Carrie Ann Johnson, interim coordinator of research and outreach for the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, has been awarded the 2023 Karas Award for Outstanding Dissertation from the Graduate College at Iowa State University for her dissertation, “Whisper Networks: Sexual Harassment Protection Through Informal Networks.”
The Karas Award recognizes excellence in doctoral research at Iowa State, with the two annual winners becoming Iowa State’s nominees to the national competition for the Council of Graduate Schools/University Microfilms International Distinguished Dissertation Award.
Johnson, who received her Ph.D. in rhetoric and professional communication from Iowa State in 2022, also earned the 2022 Iowa State Research Excellence Award for her dissertation. She has been the interim coordinator of research and outreach at the Catt Center since August 2022.
“Dr. Johnson’s work is pathbreaking. She gives voice to women’s experiences with sensitivity and insight,” said Karen M. Kedrowski, director of the Catt Center and one of the faculty members who wrote a letter of support for Johnson for the Karas Award.
Johnson’s dissertation examined whisper networks—informal channels that women use to warn others about sexual harassment, abuse or assault. For her research, Johnson conducted 20 in-depth interviews with women who used whisper networks. She found that the networks form because women’s experience has shown them that formal reporting systems are often ineffective in providing protection.
“I am so thankful for everyone who shared their story with me,” said Johnson. “It is an honor to witness their experiences.”
Stacy Tye-Williams, associate professor of English and Johnson’s dissertation supervisor, said, “The project addresses a very important issue in organizations in a unique way. It is the first that looks at how informal communication networks—whisper networks—are formed in organizations. Organizational members often don’t intervene when people report sexual harassment and so employees try to create spaces where they can warn others about perpetrators and try to keep them safe. It is an important topic that will have a big impact on the field.”
Johnson is continuing her research on whisper networks, including how well they serve LGBTQ women, women of color and women with disabilities and how they function in different organizational sectors such as universities, churches and workplaces.
Johnson was nominated for the Karas Award by Tye-Williams, with letters of support also written by Craig Rood, a member of her dissertation committee; Bethany Gray, the director of graduate education for the Department of English; and Kedrowski.
“I am thankful for my dissertation committee, especially Dr. Tye-Williams, who read everything multiple times and gave critical feedback and support,” said Johnson. “Most of all I am thankful for the support of my husband, kids and friends. No one completes a project like this without the help and support of others.”
Tye-Williams said, “Working with Carrie Ann was an extreme joy. It is very satisfying as an advisor when your students do meaningful work that you know will help make organizations and the world a better place.”