One of the best parts of my academic experience at Oberlin has been the freedom to study topics and themes that excite me! Back in high school, I often had to write essays that had little relevance to my life, but that has never been the case in college. The research I’ve done while studying here, on topics like Lucy Stanton Day (the first black woman to graduate from Oberlin College) to H&M’s corporate social responsibility efforts and policies to the criminalization of disabled and queer mothers to anti-sexual assault activism by Latina janitors in California, has greatly enriched my life and helped me to learn more about the historical and contemporary contexts of subjects that interest me. This semester, I'm continuing that trend of exciting research. My two current projects have been some of the most fulfilling work I’ve done at Oberlin.
I had planned on doing an honors thesis for much of college, until I reached the second semester of my junior year and realized that I wanted to spend my senior year doing a variety of activities rather than writing a significant paper on one topic. So instead, I ended up doing (basically) TWO capstones this semester. For the uninitiated, a capstone is a culminating research project, usually done during senior year. Some departments, like Comparative American Studies, require their students to complete a capstone before graduating. Along with that capstone, I did a senior project in my other major, Cinema Studies, which – in my eyes – was more than challenging and engaging enough to deserve the title of “capstone,” though it’s not required for that major.
My Comparative American Studies capstone was completed within the context of an advanced-level seminar, taught by the wonderful Professor Shelley Lee. The semester is spent developing and writing an approximately twenty-page paper. My class met once a week to discuss our research, share writing strategies, discuss the field of American Studies, and offer peer-review comments to assigned partners. Lucky for me, my best friend and fellow blogger Hanne was in it too! After some thought, I decided to write my paper about motherhood, adoption, and Christian evangelicalism on Instagram. I used one influencer’s account to explore issues of transracial and transnational adoption, as well as histories of Christian missionaries and rhetorics of the “global orphan crisis.” I engaged with texts like Kathryn Joyce’s The Child Catchers, Safiya Umoja Noble and Brendesha M. Tynes’ The Intersectional Internet, and Laura Briggs’ Somebody’s Children, among others, as I crafted my analysis. It’s been a fulfilling process and especially exciting as a continued exploration of themes I began to consider in my all-time favorite class, The Anthropology of Good Intentions, from my sophomore year! I’ve also been able to bring in tools from my Media Ethnography class as I practice analyzing Instagram photos and captions.
Here’s a little taste of my writing, from the hook of my capstone:
"A man and a woman stand in the courtyard of an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hands clasped and eyes shut tightly, as if in prayer. The woman wears a neatly pressed black dress, her blonde hair falling just below her shoulders. It’s late January 2018, and something special is about to happen. After the couple – white Americans – have waited for a few moments, the orphanage’s caretakers bring out the children. Two young boys and a girl, dressed neatly, are guided into the couple’s waiting arms. Parents and children meet for the first time. The mother can’t stop smiling; her tears fall freely. It’s a moment they’ll never forget. Neither will over sixteen thousand others who follow every detail of this moment on Instagram."
While the completed capstone isn’t due until the end of finals this week, I’ve already presented my research to my class in our mini symposium. Doing so reminded me how much I love presenting! I love getting to bring my words and ideas off the page and into a shared space.
And then there's my Cinema Studies project! As I wrote above, my senior film isn’t technically a capstone. But in its scope and theme, I consider it to be my culminating project in Cinema Studies. The film, Baby Steps, is a personal narrative that combines animation, direct cinema (an experimental film technique I learned at Oberlin), and old footage. It’s an intimate film about gender identity, sexuality, and the younger self that I still carry inside me. I'm so thankful to my awesome professor Rian Brown-Orso for her guidance throughout the process. It’s been a very healing and intense and exciting and emotional piece to make. I can’t express how good it feels to get to do something like that as a project for school. Getting to spend my days editing and animating is one of the greatest blessings of my Oberlin career! I made a huge binder with pages and pages of notes and inspiration images to reference throughout the project, which I’ll continue to hold close long after the film is completely finished.
After Baby Steps shows in the final screenings of my Animation and Senior Projects classes, I’m planning to submit it to film festivals. The Day After, a film I made in a class last year with other Oberlin students, recently showed at two Ohio film festivals, the Columbus International Film and Video Festival and the Colony Short Film Festival! Work we make here absolutely makes it to audiences beyond Oberlin.
So there you have it: TWO capstones in just one semester. My two projects are quite different in form and scope, yet they discuss similar issues of gender and identity that are dear to me. I’m happy to be leaving Oberlin with two projects of this magnitude. In particular, I can’t wait to share my film with the world – keep your eyes peeled!
Song of the week: “Cuz I Love You,” by Lizzo (who performed at Oberlin last semester!). Perfect for dancing, driving, singing along, and sharing with someone you love.