Cassidy Gray talks women’s poverty, research and becoming a McNair Scholar

Cassidy Gray talks women’s poverty, research and becoming a McNair Scholar

McNair scholar and senior international business major Cassidy Gray recently presented her research on how women in Guatemala are suffering from a lack of economic growth.

Courtesy of Cassidy Gray

For one Lee student, the desire to lend a helping hand to fight poverty in Guatemala hasn't led to significant change, and she set out to find out why.

As a McNair scholar, senior international business major Cassidy Gray researched women’s poverty in Guatemala, titling her report “The Failure in Implementation of Women’s Poverty Initiatives in Guatemala.” Gray said just as her title is a mouthful, so were her results.

“Guatemala sometimes has really good ideas on how to help women, and there are a lot of people who are trying to. However, sometimes it doesn’t work out, and I wanted to know exactly why,” Gray said. “In my research, I was basically trying to figure out why, in the past 10 to 20 years, women haven’t seen a big increase in their socioeconomic status even though so many people are trying to help.”

Initially, she said she expected to focus solely on business and economics. She worked with Professor of Business Administration Dr. Hermilio Jasso, who acted as her advisor throughout the project. He said his role was to guide Gray in her research, which turned out to span quite a broad topic.

“I was able to see Cassidy’s interest and how she put her whole being into the research,” Jasso said. “She’s a [broadly intellectual] young woman, so my goal was to help her narrow her focus.”

Gray said her findings turned out to be beyond what she had anticipated. According to Gray, numerous branches were involved in the issue of poverty: education, violence, health, laws and policies, and business and economics.

Gray said a lot of existing laws were aimed at creating solutions for these five aspects. The problem lies in implementation.

“When it comes to violence, especially, they have this problem called femicide. It’s where women are being killed solely for…the fact that they are women. It’s very gender-motivated, and it’s very brutal,” Gray said. “It’s been outlawed since 2008, and in ten years, they haven’t seen a lot of improvement in the rates of femicide. So that says that there is an implementation problem.”

Gray said she also found a language issue in the education and health programs. The programs were all in Spanish, a huge problem when the women in rural areas who needed healthcare and education did not always speak Spanish.

In terms of business and economics, an area on which Gray said she could most authoritatively speak, she said cash transfers are sometimes given to sponsor certain aspects of someone’s life and are often neglectful to parents’ needs.

“Cash transfers are where people just give the women money. Some are conditional, and a lot of it is like, ‘I’ll give you this money if it goes towards you feeding your children or if it goes towards putting your kids in school,’ which seems great, but it is neglectful to the parents in some people’s eyes,” Gray said.

According to Lee's McNair Scholars Program Coordinator and Gray’s McNair mentor Michaelia Black, Gray’s passion grew as she researched the issue and transferred into her presentation.

In New Mexico, Gray spoke to an audience of around 30 people. Black said the success of the presentation was marked by the engagement and excitement of the audience.

“While she was presenting with details and information, you could see her passion for the material and for the people. In her presentation, that passion came out, and as a result, the people who were in the audience had lots of questions,” Black said. “They actually had to stop her questions because people had so many, and she had great answers. She didn’t present all of her research, only a piece of it, and it left the audience wanting more.”

For Gray, this project presented some emotional challenges, as her passion drove her to want to fix the problem beyond researching it. Jasso said he encouraged her that continuing to foster an open discussion about the issue may bring about small changes by increasing awareness, since she can’t solve it on her own.

“This is not a problem that can be solved by one individual. The best brains in the world are trying to [resolve] this issue,” Jasso said. “However, she was able to create a dialogue.”

For more information about Gray's research, send her an email at To learn more about McNair scholars or to apply to become one, visit Lee's McNair Scholarship Program page.

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