The Fieldwork Initiative is a grassroots network of over 3,500 students and researchers facing trauma, unsafe conditions, or sexual harassment and assault during research fieldwork; buttressed by the voices of thousands of students and researchers still in need of support and intervention. The Fieldwork Initiative seeks to maintain a network for victims who have struggled with gendered violence while conducting research, as well as proliferate pre-fieldwork training seminars that break open the blackbox of data collection and shed light on the realities of trauma, racism, and gendered violence in the field. We aspire to make the FIEST training a mandatory seminar for all students before entering the field.

Fieldwork is rife with gendered encounters, xenophobia, anti-blackness, homophobia, and countless other unacceptable realities that researchers must endure. A 2019 pilot study by Jerika Loren Heinze indicated that over 2/3rds of the 50 researchers interviewed experienced violent, harassing, or fear-inducing experiences while doing fieldwork, with half of those incidences qualifying as traumatic or having a significant impact on the researchers ability to feel safe. When asked what solutions participants felt they could benefit from, 90% stated that a pre-fieldwork conversation about the realities of field work, including tools and conversations about gendered violence and sexual harassment would have been greatly beneficial to them.

This need for a preemptive intervention inspired the creation of the FIEST Training – a seminar designed to impart onto students a corpus of various strategies on how to minimize potentially dangerous situations, stressing that no student should ever have to endure uncomfortable or potentially threatening situations in order to get their research data or as a rite of passage as a researcher.

During the seminar, students will learn that they will be supported in their decisions to leave or pause future fieldwork in the event that dangerous conditions arise. Students will create a bilateral plan with their research advisors about how to report gendered violence, and will be connected with various resources available to protect women and non-binary researchers in academia, as well as larger networks for fieldwork researchers. A round table discussion will be held for students to discuss their own concerns and any problems they may anticipate in their own unique fieldwork situations. Students will benefit from talking about various scenarios, discussing boundaries, and an awareness of the mental health support available to them. Advisors and staff will also be led in a discussion on how to best support students in the field.

An outreach network has also been established to provide rapid response help to students and researchers who experience difficulty while in the field. Victims can contact us for help, or join “Women* in the Field” on facebook for more support.