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New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Mollie Charter


This semester, Fordham GSS welcomed our newest full-time faculty member to the school, Mollie Lazar Charter, Ph.D.! Welcome, Dr. Charter!

Charter will join us as a full-time faculty member of the online program. Her work includes utilizing survey research methods and mixed methods to examine topics related to women, gender, and families. Her dissertation work focused on better understanding whether and why MSW students considered themselves feminists with a focus on race and ethnicity as a predictive factor. More recently, Charter’s research has examined the role of doula care in potentially reducing birth disparities among mothers/birthing people of color, the effectiveness of infant mental health training among childcare workers, and statewide surveys that assessed the welfare of families during and post-pandemic. 

Charter has been teaching and advising students for several years, including online instruction. As an educator, she works to help students connect the relevance of educational content to their professional goals. Charter primarily teaches research courses.

Why did you want to be a social worker?

I double-majored in my undergrad in women’s studies and English literature. After school, I worked in a publications department and while that was a good job it wasn’t where my passion was. I started volunteering, and there was a center for people with serious mental illness where clients could take classes to earn their GEDs, learn computer programs, and so on. I loved volunteering there and a lot of the people I worked with were social workers. So I thought, this is what I want to do. I also took some classes around that time and my psychology class was one of the best, and it was taught by a social worker. 

I think my understanding of social work really developed and expanded because I hadn’t totally understood what a social worker does. I had this experience of thinking, wow, social workers teach classes, social workers help in these settings that are so helpful for people with serious mental illness, social workers do all these different things, and this is completely up my alley.

And how did you make the decision that you wanted to work in academia? What did that look like?

When I was in third grade, we wrote down what we wanted to do when we grew up and put it in a time capsule, and then open it when we were seniors. When I opened mine up, it said I wanted to be a teacher. So, I think that was always there.

When I reflect back on what I’ve been doing throughout my career, teaching has always often been a part of my life whether formally or in volunteer work. I’ve taught English in South Korea, I taught English to people with serious mental illness in Copenhagen, I’ve led writing groups — I think it’s just something I’m really drawn to. Then, when I was in my master’s degree program, one of my professors encouraged me to get my PhD and teach. That encouragement was pivotal for me and from then on following a path that would allow me to teach MSW students was a goal of mine.

One of the great things about coming to Fordham is I get to teach again. I had been in a research position prior to this, so I had some roles of leading and teaching with my colleagues, but not students. I’m so excited to be back to teaching because that’s just really where my passion is. 

And what was it about Fordham GSS that made you want to teach here?

Obviously, Fordham has an amazing reputation as being one of the best social work schools in the country. And when I was working on my MSW, I did my internships in Connecticut. From the time I started doing my internships, I was working with people who were interfacing with Fordham students—a lot of people who knew the Fordham program, and I would hear only positive things. It just seemed like there’s such an emphasis on education, and on making sure that students are given the support they need to succeed. That’s the environment I want to be in.

What are some of the things that you personally like to do in the classroom to prepare students for the workforce?

So I’m primarily a research professor and my focus is always relating research to what the students are doing outside of the classroom, and making sure our students understand in a very practical way why research matters to the work that they’re doing — from the time they meet a client and do assessments all through treatment and even afterwards. 

A lot of your research has focused on feminism and social workers as feminists. What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned so far from that research journey?

I hadn’t planned to major in women’s studies, but I took a class and it was eye opening for me. I learned so much about gender, women, equity, all sorts of things that I hadn’t understood previously. Then, eventually, I was introduced to social work, and there was this huge overlap in my mind in terms of activism and social justice—these standpoints that seem really similar to me. But I wasn’t sure whether social work students really saw themselves as feminists. 

I did my dissertation work around whether social work students consider themselves feminists. I ended up doing a smaller initial study, and then the larger dissertation study, and I learned quite a few things related to what will contribute to a person calling themselves feminists or not. One of the most interesting things I learned was that social work students in one study tended to support ideas around feminism; they supported that genders should have equality, that everyone should have the same choices, that kind of thing. But they didn’t really identify places where that wasn’t happening yet. 

So the pay gap is a good example, and having less women in politics. There are all these different ways in which statistically, women were not doing as well, but the social work students weren’t really identifying that. There may be a gap in the classroom where we can really start talking with students about, OK, we believe in gender equity, which is great — that’s definitely the first step. But what’s happening around us? And how can we start to address it? 

And why do you think the students in the study were missing that?

I think there’s a lot of reasons. As a result of the second wave of feminism, many women had a lot more opportunities. It may have felt almost final, like, we did it. I think that’s shifting, though. I think people are starting to really look around more and say, okay, that was great, but there’s a lot more ways in which we need to keep working, especially in relation to race and ethnicity. Many of the wins that happened as a result of the second wave of feminism did not bring about the same level of equity and change for women of color as it did for white women. And I think, for all women, there remains many ways in which women have not reached equity.

All of this to say, right now is an intriguing time to research gender and feminism. In the time that I have been looking at these topics we’ve had Hillary Clinton running for president, Trump becoming President, the #metoo movement, and now the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, all of which has had enormous implications for women. It’s a really interesting time to be looking at gender across a variety of areas.

You also have done research on doula care. Can you explain what that is?

Definitely. With doula care, the idea is that it’s a support for the mother/birthing person. There is someone who’s there prenatally, during the birth, and there’s someone there after the birth.  The concept of doula care is expanding and I think now there’s even end-of-life doula care. So it’s someone knowledgeable for support, comfort, talking through decisions, and that sort of thing, in this case related to having a baby.

We know that there are birth disparities among families of color compared to white families. And we’re seeing in the literature that doula care helps with birth outcomes across all races and ethnicities. So the question is, if doula care starts to be introduced to communities where we’re having more birth disparities, will these communities start to experience less disparity?

What is your favorite part of the research process?

My favorite part is interacting with stakeholders and communities and talking with them about what they want to know. I created a statewide survey for Connecticut parents, and in order to do that I spoke to a lot of parents about: What do you want to know? What would be helpful? How can the state help?

And with the doula project I did focus groups, and getting to talk with doulas about their experiences, it’s kind of like being a cog in a wheel of social change — getting to talk with these incredible people who are doing awesome things and being able to offer a way that I can help them advance what they’re trying to do. 

As an English Literature major, what’s one book everyone should read?

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your former self?

I would tell my younger self that you’re doing a good job. That’s something I really want to communicate to my students. I see you. I see that you’re trying to make the world a better place by engaging in a social work career, and it’s hard juggling education with the rest of the responsibilities of life, and you’re doing a good job. I respect and appreciate the process of going through an MSW. It’s impressive.

What’s one question you wish people would ask you?

So this is a little cheesy, but I wish people would ask me about my job! Honestly, I am so excited to be at Fordham. It’s such an easy answer, because people say to me, how’s your new job, and I’m like, it’s amazing. Everyone I’ve met so far has been so kind. It’s been the best process. I feel so supported.

What do you do in your free time?

I love yoga, so I try to do that as much as I can — and I write poetry poorly. And I’m okay with being a not good at it. I think there’s a lot of things in life that we really put pressure on ourselves to be really good at, and that’s one of the things I can do just and enjoy it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Having that teacher tell me in my MSW program that I should teach was a pretty pivotal moment. I had wanted to, but I didn’t know if I could.


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