Understanding the Lives & Experiences of Afro-Caribbean Teachers in U.S. Schools

Professor Kimberly Williams Brown’s research focuses on Afro-Caribbean women teachers who have come to the United States for various reasons: greater access to resources, professional development, and economic advancement, to name a few. These women teach in different school districts primarily in New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina. PWB has collected interview & survey data in 2016, 2021, and 2022 and works to pull out emerging themes across these different conversations and submissions. Some of these themes will be explored further in future papers and a book. 

Together we are using MAXQDA to code transcripts from the teachers’ interviews and organize the data by theme. Some of these themes include: racial identity, effects on children and family, pedagogical style adjustments, and the documentation process. We are also developing a paper proposal for the American Educational Research Association (AERA) centered on the dissonance between the way administrators regard these teachers and the depth of care the teachers demonstrate for the craft of teaching and commitment to their students. 

I took two classes with Professor Williams Brown during my first years at Vassar and am deeply interested in her research, critical pedagogy, and the authentic way she connects with students. While initially drawn to the Ford Scholars program because of PWB, the more I learn about her research, the more I realize how the experiences of transnational educators speak to far more than what takes place in a classroom. These Afro-Caribbean women discuss the complexities of the documentation process, the harrowing loneliness of leaving communities behind, and the pressure to make the most of an opportunity despite the challenges making life away from home difficult. I am grateful to read these narratives and gain a deeper understanding of race, gender, the U.S. educational system, and Afro-Caribbean teachers. 

Shedding light on the Immigration Court-Public School Nexus in Proceedings for Unaccompanied Migrant Youth

Prof. Tracey Holland & Nicolas Villamil ’25

An unaccompanied migrant is a child who arrives at one of the United States’ borders without an adult with them. Typically, they arrive at the southern border. Their status stays with them even after they are united with a sponsor.

We rightfully hear a lot about the difficult realties they encounter attempting to journey to the United States as well as once they arrive. But while these situations are more than worthy of our attention and advocacy, it is only the beginning of an extremely challenging chapter for these children.

After reunification with their sponsor, their new life in the United States begins, at least for the time being. Immediately, appearing in court becomes their number one priority. Whether the child has been reunified with a distant relative, a family member that acts in a parental role, or a biological parent, their goal is to assure their life in the United States. Needless to say, this is a difficult process.

To learn more about it, Prof. Holland and I watched New York City immigration court on numerous occasions, in-person and on Webex. We learned that because of long waitlists at pro-bono organizations and steep prices from immigration lawyers, defendants would frequently appear without representation and had to request continuances from the judges. We also learned that these continuances are limited, and that at some point, these cases must continue, with our without representation. Such a distinction, the numbers show, can all but decide an unaccompanied minor’s case.

This caused us to focus even more on our original question: what role do schools play in all this? By interviewing a former judge, attorneys, employees of pro-bono organizations, and an english language teacher, we learned that this was a worthwhile question, one that we should continue to ask.

Unaccompanied children are an extremely vulnerable demographic, making the support system that school can provide important. At school, they can learn English and about the legal process they are a part of, and they can find support in their teachers and school guidance counselor. Through school, they can interact with their judge in a non-confrontational manner by presenting a certificate of accomplishment at school—they can become more confident. Through school, kids can receive assistance from social workers in finding legal representation. And in some judges’ courts, proof of enrollment in school excuses them from needing to appear in court at all, as long as they have a sponsor or attorney to represent them.

Declining Mexican Migration

Molly Ardren 

Using the American Community (ACS) to study declining Mexican migration over the past eight weeks has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the industries and locations across the United States that were most impacted by the change in migration patterns from Mexico following the 2008 financial crisis. 

Beginning with a literature review, I learned about the known patterns of Mexican-born workers, and what factors affect their decisions to move to and within the United States. Economic literature analyzing migration patterns from Mexico has drawn attention to the tendency for immigrants to move to areas in which migrant communities already exist. Knowing a network of workers allows immigrants to learn about job opportunities and lowers the costs of migration through information sharing. 

Creating maps using data I observe changes in the population density of new Mexican immigrants across the Sun-Belt and Midwest regions. 

I then used data from the Mexican Migration project to track the prevalence of migrants within the average migrant community in each state. The prevalence ratio provided an indication of migrant community depth that I could use to run a regression exploring the driving factors behind the variation in migration patterns across states in response to the great recession. 

Over-all this summer has provided an insight as to how to use large surveys such as the American Communities Survey and Mexican Migration Project to draw conclusions on how specific populations respond to changes in the economy. I enjoyed working with maps, data, and literature to explore these questions and discover ways to identify trends within data and explain specific behaviors among a specific population.

