Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Images, articles, and conversations about the importance of college-aged women being in relationships have bombarded Michelle Railsback ’05 (Harvard, Mass.) throughout her college career. But isolating the source of this pressure has eluded her.

Railsback, an anthropology and sociology major, decided to identify why college-aged women feel they must be in a relationship and what happens when they are not through a yearlong honors thesis project.

“The idea of the societal pressure and the concept of social loneliness became apparent when I started looking at magazines and taking to people,” Railsback says. “There is this external pressure, but there is no way to pinpoint it. We live in a couples society; if you are a woman and you live alone, people attach weighted stigmas to you.”

Railsback remembers talking to her family about a middle-aged friend who happened to be single.

“My whole family thought there was something wrong with her,” she says. “That hit the nail on the head. Why are we so inclined to think that there’s something wrong with someone if they don’t want to be in a long-term relationship?”

The paper will also discuss loneliness.

“Not finding a partner or getting married equates to a decrease in individual and cultural worth because of the value placed on being in a relationship,” she explains.

To develop her research, Railsback is conducting several focus groups, the first of which has provided interesting results.

“Group members said there is pressure [to be in a relationship] but since they are in college, it isn’t as great as in other age groups,” she says.

David Shulman, associate professor of anthropology and sociology and adviser to Railsback, says her research is quite valuable.

“This is something people have never gone out and researched and that is actually a big contribution,” he says.

Railsback agrees.

“My goal is to open people’s eyes to it,” she says. “Not to change [their perception], but to let women know that the pressure to be in a relationship and find a husband is something that society puts on them.”

Railsback hopes her research reinforces the idea that being in a relationship will not guarantee happiness and that women need to find inner happiness before committing to a long-term relationship.

Her observation of the world and creativity will take her a long way in completing successful research, Shulman says.

“She is shaping the curriculum because she’s learning how to develop a good question and how to answer it, and this will serve her for the rest of her life,” he adds.

“This work is about making connections I didn’t even know existed. I love thinking outside the box and trying to come up with conclusions on my own,” Railsback says.

She volunteers at the Lehigh Valley Child Care center and serves as a Lafayette tour guide. She has participated in the College Choir and peer-tutoring program. During her sophomore year, she presented research at the Eastern Sociological Conference based on work completed for a Contemporary American Society class with Shulman. For another course, she helped produce a short documentary on the relationship between Lafayette College and its home city.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at last year’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News