Political Science

Kristen Essel

Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science
Rm 319/Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs - 111 Thayer Street
Areas of Expertise American Politics, Gender and Politics
Office Hours Wednesdays 12:30pm-2:00pm


Kristen Essel earned her doctorate in American Politics at Brown University. Her research analyzes how gender-based, online social movements influence policy and legislative outcomes. She specifically focuses on how shared gender identities influence legislators' responses to hashtag movements. She pays specific attention to the representation of women with intersecting identities by both the movement and political elites.

Kristen’s dissertation explores how members of Congress responded to the #MeToo movement, resulting in anti-sexual assault and harassment legislation. Her work provides a model for how a nebulous, online movement for a weakly-linked social group may result in various legislative provisions that benefit a movement's members. Her work further sheds light on how congresswomen's rhetorical and legislative strategies changed in light of the movement. She finds that (co-)sponsorship of #MeToo legislation increased from 2015-2020. She also finds that increasing the number of women (especially women of color) elected to Congress was a prerequisite for #MeToo to produce anti-assault and harassment policies. Kristen also has several papers out for review that expand upon social dynamics seen during the #MeToo movement. One work analyzes voters' response to female candidates who express anger toward sexual assault & harassment. Another analyzes the potential for online-based empathy to influence opinions on abortion.

Before attending Brown, Kristen was a Teach for America corps member, teaching social studies for four different grade levels, including 11th grade Government and Economics. As an instructor, she works to ensure students build the skills and mindsets necessary to succeed in their chosen career path. She works to ensure that her students understand the various ways that government effects their lives and are equipped with the tools necessary to navigate today's polarized political environment. Kristen uses her previous teaching experience to inform her course sequence, classroom culture, and assessment styles to ensure that all students are able to succeed. She has had the pleasure to teach as an adjunct instructor at Connecticut College and will be teaching as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Brown University during the 2023-2024 academic year.

Job Market Paper Title

Representing a Movement: Congressional Sponsorship of #MeToo Legislation from 2015 to 2020

Job Market Paper Abstract

A record number of women were elected to Congress following the 2018 election and 2017 #MeToo movement. While there are demonstrable benefits in electing more women to office, did this increase in descriptive representation also lead to an increase in substantive representation of the policy interests of the #MeToo movement? A review of social movement and gender and elections literature suggests that the hashtag movement may not have been strong enough to incentivize representatives to sponsor anti-assault and harassment legislation. Yet, this issue was salient enough to help elect women in 2018. Using an original data set and typology for classifying the various ways in which legislative text can represent the policy goals of a movement, I utilize a regression analysis of House members’ sponsorship and co-sponsorship of legislation from 2015-2020. The results of this paper demonstrate that sponsorship of movement legislation increased following the #MeToo movement and the type of legislation sponsored was dependent on partisan control of the House chamber. I find that age,partisanship, sex, and non-White identity are significant predictors for which legislators are most likely to sponsor #MeToo legislation.