Katelyn Malae

Katelyn Rose Malae, sixth-year sociology graduate student, is the graduate recipient of the 2023 Justice and Equity Research Paper Award. The honor – which includes a $1000 prize – recognizes top graduate and undergraduate research papers addressing race, justice and related topics. Below, Malae, who earned her bachelor’s at City University of New York-Brooklyn College, explains her award-winning work, “Policy Relay: How Affirmative Consent Went from Controversy to Convention,” and how she’s turning research into action through workshops and tools for young adults to effectively and affirmatively communicate sexual interest and consent while using digital dating applications.

What made you decide to pursue your current field of study, and specifically at UCI? What interests you most about your work?

I distinctly recall standing outside the library of Brooklyn College talking with friends about dating. During the conversation, a friend mentioned that she had sex recently with someone much sooner than desired because she did not want him to think that she wasn't into him. Her comments resonated with us all, encouraging us to share similar stories. This moment led me to begin to ask questions about the gray areas of sexual violence, unwanted sexual activity, and sexual assault. It fueled my master's paper, which examines the politics of affirmative consent policy, as well as my dissertation project which examines how dating apps, like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and more shape gendered practices of sexual consent and communication among young adults.

Tell us more about your research. What problem will your findings help solve?

Broadly, my research examines how various social institutions, like higher education, the family, criminal/legal systems, and technology shape gender inequality in intimate relationships. My dissertation examines how dating apps shape gendered practices in dating, courtship, and sex among young adults. This work is an extension of my master’s research, where I examined how a wide range of political actors transformed affirmative consent policy from a ridiculed idea to a standard for preventing campus sexual assault and consent.

My research broadens our understanding of the factors shaping sexual communication/consent on and off digital platforms. This work can be used to create assessments and suggestions for the improvement of dating applications by increasing safety measures to prevent sexual violence and assault. I have also used my work to create workshops and tools for young adults to effectively and affirmatively communicate sexual interest and consent while using digital dating applications.

Where can your work be found if someone wanted to learn more?

My work on affirmative consent policy was recently published in the journal, Sociological Perspectives:

Malae, Katelyn Rose. 2022. “Policy Relay: How Affirmative Consent Went from Controversy to Convention.” Sociological Perspectives 64(6)

What organizations and/or foundations have funded your research?  

I received funding from two organizations at UCI: The Center for Organizational Research and the Initiative to End Family Violence

What awards have you received while at UCI, and what activities have you been involved in outside of your research?

I have received various awards for my research and teaching as a graduate student at UCI:

-2021 A. Kimball Romney Award for Outstanding Graduate Paper, UC Irvine
-2021 Pedagogical Fellowship, Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation, UC Irvine
-2023 California State University, Long Beach PREPP Fellow

I have also worked as a graduate student resident with the UCI Womxn’s Center for Success in the Winter of 2023.

My goal is to demystify graduate school for first-generation and marginalized students. I’ve done this work as a mentor to early-stage graduate students for the past six years through the DECADE Competitive Edge Program and Sociology Graduate Student Association. I’ve also been the co-chair of the Sociology Graduate Student Association, where I’ve organized and facilitated workshops and panels to demystify departmental milestones and the research process.

Who have been your faculty mentors while here, and what impact have they had on your graduate career?

I’ve been fortunate to receive endless encouragement and support from the UCI sociology department, especially from Dr. Kristin Turney and Dr. David Meyer. I wouldn’t be working toward my Ph.D. without the faculty at CUNY-Brooklyn College, particularly Dr. Namita Manohar and Dr. Yung-Yi Diana Pan. They let me know that I was capable of getting into graduate school. I am grateful for their continuous support.

When do you plan to complete your Ph.D.? What are your plans thereafter? How has UCI prepared you well for this role? 

I plan to graduate with my Ph.D. in March of 2024. Upon earning my degree, I hope to work as a tenure-track professor of sociology at a public university, researching and teaching on social issues relating to gender, sexuality, family, and beyond. My goal is to serve as a mentor and inspiration for first-generation and marginalized students. I also plan to connect my research to the community by building protocols to prevent violations of sexual consent that consider how digital contexts shape patterns of sexual violence. 

As a first-generation college student, I am a testament to the importance of having faculty mentors who promoted equity and demystified academia. I am committed to giving back and building on the legacy of my mentors by fostering inclusive environments within each community I belong. As a professor, I hope to continue inspiring students historically excluded from higher educational settings to be critical producers and consumers of sociological knowledge.

The Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation at UCI has provided endless support for developing my teaching skills. In 2021, I was awarded a Pedagogical Fellowship where I worked with an incredibly talented and innovative community of educators. Their guidance has helped me cultivate my skills as a student-centered instructor.

Any other tidbits you’d like to share?

Moving from NYC to Southern California made me realize how much I love being outside, camping, and hiking. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to live in such a beautiful location while finishing my degree.



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