Lindsay Stark’s research shines a light on some of the most endangered, exploited and forgotten people in the world. By unearthing and measuring data on women and children in hazardous settings such as war zones or refugee camps, she helps find ways to keep them safe.
“I’m often looking at populations that have been forgotten because they’re hidden and stigmatized in some ways,” says Stark, associate dean for global strategy and programs at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, where is she is also an associate professor. “It’s often the case that if a phenomenon doesn’t get counted, it doesn’t count in the eyes of policy makers and programmers, and so a lot of my work is helping raise visibility around issues that have often been neglected or swept under the rug.”
Stark became interested in this work while she was a graduate student researching the effects of traditional cleansing ceremonies on girls who had been child soldiers in Sierra Leone. “What really inspired me, and what continues to inspire me, is how incredibly resilient these girls were,” she says. “Every day in my work with survivors of sexual violence, I continue to be amazed and inspired by the strength of the women I meet.”
In policy spheres, academic circles and everyday life, Stark wants to bring attention not only to sexual violence as a weapon of war, but also to family and intimate partner violence in conflict areas, as well as child maltreatment.
“I think there are still some folks who see issues of violence, exploitation and maltreatment as less important in some way,” she says. “These issues are extremely meaningful to me as a woman — most women I know have either directly experienced violence or have people in their lives who’ve been affected by violence in some way. Being able to sound the alarm, move the needle and produce new learning, new interventions, new policies to help prevent this kind of violence is deeply, deeply important to me.”
In the classroom, Stark passes on lessons from her research to her students. She teaches a course on refugee well-being and a course in which her students design qualitative and participatory research tools and collect data for local partners such as the International Institute of St. Louis and the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project.
Stark enjoys mentoring students — especially young women — interested in becoming humanitarian aid workers or entering the academic track. “It’s one of my favorite parts of my job to be honest; I take a lot of pride and pleasure in it,” she says. “I’m always excited to hear from graduates about what they end up doing and how their career trajectories trace back to research or classroom experience.”
Sometimes former students become colleagues. One former student — Ilana Seff — is now a partner in much of Stark’s work and a research assistant professor at WashU. “She began as my doctoral student at Columbia University,” Stark says. “We are now just true collaborators, and she’s become a leader and a scholar in her own right. Right now, we have a project that is developing ways to measure refugee self-reliance.”
She is also proud to serve as a role model to her two daughters, ages 9 and 3: “I had a mother who was a professional and was the model for me. I hope to be that for my two girls as well.”
Since arriving at WashU in 2018, Stark has been impressed with the university’s opportunities for women and efforts “to make sure we’re doing right for our women faculty, staff and students. All of that is quite promising,” she said.
Stark has stepped away from the classroom temporarily as she settles into her role as the Brown School’s associate dean for global strategy and programs. She says the school’s plan for global research and teaching is ambitious. “We hope we can continue to build up that work and help create more of a global community across the university,” she said. “I’m really excited to help raise the level of dialogue and recognition about the amazing global work that’s happening at Washington University.”