Political History of Classicism

As the Ford Scholar for the project “The Political History of Classicism,” under the guidance of Professor Dozier, I researched interpretations of and reactions to the Classics, predominantly by hateful groups. It’s challenging to outline one specific task or goal that’s been the central focus of these few weeks because discriminatory interpretations of antiquity are numerous and seemingly never-ending, so my tasks have been almost Sisyphean. The duties that are easiest to describe are proofreading and editing articles and bibliographic checking. Most of my time, however, was spent researching and reading sources: modern, ancient, and everything in between. 

‘Classical’ antiquity has been used for centuries in conjunction with elitism and exclusionary institutions and as a result, the source material for this project dates from the first century CE, up to the present day. On the ancient end are writers and orators like Strabo, who perpetuated distinctions between Greeks and non-Greeks (barbarians, as he calls them), and Libanius, whom Montesquieu cites for evidence that Athenians put to death foreigners who attempted to vote. On the modern end, sources range from the Founding Fathers to Know Your Meme, a website with innumerable memes—many of them hateful with some using antiquity to justify that hate.

In the earlier history of the United States, ancient sources were used to justify slavery as well as imperialist expansion. Rome, an empire that had subdued, assimilated, and committed genocide against various nations and peoples, was considered a guide for expansion by American politicians. As such, Rome was an eerily fitting example for Manifest Destiny, an undertaking that resulted in the displacement (if not slaughter) of innumerable Indigenous Americans. Greco-Roman antiquity was a useful ideological tool, considering that many early Americans were raised reading Greek and Latin texts, with references to antiquity in their English materials as well. 

Up to the modern day, Classical education has undeniable associations with conservatism and hateful politics. Part of my work was looking into these connections, with one Classical school in Flordia providing the location for the signing of Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Further associating Greco-Roman antiquity with his homophobic agenda, in a recent video, DeSantis’ team touted his transphobic policies inter-spliced with masculine symbols, one of which being Brad Pitt’s Achilles. Evidently, DeSantis has not only an interest in hateful politics but in history as well, with some notable exceptions for certain historical topics.

Title of an essay Prof. Dozier and I composed on the subject of DeSantis’ campaign ad for Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics this summer

The Classics’ classist (and racist, and homophobic, and sexist…) roots continue to express themselves into the modern day, with prominent hateful figures using Greco-Roman antiquity to attack—or justify their attacks on—minority groups. This is a non-comprehensive sampling of some of the work I’ve been doing throughout the summer.

Personally, this project has provided me with skills and knowledge that I easily see influencing future thesis and graduate research. My greatest takeaway has been how information, facts, and knowledge are never apolitical, despite the desire of many to make it so. Whether that information is in the form of a meme or an ancient text, the compiler always inherently and often unintentionally carries along their own biases. Even the lack of knowledge is political, as Dan-El Padilla Peralta outlines in his work—which has stayed with me long since reading it as one of my first tasks—about epistemicide, or the destruction of knowledge systems. The Library of Alexandria is mourned by historians and non-historians alike (despite its demise being caused by largely bureaucratic and political forces), but what about the information that’s been destroyed because of Greco-Roman antiquity? Consider how much indigenous knowledge and ecology has been lost or deliberately extinguished, from that of the Gauls in ancient Europe to the First Nations of the Americas, because of the genocidal actions of the Roman Empire. In this light, the goal of this study has been to illuminate the ways knowledge of and from antiquity has been and continues to be used for oppressive purposes and to make others aware of these hateful influences.

Translating a 19th-Century Feminist Novel: George Sand’s Jacques

This summer, I worked with Hadley Sparks on Professor Kathleen Hart’s Ford project focused on translating a 19th-century epistolary novel: George Sand’s Jacques (1833). Like other 19th-century feminist novels, Jacques criticizes the impossibility of divorce under the Napoleonic Code, highlighting a couple’s incompatibility as the basis for their unsuccessful partnership. The inspiration for this project was a preliminary translation of Jacques, produced by the late George Sand scholar Thelma Jurgrau, which provided a set of questions to consider and an initial foundation from which our translations could develop.

Over the course of the project, we became well acquainted with key principles of translation. We spoke of the importance of maintaining equivalence between the two texts, finding a balance between precise vocabulary and capturing the sentiment and flow of the original sentences. Translation, we also discovered, should not be a solitary process but rather a collaborative one. Examining what in Hadley’s translation was similar to or different from my own—discussing our impressions of the book, methods of translation, and reasoning behind choices—greatly elevated the quality of our work.

