Caregiving and Political Engagement in the Era of COVID

Professor Rachel VanSickle-Ward ’99 receives grant to study women caregivers’ relationship with the political sphere

Rachel VanSickle-Ward, professor of political studies
Professor Rachel VanSickle-Ward ’99

Claremont, Calif. (February 9, 2021)—Professor of Political Studies and Pitzer College alumna Rachel VanSickle-Ward ’99 and three other researchers received a $30,000 grant from the Center for American Women and Politics for their proposed research project “Conceptualizing Caregiving and its Consequences for Attitudes and Engagement.”

“As gender and politics scholars, we’re interested in women’s political participation and how women’s caregiving responsibilities create both incentives and barriers to political engagement,” VanSickle-Ward said.

Two out of every three caregivers in the US are women, according to the CDC. The researchers will examine how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected these women in terms of their responsibilities and political engagement.

“Gender inequity around caregiving is a longstanding problem,” VanSickle-Ward said. “The pandemic exacerbates the inequity and also puts the need to forge solutions into sharp relief.”

Drawing on in-depth interviews and survey data, the researchers will explore both problems and solutions related to caregivers’ political engagement, VanSickle-Ward said.

“How can we overcome the obstacles that caregivers face? How can we take caregiving expertise seriously as valuable in politics and policy-making?”

VanSickle-Ward will be undertaking this research with Ivy A.M. Cargile of CSU Bakersfield, Jill S. Greenlee of Brandeis University, and Jennifer L. Merolla of UC Riverside. Their interest in the project arose, in part, from a recognition of the overlap of professional, personal, and public spheres.

“As caregivers ourselves, we experience the pressures and sense of potential firsthand,” VanSickle-Ward said.

Their project was one of only nine to receive funding this year from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), part of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. CAWP research grant recipients include both advanced graduate students and faculty.

While VanSickle-Ward’s research team is focusing on caregiving in the context of COVID, their work looks toward shaping our post-pandemic future.

“In painting a fuller picture of the relationship between caretaking and political engagement, we hope to help change and challenge traditional conversations around gender and care.”

Rachel VanSickle-Ward has taught political studies at Pitzer since 2007. Her research and teaching interests include public policy, public law, gender and politics, and elections. She is a frequent commentator on Southern California Public Radio’s KPCC show Take Two. Her first book, The Devil is in the Details: Understanding the Causes of Policy Specificity and Ambiguity, was awarded the Herbert A. Simon Book Award in 2018.  She also co- authored The Politics of the Pill and co-edited a volume on Hillary Clinton’s legacy, The Hillary Effect. VanSickle-Ward earned her BA in Political Studies and English and World Literature at Pitzer and her PhD in Political Science at UC Berkeley.

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