Minh-Duyen Nguyen '13 and Javier Perez '13 are recipients of Watson Fellowships for the 2013-14 academic year. The Watson Fellowship provides $25,000 for a full year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Begun in 1968, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program identifies prospective leaders in education and world affairs. Nguyen and Perez are two of just 40 college seniors in the country to receive this honor.
Nguyen's Watson project is entitled "Beyond Generalizations: The Personal Narrative Histories of Sex Workers." She will spend her fellowship year searching for and recording the personal narratives of sex workers in Japan, India, South Africa, and New Zealand. "Prostitution has been historically understood through the lens of degradation and exploitation," says Nguyen, a political science and biology major from Wichita, Kan. "However, the sex worker defies socio-economic, cultural, and temporal boundaries. The stories people tell allow them to situate their internal identities within their external environment and reveal their desires, beliefs and needs. Through listening to narratives, I seek to explore how sex workers conceptualize their work and structure their identity within the contexts of their personal histories, communities, and future goals."
Nguyen began fundraising and increasing awareness of sex trafficking at 12 years old. In 2010, she worked with sex workers while interning for a micro-loan organization in Cambodia and currently serves on the organization's board. She explored her passion on women's issues through two research assistantships on women's political history. Nguyen has also conducted research in stem cell and plant biology labs and presently performs interpartner violence research for a Vietnamese NGO in Philadelphia. At Swarthmore, she is a Philip Evans, Gates Millennium, and Questbridge Scholar.
Perez's project is entitled "Echoes from the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline: A Poetic Immersion into the Criminalization of Youth." He will travel to El Salvador, Brazil, and South Africa, chronicling the stories of youth through spoken word and written poetry, "so as to echo the muffled voices of these silenced populations," he says. "There are now over 10 million people in prisons worldwide, most of whom come from marginalized communities that lack adequate educational opportunities and economic resources. Many underserved youths, in particular, funnel through education inequities and a lack of safety nets into prisons without ever having their narratives heard."
Perez is an honors political science major with minors in philosophy and public policy from Arlington, Va. He is co-founder of Swarthmore's spoken word collective OASIS - Our Art Spoken in Soul. He has been active in a number of student groups, including Achieving Black and Latino Leaders of Excellence and Prisoners Advocacy Coalition, as well as mentoring initiatives including Project Blueprint, Male Achievers Program, and Dare2Soar. He also worked one summer for the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign at the Economic Policy Institute.