For the first time in its history, the Peace and Justice Studies Association’s (PJSA) award for best paper went to two students this year — and they’re both Swarthmoreans.
The selection committee honored both Lucy Jones ’20, who explored the experiences of Central American migrant women on the U.S.-Mexico border for her thesis, and Vanessa Meng ’20, who examined the debates surrounding colonialism in contemporary Chinese-African relations.
The students, who graduated in May with high honors, were honored at PJSA’s annual meeting, held virtually in November.
For Jones, it was an opportunity to properly celebrate her thesis, “Resistance, Resilience, and Survival: Central American Refugee Women Across the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which she completed while in quarantine during the pandemic.
“It was a huge honor, and very exciting to have my work recognized and to be able to talk about it with peace scholars from around the country,” says Jones, who majored in peace & conflict studies at Swarthmore and is now a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Philadelphia.
For Meng, it was particularly rewarding to be recognized for her thesis, “The Middle Kingdom Dreams: Understanding and Reframing China-African Relations,” at what she considered a time of heightened hostility from the Western media toward her native China.
“I hoped to show that there is an opportunity for peace between the U.S. and China, because the values and ideas that I was taught at Swarthmore, specifically the American revolutionary dream from activists in the United States, are in fact aligned with the dream of the country I grew up in,” says Meng, who majored in peace & conflict studies and has been writing a children’s book on environmental science.
Both students expressed gratitude for the faculty and students of the Peace & Conflict Studies Program, citing its depth of collaboration and support. They follow PJSA thesis award winners from Swarthmore in 2013 and 2014.
“Research and writing are important in our program, so we are understandably thrilled when colleagues in our field recognize that our students are doing important and often cutting-edge work,” says Lee Smithey, professor and program coordinator. “Lucy and Vanessa exemplify student scholarship in peace & conflict studies.”
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06 advised both students on their thesis projects, and offered comments on their behalf at the awards ceremony.
“Lucy arrived in my office in August 2016 from Birmingham, Ala., where she was born and raised,” Atshan recalls. “In our very first meeting, she expressed palpable enthusiasm for peace & conflict studies, reflecting on her Irish heritage, and proved to be a brilliant student.”
Atshan says Meng joined the College community “with a very clear consciousness regarding peace and environmental justice, speaking eloquently about climate challenges she witnessed in her hometown of Beijing.”