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Swarthmore Hosts Aspiring Academics of Color at Mellon Mays Conference

Jayanti Owens '06 and Sa'ed Atshan '06

Jayanti Owens ’06 (left), a professor at Brown University, will speak at the conference, organized by Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06. Both are MMUF alums.

Jayanti Owens ’06 credits the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program with playing a “defining role” in her Swarthmore experience and in her decision to pursue graduate school.

Now the Mary Tefft and John Hazen White, Sr. Assistant Professor of Sociology and International & Public Affairs at Brown University, Owens is returning to Swarthmore to share insights from that journey when she gives the first keynote address at this year’s MMUF Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference this weekend. About 80 people are expected to attend the event from Swarthmore as well as Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Cornell, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania.

“I will be talking about pulling back the curtain on graduate school applications and navigating the ‘hidden curriculum’ for success in graduate school,” says Owens, who graduated from Swarthmore with honors in political science and educational policy. “My hope is that by sharing both my personal experiences and the evidence base of social science research around the unique challenges faced by many students and faculty of color in the academy, students will leave with some strategies and a larger sense of some of the factors they might think about as they set out on their own journeys.”

Swarthmore is one of eight founding members of the MMUF Program, which primarily aims to increase diversity in the faculty of institutions of higher learning. In the program’s more than 30-year history at Swarthmore, nearly 150 students have graduated as MMUF Fellows. Of them, 47 have earned doctorates or are in the process of doing so, in addition to those who have earned law or medical degrees. 

“The conference is a wonderful opportunity for students, faculty, and staff who care about the MMUF program in our region to connect,” says conference organizer and Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06. “The student presentations are the heart of the conference, where the fellows will be able to showcase their excellent research and to engage in dialogue and intellectual exchange with each other.”

In addition to the support that she received to conduct original research and to attend intensive writing retreats to complete her dissertation, Owens cites the program's fostering of lifelong friendships with peers and mentors that supported her journey through graduate school and beyond. She also credits Swarthmore’s first MMUF coordinator, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot Professor Emeritus of English Literature Chuck James, with providing unfailing support and advocacy. “I will be forever grateful to him,” she says, “and to MMUF and all the colleagues and friends I have formed through its network.” 

Atshan, also an MMUF alum, is now in his first year as coordinator of Swarthmore’s program. “This is a tremendous honor and such a dream come true,” he says. “I would not be here today if it was not for Swarthmore and the MMUF program, and I feel that this is my moral responsibility to give back for this rising generation.”

To learn about Swarthmore’s commitment to access and inclusion, visit lifechanging.swarthmore.edu.

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