Honors Fellows Wrap Up Summer Research

Group photo

Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.

Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.

Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.

“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”

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Hot Tempers in Avignon


I was trying to stall the bus driver with fragments of bad French and Joe was running across the parking lot to find Mame when I heard someone shout my name.

I looked around, but couldn’t see who had called me. The bus driver took my distraction as an opportunity to pull the folding doors closed and step on the gas, leaving me halfway off the sidewalk. When the bus cleared off, I saw Mame across the street, leaning out of a taxi.

“Kaytie, viens! Hurry!”

I hesitated, knowing that Joe wouldn’t know where we were. After a long day that began with getting locked out of our hotel in Avignon and having to lug around camera equipment and a sick baby Malik under the hot summer sun of southern France, we had split up to find the fastest way home; Mame went to the taxi stop to see if one would arrive before the bus, and Joe and I waited at the bus station. But the bus came early and apparently Mame had managed to get a taxi at exactly the same time. So now we were all over the place.

“Kaytie, now!”

I ran across the road. Why was she so urgent?

When I got closer to the taxi, I heard the driver yelling at her. I couldn’t make out all of it, but it was something about how it was against the rules to pick up other people, that he couldn’t believe this sh*t, how she needed to get back in the car.

But when he saw me, he stopped. Not immediately, and he certainly didn’t apologize, but he cooled down from his tirade to a venomous simmer.

Fortunately, Joe came running shortly after me, and we all piled in the taxi. I asked Mame what the driver’s problem was, and she said he was mad because she asked him to pick us up, which was “against the rules.”

“But notice how he stopped yelling when you two arrived?” Mame asked, a big smile on her face, balancing a squirming baby Malik as he climbed all over her and the taxi.

And that’s how Mame almost always deals with racist microaggressions. She waves it off with a smile and a laugh, and usually adds something like, “Aren’t people crazy?” She moves on.

Meanwhile, I was in the passenger seat, boiling. “But this is unacceptable, Mame! We shouldn’t pay for this taxi,” I argued. “He can’t treat you that way!”

“Kaytie, I’m already past it,” she laughed. “I am thinking about how to get this crazy baby to sleep and give him his medicine and if I need to buy more diapers. I can’t let this bother me. I’m already gone.”

And so I dropped it.

The women we interviewed in these past two weeks of production shared similar stories. Elizabeth told us about how people never assume she’s the owner of her art gallery; they always ask if she’s one of the artists, or a secretary. Bintou is always introduced at conferences as a “black choreographer,” never just a choreographer. And Fati was hesitant to say anything controversial, because her Franco-Senegalese food truck just started a new branch in Paris’s business district, and she didn’t want to risk gaining any sort of notoriety.

But even in light of all these unfortunate reminders of why this documentary is so necessary, I was also uplifted and inspired by these women. Each one was pursuing her dreams with high hopes and tenacity, succeeding in spite of those who expect her to fail.

I’m back in the States now, and post-production starts straightaway. I can’t wait to dig into the footage we captured and weave together these amazing stories, and I’m looking forward to sharing those stories with you.

Learn more about my project.

The Jay-Z to my Beyoncé

I just realized that I’ve never introduced you to my Director of Photography, and all-around partner in crime, Joe Hill.

In Prague, after a successful showing of Joe’s production, Surrounded 2.0

In Prague, after a successful showing of Joe’s production, Surrounded 2.0

He’s a fellow student in CMU’s School of Art and will be the primary camera operator on this project. We’ve worked on several films together, including the short promotional videos we shot in Tamil Nadu, India for Visions Global Empowerment. Most of these videos are still in post-production, but you can watch the Dindigul episode here, which we published at the end of last semester.

We’ve definitely learned a lot throughout our adventures about filming on the run and traveling with equipment. One thing is certain; big suitcases are harbingers of death on hilly, cobblestone streets.

Little did I know, this was only the bottom of the hill.

Little did I know, this was only the bottom of the hill.

But I guess it was worth it.

But I guess it was worth it.

And after the hundreds of selfie sticks and outstretched smartphones that bombarded us in Prague, Rome, and Barcelona, we’ve been inspired to consider an idea for a new documentary: Touring the Tourists.

This couple didn’t have a selfie-stick. I was happy to oblige.

This couple didn’t have a selfie-stick. I was happy to oblige.

Anyway, we arrived in Paris last night, and we start filming today at an AfroParisian Network event. Our batteries are charged, our memory cards are formatted, and our permits are secured. It’s time to get to work!

Learn more about my project.

Couchsurfing in Limbo

We begin production in just two weeks, arriving in Paris on July 9th. I’m nervous, of course, but I’m feeling ready to get started.

I’ve been in Europe for about a week now. Under the auspices of CMU’s School of Drama, I was just in the Czech Republic attending the Prague Quadrennial, the biggest international convention for theatrical design in the world. I’m currently in Oslo, Norway, staying with my friend’s extended family here. (Basically, I’m bumming around Europe wherever I can stay for free until we start filming in Paris.)

Yes, those are real. Welcome to the Czech Republic.

Yes, those are real. Welcome to the Czech Republic.

New friends, old traditions: Elin with her formal bunad

New friends, old traditions: Elin with her formal bunad

Before I left the states, Dr. Niang and I decided on how we would approach the interview process with our participants. We chose four diverse individuals to focus most of our time on. We’ll be following these characters throughout their daily routines, with both moving and stationary interviews. Each day will have a different theme of questions:

Day #1: Daily life, and what lies ahead

Day #2: Beauty/sexuality

Day #3: Identity

Day #4: Major events pertaining to religion and race (Charlie Hebdo, 2005 Riots, etc)

Day #5: Fears/struggles/obstacles

I’m excited to get to know these women, and I hope that through us, you can get to know them too.

For now, check out this series by Cecile Emeke, which is my current inspiration.

Read more about my project.