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Inspired by Women: Cora Beeson’s research in Indonesia began with her Taiwanese Grandmother’s caretaker

Inspired by Women: Cora Beeson’s research in Indonesia began with her Taiwanese Grandmother’s caretaker

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Cora Beeson smiles will standing in front of a piece of Norwegian maritime art in front of PLU's university center. Beeson is wearing a dark green blazer, and is wearing a green necklace.

Image: Cora Beeson ’24 is a global studies major who recently presented research at the 2024 Human Development Conference at the University of Notre Dame. (Photo by Sy Bean/PLU)

April 15, 2024
By Lora Shinn
PLU Marketing & Communications Guest Writer

Global studies major Cora Beeson ’24 spent four months in Indonesia last spring for a study abroad semester. Little did she know the research she conducted there would lead to a presentation at the esteemed 2024 Human Development Conference at the University of Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies. 

The conference featured a weekend of panel sessions, during which student presenters shared findings with peers. The conference’s theme, “Power of the People: Uplifting Global Communities,” emphasized the idea of collaborating with communities rather than for communities. 

Dr. Mikhiela Sherrod, the director of US domestic programs for hunger relief organization Oxfam America, was both the conference’s keynote speaker and the moderator for Beeson’s panel. The panel on female empowerment in organizations brought Beeson together with students who compared modern women’s cooperatives and researched girls’ education in Kenya.

“It was rewarding to be part of this conference,” Beeson says. “I had the opportunity for my research to be acknowledged on this scale.”

Beeson’s research paper, “The Unacknowledged and Underfunded Fight for Women’s Empowerment in Indonesia,” covers her research and interviews on domestic violence, sexual assault, and abortion within Yogyakarta, Indonesia. While researching, she also interned at a women’s interfaith organization through the School for International Training (SIT) study abroad program.

The Person Behind the Project

Beeson is an experienced traveler, having spent most of her summers with family in Taiwan. Beeson formed a bond with an Indonesian woman she met in Taiwan named Watini who was her grandmother’s caretaker for eight years.  

“I felt closer to her than my other family,” Beeson says. “We both bonded over trying to learn Mandarin. Watini’s story inspired me. She had to leave her whole family to fund healthcare for both parents, who had cancer. Unfortunately, she lost both parents before her contract was up and before she could go home.”

 As an adult, knowing Watini made Beeson more aware of migrant workers forced to leave their families to seek work and money. Often, these demands can lead to human trafficking, sexual assault, and violence against women, she says.  

While in Indonesia during her study abroad semester, Beeson took an 8-hour ride-share journey to visit Watini and meet her family. “It was truly a full circle moment for me, seeing her again, six years later,” Beeson says.

Beeson wanted to learn more about issues that affected women like Watini. Beeson interviewed representatives from five organizations, including ones that worked on sexual assault, domestic violence, and discreet provision of abortion resources and access. In Indonesia, abortion is a controversial, illegal procedure except in specific cases, such as rape or extreme medical emergencies.

“Even if I didn’t agree with someone, I tried not to judge, because I know my environment influences me,” she says. “I would stay silent about my opinion unless asked, because I wanted them to talk freely and feel comfortable. There was always something I could learn from their perspective.”

 Upon her return, Beeson’s decided to apply to the Human Development Conference. She also plans to apply for and present at undergraduate research showcases at PLU and in Tacoma.

Finding Support at PLU

Beeson chose PLU after visiting for the Presidential Scholarship Weekend—and being awarded the Harstad Founder’s Scholarship.

“The people I’ve met at PLU have inspired me to do well in multiple areas, because it’s possible to do many things at once,” she notes—including a roommate who excels in environmental studies, chemistry, and piano. Over the past four years, Beeson’s interests have included orchestra, dance, photography and art.

During her time at PLU, Beeson maintained several leadership positions, including social justice director of the Associated Students of PLU and a Rieke Scholar. She was able to explore her passion for language learning and international experiences by studying in Trinidad and Tobago and interning in community social services for her 2024 J-term.

After graduation, Beeson plans to apply for a Critical Language Scholarship and return to Indonesia, and apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research in Taiwan. She’s also considering living in Taiwan to continue school or start post-grad employment.

“I learned to be observant of my own positionality, how my perspective was formed,” she says. “I’m open to learning when going into a space versus stating what I think. My intention with my research was to center learning from Indonesian women and organizations already doing the work, to listen and learn from other cultures versus coming in with my own biases and influences.”