Alumna receives Utah Valley University Presidential Faculty Award

liz-debettaRecent Union doctoral graduate Liz DeBetta, Ph.D. (2020) has earned the Presidential Faculty Award at Utah Valley University, where she is a professor in the Department of English and Literature. Her creative-scholarly project, “Women’s Bodies, Rape Culture and the Need to Be Free: Art as Research” was recognized with an award that includes a monetary stipend.

“I am thrilled to have been selected to receive this honor and its funding. This work is timely and necessary, particularly since Utah has ranked as having the worst equality for women for more than three years and one in three women in the state will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime,” Dr. DeBetta said.

DeBetta earned her Union Ph.D. with a concentration in Humanities & Culture, and completed certificates in Women’s and Gender Studies/Creative Writing. Dr. DeBetta will be hooded during Union’s national commencement ceremony on July 25, 2021, joining almost 150 other Union graduates in Los Angeles.

“The Presidential Award is a testament to the work I did and the encouragement I received during my time at Union,” DeBetta said. “This project is an extension of work I started at Union in 2018, called ‘Me, She, They: Our Bodies Are Not the Problem.’ I also received the UI&U Toni A. Gregory Award for Interdisciplinary Research that year and a scholarship from the Virginia Ruehlmann Women in Union fellowship program.”

DeBetta reflected on the catalyst for her research.

“In 2017, a student told me she had not been turning in her work or coming to class because she had been raped and had not told anyone. I was deeply disturbed and began to write about it and ‘Me, She, They: Our Bodies Are Not the Problem’ was born,” DeBetta recalls. “The research, grounded in feminist theory and validated at Union, gave me a voice to have conversations with and about women and explore why we continue to suffer from these problems.”

Women on campus tell DeBetta no one is listening.

“Most women don’t come forward. I recently held a Zoom meeting on this topic and 80 attended. My goal with the award is to create a public performance so people in this region can begin a conversation and discussion about cultural and gender-based violence, toxic masculinity, and adherence to stereotypical gender roles that leads to young marriage age. When people start to think differently and view women differently, transformation can begin. Legislative change happens when people are educated and demand action.”

This fall that public performance will begin to materialize as she puts out the call for stories that will eventually become the script.

DeBetta has long combined her passion for performance-based poetry and narrative writing for healing and social change from a feminist perspective. In addition to teaching, she serves as a writing and performance mentor for Act Risk No More, a Utah-based non-profit theatre group whose mission is to write and perform poetry and prose poetry to create socially conscious theatre that tells true stories and sheds light on issues like depression, anxiety, domestic violence, sexual identity, inclusion, loneliness, anger, and abuse. The stories told are stories of survival and hope.

DeBetta is also a member of Actor’s Equity and SAG-AFTRA.

She is also interested in the fields of adoption and feminism and their intersectionality. Through her research, she is investigating the culture of adoption through the lenses of feminist theory and reproductive justice by interrogating the impact societal norms and values have on first mothers and the children they surrendered as a means of shifting dominant narratives that typically ignore the lifelong repercussions of trauma. As an adoptee herself, she draws upon her personal experience to critically assess the existing, but small amount, of literature that discusses the link between adoption and feminism. Through this exploration, she aims to reveal inequities in adoption due to social constructs about women and families.

In addition to her Union Ph.D., DeBetta holds an M.A. in English from the City University of New York (College of Staten Island), and a B.A. in Theatre/Speech from Wagner College.


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