Making Gender Equity Accessible through Language: My Summer Immersive with the Gender Equity Commission

My name is Dominique Branson, and I am entering my fifth year as a doctoral student in the Linguistics department at Pitt. I find my research niche at the intersection of race, gender, language, and the mass incarceration/criminalization of Black Americans in the United States. My research is motivated out of my passion to see language used as a tool for promoting racial equality and social justice in spaces where it has historically been used to oppress People of Color. This summer, I am an immersive fellow with the City of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission (GEC) through Humanities Engage. I wanted to participate in an immersive fellowship with the GEC after collaborating with the commission on a previous project, called Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race (pdf), which examined gender and race inequity across Pittsburgh in the arenas of health, income, employment, and education. I was impressed by the GEC’s intersectional approach to gender equity and their intentionality in centering issues of Black women in their efforts.

This summer, I am assisting the executive director of the GEC, anu jain, with improving the commission’s communication and outreach strategies. Our aim is to determine the best way to reach Pittsburghers with information about the commission’s work in language that is accessible to a wide range of residents. To start, I am auditing the commission’s current communications strategies, channels, and platforms to identify any challenges that may exist for people or groups attempting to access information about the GEC or services provided by the commission. My goal is to then develop new strategies for conveying information to a broader audience, using language more readily accessible to diverse Pittsburghers all across the city. In doing so, I must also consider how to implement these strategies efficiently and cost-effectively. This work draws directly on my training in linguistics, specifically, in cross-cultural communication. Cross-cultural communication not only includes communication among people of different cultures, but also communication across institutions and communities that have different linguistic norms. As such, this knowledge and training is helpful for determining best ways to reach members of communities whose communication styles may differ greatly from the linguistic norms of the GEC. This work also allows me to bring a humanistic perspective to the GEC’s communication strategies by increasing the number of people who can access and utilize GEC information and resources through the use of inclusive and accessible language.

While I aim to assist the GEC’s mission to, “achieve equity for women and girls in the City of Pittsburgh,” I believe that my time with the GEC will be mutually beneficial. Much of the work of the GEC is centered around creating data-driven, research-based policy that will benefit women and girls in Pittsburgh. Through my work with the GEC, I hope to learn ways to translate my research on race, gender, language, and the mass incarceration of Black Americans into policies that can transform the U.S. Criminal Justice and Education Systems. 

Dominique Branson
July 2021

Learn about all the Pitch Your Own Summer Immersive Fellows and Curated Immersive Summer Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.