Toni-Anne Vinell Stewart MA '14
Newburgh, New York

What prompted you to pursue a graduate degree?

I was initially drawn to the Women’s History graduate program as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence. As an undergraduate who studied development studies, human geography, and political economy, I became drawn to the gendered experience of poverty and saw the Women’s History program as a way to delve deeper into the historical implications of feminization of unemployment and inequality through another lens. It proved to be one of the greatest decisions I have made in my academic career.

How did graduate school fit into your life at the time?

Graduate school fit perfectly into my life. Due to my interest in continuing my education at Sarah Lawrence, in my senior year of undergrad I joined the Women History program as a fifth-year student. This means that I was a senior and a first year grad student at the same time, which was an intense undertaking, but well worth it! After graduation, I continued another year as a second-year graduate student. The first half of my senior year, I studied at La Universidad de Habana in Cuba; this was a great opportunity that the Women’s History program was open to letting me do and make up for the course work I missed that semester. This is one example of how the Women’s History worked to fit my unique educational journey into the program and cares about students who are genuinely passionate about Women’s History. They always find a way to fit your needs. The best advice I would give is to be open and honest with the Women's History faculty about your challenges and concerns, as they are here to bring the best out of us.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence College for your graduate studies?

I chose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school because as an undergraduate student I knew that the College is a place that supports individual academic growth, nurtures our curiosity, and supports unique thought. When I saw myself becoming more invested in historical narratives and representations of women's struggle for political and economic empowerment, I knew I couldn’t study Women’s History anywhere else but Sarah Lawrence.

What role did the Sarah Lawrence faculty play in your time here?

Sarah Lawrence faculty are an amazing group of professors that are so invested in their students and view us as equals to support in our academic journey. In my graduate studies, I was able to work with not only Women’s History staff, but also connect with professors from different disciplines in Literature, Human Geography, and Sociology to help review my work, my arguments, my assertions, and help inform my development. I cannot think of any place other than Sarah Lawrence where professors have such open doors and care for students.

What experience as a Women's History student had the greatest impact on you?

One experience that I will always take away from the program was the great community of support the Thesis seminar fostered in all of us. We supported each other in the writing process of our theses and grew invested in each other’s accomplishments and breakthroughs. This type of academic sisterhood in scholarship creation is an experience I feel is unique to the culture of Sarah Lawrence's Women’s History program and has influenced the way I work collectively in the organizations I have been in since Sarah Lawrence.

What is life like as a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence?

My life was all school and work! I worked in the Office of Admission and lived in the library! Since I was an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence, making friends was seamless as I had spent four years making great relationships with younger students, professors, staff, and the graduate community, and had this opportunity to continue these friendships.

What impact did the proximity of New York City have on your experience?

The close proximity to NYC enhanced my experience as a Women’s History student, as many great research institutions were right at my fingertips, like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and my internship with UNAIDS in Gender, Peacekeeping, and Security focused on the linkages between HIV and sexual gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict settings.

What is the strongest attribute of Sarah Lawrence's Women’s History program?

The strongest attribute of the Women’s History program is the focus and investment on building students' original scholarship. My interest in conducting firsthand historical research and interviews in Jamaica was funded by the Women’s History program and supported and guided by my professors who helped me to grow analytically and understand the importance of throwing yourself into your scholarship by searching for multiple narratives.

What advice can you offer to prospective graduate students?

I think it would have helped me if I took more time to appreciate the distinct difference between being a full-time undergraduate student and full-time graduate student. The latter gave me more freedom and time to work outside of  the classroom which takes a certain level of discipline that needs to be fully considered and appreciated for any student committing to such an intense program.

What are you up to now?

Now I work as the Projects Coordinator throughout the Kurdish Region of Iraq for Women Rehabiliation Organization (WRO). I manage projects in the Duhok Governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where we provide services to Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqi women who have experienced or at risk of experiencing sexual gender-based violence in partnership with UNCHR, UNFPA, UNWOMEN, the Canadian government, and the German government. We offer services in psychosocial and legal support, GBV awareness-raising workshops, and vocational training for livelihood initiatives to foster economic empowerment and participation. WRO also focuses on promoting social cohesion among mixed communities, providing informal education and activities for displaced children, and enhancing access to sexual reproductive health and rights.