Oberlin Blogs

Honors Theses and Senior Symposium Presentations

May 9, 2018

Lilah Drafts-Johnson ’18

My blog posts have been scarce lately, so it seemed fitting that I use a blog post to explain my reason for that. This past week, I completed the defense and presentation of my honors thesis, entitled “The Language of Sport: Understanding Chile and chilenidad through Marathon Races and Fútbol Games.” It was an amazing, if at times arduous, process to write an honors thesis, and I am so grateful for the support that allowed me to do so. I thought my reflections on the process might be interesting for both prospective and current students who are wondering how the work they do through their time at Oberlin can culminate into one big project.  

In the last semester or year for Oberlin students, most students have to complete a capstone, final project, or thesis in order to finish their degree. This varies from major to major. For my Politics major, I had to take an upper-level seminar class, which entailed writing a large research-based paper between fifteen and twenty pages. For my Latin American Studies major, I had the option of writing a capstone paper, which is typically a fifteen- to twenty-five-page paper that expands upon the work done for an upper-level Latin American Studies course, or an honors thesis. The honors thesis option is a slightly more intensive process, and also varies within departments. I had to write a proposal for my project idea, receive approval from the Latin American Studies committee, and secure a faculty sponsor who would mentor me throughout the research and writing process.

I opted to write a thesis, and was sponsored by Yago Colás, an Oberlin professor in the English department whose work is centered around sports and cultural studies. As my project revolved around sport in Chile, we made a good professor-student pair. It is astounding how much my project changed from the proposal I wrote in late August to the paper I finished in late April. I had imagined my project being focused on sport policy in Chile and understanding how the government’s support or lack thereof within specific sports affected everyday access to certain sports, as well as the ability of elite athletes to succeed at an international and professional level. I ended up taking a cultural studies approach to the project, using sport as a tool to understand specific moments in Chilean history where sports or sporting symbols were used to represent larger ideas.

One of my favorite parts of this process was getting to work so closely with my advisor, Yago. The kind of mentorship I received through writing an honors thesis is indicative of what makes Oberlin so special as an undergrad-only, small liberal arts college. He was able to dedicate time to read each of my drafts, and sought to better understand me as both a student and as a person, in order to inform his work as my advisor. This experience also allowed me a small taste of what graduate school could be like, intensively researching and writing, and staying passionate about a project for an extended period of time.

On Friday, Oberlin hosted its annual Senior Symposium, which is a time where senior students can present research they have been working on during their time at Oberlin. There were some students who presented their honors or capstone research, and others who presented on personal research that they had undertaken through a private reading or during an internship or job over winter term or the summer. One of my friends presented on her involvement in the Oberlin community, and how she was able to connect her academic studies to her practical experience as a mentor for young dance students in the town of Oberlin and her work organizing a theater program at the Grafton Reintegration Center.  Another classmate presented on restorative justice, which drew upon her experience at various restorative justice organizations, research done over an independent Winter Term, and the ExCo she had developed on the topic. My fellow blogger, Brian Cabral, presented his honors thesis, “Testing and Disciplining Young Men of Color in Urban Public Schools,” which was founded from research he had done as a Mellon Mays fellow. I also saw an amazing presentation about mental health at Oberlin, done by a Psych and Sociology major who had surveyed and interviewed students at Oberlin about their experience with mental health in college.

The Senior Symposium gave me the opportunity to invite friends, teammates, professors, coaches, administration, and staff that I had worked closely with to my presentation. It was such a special moment to share my project - which has taken up a lot of my time, energy, and passion this year - with them. I spent most of Friday listening to other senior presentations, and I was blown away by the work and thought that my fellow classmates had put into their projects. I know that the work ethic and success that I saw on Friday doesn’t end at commencement, and I am so excited to see where the class of 2018 goes.

Responses to this Entry

I found this post by pure coincidence. I do not study at Oberlin nor Latin American Studies, I just googled the term chilenidad and this link caught my attention since is not a Chilean website (I am Chilean). Your approach to this term is really good, here is said that sports bring out the Chilean passion, in particular when it comes to football or tennis.

Posted by: Carolina Reyes on November 5, 2018 12:57 PM

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