Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows
Niamba Baskerville is a Sociology & Anthropology major and Psychology minor from Baltimore, Maryland. She is currently working on a thesis in which she investigate the ways in which the controlling images of black women in the media inform audiences’ perceptions of the newly popular dance form of “twerking”. Her goal is to explore how the intersections of race, gender, and class impact representations in media; how these representations become embodied; and how they affect the construction and performance of “black female” identity. Her thesis is a continuation of some of her earlier work on representations of black women in film and the influence of hip hop culture’s “ideal” black female body on black women’s construction of their bodies. She will consult thesis advisor and chair of Swarthmore’s Department of Sociology & Anthropology Professor Sarah Willie-LeBreton, as well as her Mellon mentor Farha Ghannam Associate Professor of Anthropology. Some of her other academic interests include African-derived and African-American religions, as well as gender and sexuality studies. As a Writing Associate, she enjoys working with other students on how to improve their writing. And as a Dare to Soar mentor, she enjoys spending time with young people to motivate and inspire them as they do her. She lives by the following quote from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf: “Ever since I realized there was someone called a colored girl, or an evil woman, a bitch, or a nag, I've been trying not to be that, and leave bitterness in someone else's cup.” Realizing that women of color are constantly inundated with images and narratives that suggest that they are angry, promiscuous, irresponsible, incapable, and/or incompetent, Niamba aspires not only to avoid being cast as such, but also to challenge these assumptions more broadly.
Niamba is currently pursuing her PhD in African American Studies at Northwestern University.
Mame Bonsu is an English Literature Major and French and Francophone Studies Minor from Lewiston, ME. The intersectionality of the English Literature Department at Swarthmore College has engaged her interest in the relevance of literature to societal matters. This summer she read works by author Toni Morrison with a focus on Morrison’s exploration of racial conceptions of beauty and their impact on identity in African-American women. This fall she will extend her research to include black feminist critiques on Morrison as well as the psychoanalytic texts which inform such critiques. Under the mentorship of Professor Bakirathi Mani, Mame will examine the impact of the predominant gaze on black female subjectivity in the novels The Bluest Eye and Jazz.
Paul Cato is currently pursuing his PhD in Social Thought at the University of Chicago.
Paola Mero ’14 is majoring in Sociology and Anthropology with minors in Black Studies and Latin American Studies. Under the guidance of Juan Garcia Salaazar, considered to be the father of the black movement in Ecuador, she began the investigation for her thesis this summer by collecting life testimonies from twenty women leaders in the afro Ecuadorian community in the province of Esmeraldas. The leaders in her study live in peripheral urban areas outside of the city of Esmeraldas and in ancestral lands in the northeastern region of the province on the Ecuadorian-Colombian border. Their voices offer a powerful narrative of resistance to colonial and patriarchal structures in the land they call their own but has historically marginalized and excluded them. The final work will aim to provide insight into how these women are using their work to sustain a cultural space within a larger society and how they have organized other women towards collective action to address their community’s needs, on their own terms. Some of their unique roles include: curanderas (natural healers), parteras (midwives), decimeras (writers of traditional poetry), marimberas (dancers of marimba music), cantoras (singers), political activists, etc. This study will look at the process of identity formation among these leaders with careful attention to afro Ecuadorian oral traditions and the transmission of ancestral knowledge in traditional practices such as natural healing and midwifery. Her thesis advisor is professor Stephen Viscelli, and she will be embarking on her path towards a Ph.D under the mentorship of professor Sarah Willie-LeBreton.
Paola was raised in Esmeraldas and is eager to find ways to combine her academic interests with her activist work to find solutions for some of the most pressing problems faced by her community. Aside from her thesis investigation, she spent this summer working with a group of youth leaders and local artists in the city to paint a community mural that brings visibility to the maroon leaders embedded in afro Ecuadorian history and collective memory. This was a part of her nonprofit initiative, Proyecto DESPERTAR (“despertar” means to awaken) which she started in 2012 with support from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and the Swarthmore Foundation. Proyecto DESPERTAR is an arts-based initiative that intersects social justice, community building, and popular education through the vision and experiences of the city's emerging youth leaders.
Paola is currently pursuing her MS in Medical Anthropology at the University of Oxford.
Eleanor Pratt is a Sociology & Anthropology major and Latin American studies minor from Groton, New York. She has been researching the mass migration of Ecuadorian women to Spain to work as caregivers. She is interested in the global political economy of care and its intersections with migration and gender inequality. She is also concerned with the precariousness of care work, as it reflects a global inequality that requires poor countries like Ecuador to export labor in order to receive remittances from abroad. Her fieldwork, conducted in Ecuador during fall 2012, and Spain in spring 2013, examines the dynamics of transnational families by studying remittance sending, virtual communication, and family reunification. In short, she seeks to understand how the global care crisis (a worldwide shortage of “care labor”) affects migrant domestic workers and their families. Her other academic interests include feminist theory, immigration, critical race theory, identity formation, and inequality.
Janelle Viera is a Sociology & Anthropology major from Queens, New York. During her sophomore year, she was the community overseer of Enlace, Swarthmore’s Latina/o organization. She also participated in Dare2Soar, Swarthmore’s youth mentoring program for elementary school children. Her research interests, which include issues concerning race and ethnicity, social stratification, residential segregation, educational inequality, and immigration in the U.S., emerged through these activities as she learned about the country’s structural inadequacies. During the Spring of 2013, she participated in a Spanish immersion program in Madrid where she studied the history and culture of Spain. This opportunity led to an increased international understanding of social class. This past summer, Janelle participated in the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) where she created a profile of Puerto Rican middle-class communities in Central Florida. She will continue this research for her senior thesis, exploring how the most recent economic recession may have affected homeownership rates for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida under the guidance of Professor Sarah Willie-LeBreton.
Janelle is currently pursuing her PhD in Sociology at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.
Trish Zarate is a Biology major and Environmental Studies minor from Boise, ID. With her Mellon Mays mentor, she has researched the effects of invasive species on nutrient cycling in the Crum Woods, focusing on how Acer platanoides (Norway maple) and Alliaria petiolata (Garlic mustard) alter soil dynamics such as nutrient concentration, soil respiration, and decomposition rates. In addition, Trish is interested in studying identity formation processes and narratives of individuals with mixed racial/ethnic backgrounds. She explores common and contrasting experiential themes and is curious about how intersecting identities (such as gender, disability, sexuality, religion, etc.) inform and nuance identity.