie Padilla Carroll’s Research

photo of Valerie Padilla Carroll in Iceland
Valerie Padilla Carroll in Iceland, 2014

Summer is a time for faculty to dive into new research and to see the world through new eyes. Valerie Padilla Carroll, Women’s Studies newest tenure-track Assistant Professor, is someone to follow when she does her summer research. Because she has been an instructor in Women’s Studies for many years, Dr. Padilla Carroll is an experienced and popular teacher who is well known for her courses on “Gender, Environment, and Justice” and “Women and Pop Culture”, which require ongoing research and critical inquiry throughout the year. As an active researcher and committed teacher, Dr. Padilla Carroll is proud of Women’s Studies solid program. She hopes to contribute to it by promoting students’ media literacy, by creating more engaging Women’s Studies courses for first- and second-year students, and by enhancing her classes with new knowledge generated from her research.

Dr. Padilla Carroll believes that Women’s Studies scholarship is some of the most important but often least recognized work in our society.  She is proud of the department’s social justice mission and she values the fulfillment that comes with doing engaged and socially relevant research and teaching at K-State. In her view, the Women’s Studies Department has awesome people and its students are amazing. “I’m continually impressed by how dedicated our majors and minors are,” she said. To develop the skills that students need to accomplish their life goals, Dr. Padilla Carroll helps students learn how to evaluate ideas and data by sharing her own research experiences with them.

Dr. Padilla Carroll’s enthusiasm for Women’s Studies partly comes through her feminist research on environmentalism. In mid-June she came back from a short trip to Iceland, where she traveled to Solheimer, a 100-person eco-village in central Iceland that displays socially inclusive, environmental innovation at every juncture. While in Iceland, Dr. Padilla Carroll engaged in hands-on, participatory research as she traveled to different environmental projects. In Iceland, a small country of over 300,000 people, everyone relies on geo-thermal heating, which comes from hot springs generated by volcanic activity. “Everyone is hyper-aware of the environment because you’re in a volcanic area with hot springs and mud pots,” which is much like the geo-thermal activity in Yellowstone, Dr. Padilla Carroll explained. Iceland has an established bathing culture, even though it may be necessary to wear a coat when walking on the beach. “I even got to go in water where the glacial melt and hot springs merged, so I could choose where I got in the water and how hot or cool I wanted it to be.” Moreover, she said, “I’ve never felt more comfortable anywhere.” Iceland’s inclusive feeling and its environmental inventiveness have given Dr. Padilla Carroll the idea of exploring the possibility of taking students there for an academic trip.

In July 2014 Dr. Padilla Carroll traveled to the East Coast to gather primary data at two archives that disclose part of the history of the “back to the land” movement in the United States. The $10,000 grant for this research came from the competitive Faculty Enhancement Program established by the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Padilla Carroll argues that this U.S. “back to the land” movement began as a white middle-class masculine project in the 1920s. At the University of New Hampshire, she looked at the collection on Ralph Borsodi, who helped define this “back to the land” movement. A vital part of this collection documents the “back to the land” work done by Myrtle Mae Borsodi. This portion of the collection illuminates women’s leadership in the movement. Men who advocated for a return to the land assumed that white middle-class households had enough money and resources to buy, maintain, and rely on the land for at least some food crops and sustenance. One of these vital resources was women’s labor, which was taken for granted and remained invisible to men who created the “back to the land” ideology. An analysis of the Borsodi archival materials, Dr. Padilla Carroll believes, will help demonstrate that men in this ideological movement relied on women’s invisible work for growing, canning, and transforming food, as well as for doing other domestic and field work related to household maintenance.

As part of her summer research on the “back to the land” movement, Dr. Padilla Carroll also did archival research in Concord by studying the Helen Nearing papers in the Thoreau Collection. Helen Nearing has been idealized as the “mother” of this movement. And researcher Dr. Padilla Carroll will investigate the ways in which Helen Nearing’s activism and writings reflected, cultivated and/or challenged the white middle-class masculine “back to the land” movement.

As a result of her recent scholarship, Dr. Padilla Carroll’s summer research already has made the 2014-2015 year a more exciting one for all of us.

— by Torry Dickinson






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