Meet the Fellows: 2019 Women’s Studies Fellow Lizbett Benge

The Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies is the only national dissertation award for doctoral work on issues of women and gender. The 2019 Fellows include Lizbett Benge, a doctoral candidate in gender studies at Arizona State University whose dissertation highlights the strategies for survival that foster care alumni create and employ to survive and thrive.

The award will support Lizbett’s final year of writing a dissertation that draws on key elements of her own history:

The fact that I come from foster care and generations of sexual and physical abuse in addition to intergenerational poverty, illiteracy, and mental illness is a sobering fact of life. My birth mother is schizophrenic and has multiple personalities. She birthed eight children—each of us with a different, non-existent father and each of us taken from her before we reached our seventh birthdays. Growing up in such circumstances required learning best how to respond to foreign environments and handle ambiguity, often without a system of support.

The above conditions developed and honed within me an all-consuming mentality of survival. I am surviving because of school; I found support and the resources to meet my basic needs at school. Educational spaces provide(d) relations and benefits typically associated with the home space such as: friends, family, food to eat, employment, and a chance to make meaning in my own life and the lives of others.

Integral to my thriving in school was discovering intersectional feminism and gender studies. Feminism came to light as a movement for me, as an entity, when I first attended undergrad in 2007. Gender studies courses gave me the theoretical framework to begin to understand academically what I was living personally. Twelve years later, I still believe in the power of intersectional feminism and gender studies to help make sense of the lives people lead. The academic work I am currently doing is centered on highlighting the strategies for survival that people who aged out of foster care in Arizona create and employ to lead lives they deem worth living. I do this through art and everyday modes of connection. This work stands to articulate a vision of justice that brings to the fore the labor that so many of us do every day to survive, thrive, exist, and resist.


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