Undergraduate Research

Stephanie Celina Shugert '23

OUR Featured Researcher: Stephanie Celina Shugert '25

Photo Credit: Jacob Strauss
Photo credit: Jacob Strauss

Stephanie Celina Shugert (she/her) is majoring in Comparative American Studies & Latin American Studies. She is conducting mentored research under Professor Pablo Mitchell. Her project is titled “In the Eyes of the Beholder: The Radicalization of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Latine Spaces".

Please describe your project: 

My research project studies the political, social, and cultural impact La Virgen de Guadalupe has had in Latine spaces in the US. It is inspired by my experiences growing up in a Catholic Mexican family in East Los Angeles, California. The walls of my neighborhood are decorated with murals of La Virgen, and she is also a popular tattoo choice amongst Latines. My project seeks to understand the root of her popularity in these art mediums and the conflicting understandings of her symbolism as it relates to religion and Chicano cultural politics. Particularly, I am interested in how Latine artists have reimagined and reclaimed La Virgen in ways that distance her from Catholicism and colonialism. How is she transformed into a symbol of radical feminism, queerness, and Indigenous activism?  

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

La Virgen de Guadalupe’s role in Catholicism and Latinidad is source of great contention within the Latine community as opposing sides either support La Virgen’s connections to conservative cultural ideals or embrace La Virgen as a feminist emblem of empowerment. By using the lens of disidentification when analyzing Latine-made art featuring La Virgen as well as interviewing Latine tattoo and mural artists, one can understand the role of intersectionality and de-colonialism in reimagining La Virgen’s image and symbolism.

Why is your research important?

My research contributes to the fields of Ethnic Studies and Latin American Studies as it provides a new lens to understand the popularity of La Virgen de Guadalupe in US-based Latine communities. By tying in the concept of disidentification alongside Chicano nationalism and Latinidad, Latine people and scholars of the field can think about how social constructs contribute to our spiritual and/or religious relationships with La Virgen. My project complicates the colonial perception of La Virgen and offers methods and examples of how she is a radical symbol of femininity, queerness, and Indigeneity.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

My research methods consist of visual analysis, close reading, and interviews with Latine artists who engage with La Virgen through their art. I have been using Instagram to find potential artists to interview, so some of my research days consist of looking through Instagram and exploring artist’s websites and their art portfolios.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I have presented my research in the spring 2022 Midwest Regional Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship Conference and will present again in the same conference in October. Additionally, I participated in the Oberlin Summer Research Institute this past summer.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?

In the summer of 2021, I applied to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Before learning of this program, I had not considered conducting research outside of my classes. A couple of my professors, however, encouraged me to apply and helped me develop my research topic.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

What I love most about my project is talking about it with others. Some of my favorite sources and ideas have come from conversations with friends, classmates, and professors.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?     

Working with my mentor Professor Mitchell has been a rewarding experience as his expertise on Latino/a history along with his continued support of my work has made me interested in pursuing professorship and earning my PhD. He has been an amazing resource in explaining how academia functions and always validates my project as significant to its fields.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?   

I have gained a lot of practice and experience in what it is like to conduct research in academia. Applying for IRB and conducting interviews, these are things that I now understand well and will definitely be a part of graduate school and beyond.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?      

To anyone who wants to do research in Comparative American Studies, Latin American Studies, or the humanities in general, don’t be worried about feeling lost or confused while conducting research. I have never conducted research in the humanities before and had no idea what it would entail. Talking to the upperclassmen Mellon fellows and my mentor really helped me understand what the research process looks like and how important it is to my fields, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!