We employed a myriad of online resources to help us in our translation process, using WordReference for individual words and Google Translate and Linguée to produce rough translations of the text for necessary alteration. Additionally, we utilized the latest version of ChatGPT to gauge how AI might be able to supplement (though never replace) the work of a translator. We found ChatGPT to be helpful in its speed and ability to produce different versions of a passage, but very limited in its capacity to make translation decisions requiring cultural knowledge and to capture tone or voice.

Throughout her novel, Sand condemns the marriage laws of her time—in particular how they disadvantage women—yet she does not write in an overtly confrontational manner. Indeed, Sand believed that efforts to change society abruptly would hinder the advancement of women, and thus she often distanced herself from feminist causes. Nonetheless, her novel has a feminist subtext and many radical elements. Translating Sand’s Jacques into English offered me eye-opening insights into a subtle form of feminism—and, hopefully, the translation itself will illuminate for a wider audience how a female novelist sought to use narrative to criticize unjust laws and challenge prevailing gender relations in 19th-century France.

George Sand
My Workspace

Paths to Knowing: Poetry and Research

Professor Augusto Hacthoun, Eva Martinez (‘26)

Spanning over 60 books including both inter-library-loans and books from the Vassar Library, 68 archival documents, and countless hours spent close reading, the journey to understand both the processes of poetry and of research was a long one, but not one without reward. Professor Augusto Hacthoun and I (Eva Martinez ‘26) have attempted over these eight weeks to understand the connections between creative processes and scientific processes with the ultimate goal of understanding the question: is poetry research? 

I have come away from this project with a deeper understanding of both what it means to create, what it means to research, and what it means to study poetry in an academic context. The idea of scientific research seems far off from the deeply emotional process of poetic ode or elegy, but at the core of this project the similarities between research and composition are discovered. If one begins to understand research as a process or a method that can be generally defined and applied across a wide variety of subjects, one can then allow the focus to shift from the expected scientific rationale to a poetic one. Poetry, like science, allows a person to make observations of the broad and abstract, to focus onto that nebulous idea or image and then create specificity. Trading microscopes for rhyming dictionaries highlights a clear connection between the two modes of research. Through taking in Neruda’s elegy, and transforming it into an ode, Bishop undergoes a research process best corroborated by Paul Magee from the University of Canberra. Magee’s paper lays the groundwork for the concept of poetry as research and concludes with “For what is academic speech, really, if not an attempt to rein that contradictory multiple in and pretend it is one (Magee, 2009)?”  This is at heart, the core of this project, to make the seemingly contradictory ideas of poetry and research into one. 

If you would like to read more about our work this summer, please click here to be redirected to the website I have made documenting our project. 

Draft of Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore Courtesy of Vassar College Special Collections
Image of our shared table in the Meeker Room of the Vassar College Art Library

Resilience Stories: Investigating Science-Based Strategies to Effectively Manage Stress and Adversity

The main goal of resilience stories was to make evidence-based strategies of resilience available to the public, for these sorts of tools are of powerful use and have the potential to make positive changes in individuals’ lives. This summer, I researched these strategies and transformed them into easily digestible Instagram posts. Themes for these posts included resilience, micro-moments of joy, mindfulness, grit, self-compassion, social support, growth mindset, positive emotions, and many more. Some posts, such as “Quick Tips for Daily Mindfulness,” impart advice on incorporating resilient techniques into daily life. Other posts, such as the “Doing Mode vs. Being Mode” post, involve presenting information that could aid in developing resilient skills. The intention behind this project was to widen the impact of scientific findings. Rather than keeping evidence-based coping skills to the realm of scientific journals, or even only in therapy sessions, we wanted to make this information accessible to anyone. These techniques belong in everyone’s toolkit, and we are striving to make them as widespread as possible with our launch date in the fall.

Beyond our resilience lab Instagram, I also aided in Dr. Tugade’s lab study involving Neurofit. Neurofit is an eye-tracking device, involving an eye-tracking task, that gives indications of an individual’s cognitive health. This summer, we worked on developing a mindfulness-based intervention to determine whether mindfulness can improve cognitive abilities. After creating a procedure with Dr. Tugade’s other lab members – in which I specialized in developing the mindfulness intervention because of the extensive research I have done on that topic – we pilot-tested our study. We will begin actual testing this upcoming fall.


Translating Climate Policy to Local Priorities and Opportunities

Rising climate concerns, coupled with the need for sustainable development, has led to the development of federal climate resources to tackle these issues. This summer, we (Demetri Sedita 26’ & Sebastian Montañez 25’) worked with Professor Cunningham to better understand what types of funding and planning resources are available to the City of Poughkeepsie, what capacity Poughkeepsie has to access these resources, and how Vassar students can aid in this process. 

