Kate Lee: Researching romance

OCC student Kate Lee was inspired to combine her hobby of reading romance novels and her political science major in her research project.  

Romance novels and political science may not seem like they go hand in hand, but Orange Coast College student Kate Lee has taken this intersection of her life and turned it into a detailed research project. 

Lee is participating in the first in-person  OCC Giles T. Brown Student Project and Research Symposium since the pandemic. The event will be showcasing OCC student projects in the form of posters, oral presentations and exhibitions. The Research Symposium will take place on April 22 on the third floor of the College Center from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 

Lee first heard about the symposium when a professor sent out an announcement last semester. She is currently a freshman political science major in the Honors Program and was looking for something to bolster her resume. 

“I thought, ‘this is really interesting and I know that it'll help me stand out on my transfer application,’” Lee said. “It sounded like something that I would be able to achieve.”  

Lee reads romance novels in her free time and decided to turn her passion into a research project on the stigmatization of romance novel readers. Specifically, she worked to discover if this stigmatization exists among college students.  

“I really do enjoy romance novels, but I actually want to go into publishing and work at a publishing company as a contract lawyer,” Lee said. “So I thought that was kind of funny, because they don’t necessarily connect, but I guess they do.” 

Lee sent out a survey during winter break to students asking about their perception of romance novels and the people that read them. 

“I actually had to expedite my work because I had the UCI presentation, which was last month,” Lee said. “The UCI conference was specifically for the Honors Program.” 

The UC Irvine conference was virtual, but it gave Lee a good feel for presenting in front of an audience. 

“We did a Q&A. The evaluators asked you questions and that part was actually a lot harder than I expected,” Lee said. “They asked very probing questions that made me think outside the box.” 

Lee’s project for the OCC Research Symposium will be a poster presentation for smaller audience groups.  

“I actually had a rehearsal with my mentor, and it was the first time I had presented to a group of people,” Lee said. “I did not expect myself to be that nervous. My mentor reassured me a lot that people are just going to be there to ask what the project is about.” 

Lee pitched her topic to her mentor, OCC Dean of Kinesiology and Athletics Michael Sutliff, in a breakout session and they have worked on it together ever since. 

“He has been really supportive of this project. I definitely could not have done this without him,” Lee said. “He's given me so much guidance. And because he's done so many research projects himself, he gave me a lot of personal tips that he had.”

From Lee’s research, she found that a lot of romance readers thought that they were more stigmatized than they actually are. It caught the attention of survey takers who were unaware of the issue. 

“If you're not a reader in general, you don't think about these things,” Lee said. “But if you were to be in a situation where you saw someone at a coffee shop reading "50 Shades of Gray," you might go ‘that person’s weird.’”

Additionally, Lee wanted to discover if men stigmatized romance novels more than women. 

“A lot of the men in the survey said that if they saw someone reading a book on the street, they didn’t notice them,” Lee said. “Or they hadn't heard of the issue because they don't know anyone that reads.” 

Not only did Lee find the information she learned eye-opening, but the process itself was interesting. 

“Before this, I didn't know what scholarly articles were,” Lee said. “it made me see that there are actually a lot of scholarly articles out there on everything. I was really surprised and impressed by that.” 

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