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Ecampus student conducts research with faculty to change the future of childbirth

A side profile of Oregon State Ecampus student Victoria Keenan, who studies anthropology and women, gender and sexuality studies online. She sits at a desk with her hands placed on the keyboard of a small, black laptop.

By Julie Cooper

Victoria Keenan found her dream degree program where she least expected. Now, she is willing to go to great lengths to bring about the future she knows is possible.

Victoria knew she wanted to pursue a college education but felt the options near her home in Cambridgeshire, England, were restrictive. While she considered the path ahead of her, she moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with her family. There, she found her passion in the pages of an autobiography.

“I was reading an autobiography of a lady named Sheila Kitzinger. She was quite well-known in the birth world, which is my profession,” Victoria says. “She was talking about her work, and I didn’t actually realize what her job was until I read this book. She was an anthropologist.”

When the book signaled a connection between anthropology and natural childbirth, Victoria knew it was the missing link she had been looking for in her education.

With the newly discovered path in mind, she enrolled online with Oregon State University Ecampus – a national leader in online education – in the anthropology bachelor’s program with a minor in women, gender and sexuality studies.

Victoria and her family walk on the Oregon State University Corvallis campus. She and her husband each carry one of their two children on their back as they face one another smiling.

Victoria Keenan traveled with her family to Oregon State’s Corvallis campus, where she earned internship credits toward her degree through a research project and gained focus in her career goals.

It’s just one stride toward an even greater dream: She plans to earn a Ph.D. and work directly with doulas (professionals who assist mothers during labor and after childbirth), birthing educators, midwives and obstetricians to conduct research that lends evidence to their traditional birthing knowledge and practices.

“I want to figure out what the biggest issues are that are causing unnecessary harms, and then I want to find a way to avoid those harms,” says Victoria, who is a mother, doula, prenatal teacher and reflexologist.

For Victoria, the route to better care involves a feminist approach to birth work, which she informs with her complementary fields of study.

“So often, I’m able to refer to things in an Ecampus anthropology class that I learned about in women’s studies classes,” she says. “I find that whatever class I’m in, there will be some analysis or discussion that I can’t help relating to my experiences as a birth worker.

“I end up connecting all of these things, and I think that will enable me to be a better birth worker – having that insight I wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

Pairing traditional knowledge with a cutting-edge education

Victoria knew an online degree program in anthropology would allow her the flexibility to care for her children and travel with her family. She considered course content, platforms for delivery and university reputations in her decision, but what stood out most for Victoria was seeing her interests represented in Oregon State’s faculty.

Oregon State anthropology associate professor Missy Cheyney, a licensed midwife and medical anthropologist, represented the possibilities for Victoria’s future that she had been unable to find in any other university.

Victoria sits in conversation with mentor Missy Cheyney at a desk in Missy's office. Book shelves are visible on the walls. In the forefront, Missy faces the laptop on the desk. In the background, Victoria faces Missy with a notebook spread open in front of her and a pencil in one hand.

“No one in my family went to university, so I wanted to have someone there that could show me the ropes and help me understand it,” says Victoria, pictured here with internship mentor Missy Cheyney.

“I saw that Missy was involved in research – she wasn’t just a teacher, she was doing it,” says Victoria. “Having someone I can look up to, follow her work and learn from her so specifically to what I’m interested in, that’s massively helpful.”

This connection has helped Victoria put her research career on a fast track. She has eagerly begun to put knowledge into practice through internship opportunities on the Oregon State campus, despite the distance.

Although there’s no requirement to do so in her degree program, Victoria has been fortunate to have already visited OSU’s Corvallis campus twice, and plans to do so each summer until she graduates. In the summer of 2017, she traveled to Corvallis with her entire family to engage in research under Missy’s guidance.

She spent her summer conducting interviews about birth experiences for an updated version of the book “Birth as an American Rite of Passage,” originally published in 1992 by Robbie Davis-Floyd.

“Every story was different, yet reflected what I have experienced as a mother and professionally as a doula,” Victoria says. “I gained focus, direction and confidence through working in research. The internship really cemented that research is what I want to be doing.”

Knowing she has a long road ahead motivates Victoria to invest time and travel to make the most of her education. In the meantime, she is hard at work, joining a legacy of inspiring and empowered women who are paving the way.

Editor’s note: Victoria completed her anthropology bachelor’s degree requirements online and graduated from Oregon State University in spring 2021.

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