Poughkeepsie is classified as an environmental justice community, defined as an area that has been historically underserved and has experienced disproportionate exposure to climate impacts.

CDC Social Vulnerability Index by census tract, from 0 to 1, with 1 being the most vulnerable. Pink municipality boundaries show the outline of Poughkeepsie, and Vassar College is in green eastward of the city (Online version of map).

We looked at two main pieces of legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The IRA is a federal policy which allocates $360 billion for climate change provisions. The CLCPA sets goals for emission reductions and renewable energy in New York, aiming for 100% renewable electricity by 2040. Both increase access to renewable energy programs in disadvantaged communities like Poughkeepsie, suggesting that the city can leverage the resources available under the IRA and CLCPA to address these issues. 

After discussions with community members, we discovered that local government departments are key players in driving climate initiatives. However, limited city-level capacity hinders Poughkeepsie from fully seizing these opportunities. We identified a potential for Vassar community engagement in local climate planning. Students and faculty can participate by joining regional groups or businesses, contributing to zoning code changes, and conducting research for funding opportunities. Successful engagement necessitates students with skills in writing, research, and an understanding of Poughkeepsie’s functioning and barriers.

The current funding ecosystem and renewable energy resources present unique opportunities for sustainability and climate planning. Engaging with these opportunities can contribute to community development while building valuable skills and experience for students and faculty interested in policy, social justice, and the local economy.

Evidence of Migration Patterns and Marriage Markets from Matrículas Consulares

Over the past summer, migration patterns, labor and marriage markets in Mexico were my main focus; as well as my process to learn data analysis and research techniques with large databases. These databases were used in order to conclude one question: Did men’s migration or lack thereof, after the 2008 recession, affect women’s marriage markets and labor markets in Mexico? The four databases— ENADID, MCAS, Mexican Census, and ACS— enabled us to make a reliable conclusion about Mexican migration. With that information, we could determine where in the United States Mexican migration happens as well as from where in Mexico Mexican migration starts. The MCAS database is conclusively made up of the Matrículas Consulares issued, a document issued by the Mexican government that provides outside countries, such as the US, proof of Mexican nationality. After acknowledging the similarity with the other databases, using MCAS, we could determine whether migration of working age Mexicans decreased or increased after the recession. We compiled maps of Mexico which included data from each source: ENADID, MCAS, etc.; this was done in order to make conclusions about where Mexican migration starts and to determine the highest sending states. We compiled many graphs not included in the presentation, such as average women’s schooling per year, average men’s age per year, and marriages in municipalities based on high/low migration states, to name a few. These graphs were made in order to understand the marriage markets in Mexico, or essentially, how marriages were affected because of the change in migration to the United States. All of the above helped us gather assumptions about women’s marriage markets and labor markets in Mexico, and although I didn’t necessarily get to answer the question because of the many embedded factors, I can’t wait to continue working on the project this coming semester!

Meritocracy or Factionalism in China: Social Network Analysis of Chinese Official Promotions

The tournament competition hypothesis is a prevailing explanation regarding China’s economic rise. It theorizes the existence of a meritocratic system that favors local leaders who are able to promote faster growth, thus leading to able officials being selected to manage the economy. This summer, we worked with Professor Fubing Su to study the core piece of the tournament competition: official promotion. We look into the possibility of factional politics, a contrasting argument against the meritocratic view. To test these two competing hypotheses, this project builds a database of politburo standing committee members and provincial government officials, including biographical information and all positions throughout their careers. This will allow us to code officials’ career path (promotion or demotion) and their network/factional ties.

The first step of our research is data collection. We updated biographical information of current provincial government officials to a database compiled in the past decade. We identified the names of these officials and located their full biographies on baike.baidu.com, a popular website in Chinese. Then we followed a system of codifications to enter all relevant information into the database and checked the accuracy of our codings after the first few trials to make sure that all information followed standard formats.   

We conducted our research remotely and were able to meet regularly online using Wechat. But it also had some downsides. China’s strict covid policy demanded all international travelers to be quarantined in hotels for two weeks. Unfortunately, one of us was locked in this regime for almost two months because her tests were unclear. This impaired the progress of our projects because hotel networks were poor and access to google platforms, where our collaborated project was stored, was restricted. Thanks to Professor Howlett and Alix, we were given an extension to continue our work. We aim to cross-check all entries again for standardization and to run our Rstudio codes to identify all network ties between politburo standing committee members and provincial leaders afterwards. This would complete all tasks in our original proposal.