University gives student $3500 to study the impact of COVID-19 on gender identity

Carnegie Mellon University gave a student $3,500 this semester to study the effects of isolation on gender identity throughout the pandemic.

'During COVID, that whole social part [of identity] was taken away. You didn't have an audience to perform your gender to,' the student said.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) gave a student $3,500 this semester to study the effects of isolation on gender identity throughout the pandemic.

Alana Silva-Cacdac, a psychology major at the Pittsburgh university who was awarded the money, came up with the idea for the research during the COVID-19 pandemic when many of her friends were isolated and “examining their gender identity.”

“Silva-Cacdac wanted to know how the isolation experienced affected one’s gender identity and began a research project to better understand this novel situation,” according to an article on CMU’s website.

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The research we have now establishes that gender identity is formed around puberty, influenced by the ideas and gender of your peers and the social barriers you have,” Silva-Cacdac told CMU.

She continued, “There’s also a self-reflection, the interaction between your social environment and your personal, private identity. During COVID, that whole social part was taken away. You didn’t have an audience to perform your gender to. I think taking away that audience made people reconsider how they represented themselves.”

The funds for Silva-Cacdac’s project come from CMU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. According to the website, the program “awards $3500 to undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon for 8-10 FULL-TIME weeks of summer research in any field of study.”

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The description emphasizes that this money is available for any field of study and that the single requirement to apply is that “a faculty advisor [is] willing to supervise your research on campus for 8-10 weeks.”

Vicki Hegelson, a professor of psychology who runs a Gender, Relationships, and Health Lab is the faculty advisor for Silva-Cacdac’s project. One of the lab’s main interests is “the implications of gender and gender role socialization for relationships and health.”

The study itself will primarily involve surveys and interviews. The initial broad survey will ask if “participants questioned their gender identity or changed their pronouns during the pandemic.”

Carnegie Mellon University Media Relations and Alana Silva-Cacdac declined to comment, while Vicki Hegelson could not be reached.