Fall 2021 Welcome Letter from the Chair of the American Studies Department

Bianet Castellanos, Chair of the American Studies Department, shares insights, optimism, and updates for the 2021 Fall Semester
Bianet is facing the camera, wearing glasses and a colorful scarf

Greetings from American Studies,

I welcome everyone back after a year of virtual meetings. As a precaution against the Delta variant, we will continue holding a mix of in-person and virtual events. We have postponed our in-person welcome back dinner until it is safe for us to gather. We have an exciting line up of events that showcase our community-engaged work and intellectual commitments promoting social, racial, and economic justice. After an extremely difficult year, where many of us lost loved ones, I invite everyone to reconnect with friends, colleagues, and students with a kind word or gesture.

We are fortunate to welcome a new postdoctoral fellow and a new administrative team this fall. Dr. Aaron Alvarado has a PhD in Ethnic Studies and examines the university as a locus of power, discipline, and historical inequality. Our Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Elliott Powell, will be on sabbatical this fall. David Karjanen is stepping in as interim DUS for the semester. He brings six years of experience serving as DUS. We thank Martin Manalansan for serving as Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) last year. Our new DGS, Dr. Elizabeth Sumida Huaman, an affiliate of our department, is Associate Professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development. As a Wanka and Quechua scholar, she brings extensive experience examining Indigenous responses to social and educational inequalities locally and internationally. Dr. Sumida Huaman will be assisted by Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, our new Graduate Program Coordinator. Please join me in welcoming them!

We are sad to say goodbye to Amarin Chanthorn, our Curriculum Coordinator. He has been a tremendous asset to our department and will be sorely missed, but we wish him the best in his new endeavors. We will be recruiting a new Curriculum Coordinator this month.

We have an exciting roster of upcoming events. In the spirit of (re)connection, Dr. Sumida Huaman is hosting a safe and convenient open air meet and greet for graduate students on campus on September 14, from 3:30-5:00 pm. More details will be forthcoming via email. Admissions has opened up once again so we look forward to reviewing applications in December and welcoming a new cohort of potential students in the spring. In the fall, we will be hosting Jack Halberstram, alumnus Joyce Mariano, and Walter Jacobs (co-editor) and the contributors of the collection Sparked: George Floyd, Racism and the Progressive Illusion. This collection includes enlightening essays written by former graduate students Rudy Aguilar, Kate Beane, Jasmine Mitchell, Mario Obando, Kong Pha, and Tom Sarmiento, and professors Kale Fajardo, Terrion Williamson, and myself. In the spring semester, the Sylvia and Samuel Kaplan Fellows for Social Justice—Ayaan Natal, Chelsea Osadame, Demiliza Saramosing, and Phoebe Young—will share the outcome of their collaborations with community organizations. I am delighted to share that Professor Duchess Harris, another of our alumni, will be giving the David Noble Lecture. Dates and times will be posted on our events page.

Our students, staff, and faculty are truly inspiring. I spotlight a sample of their recent achievements. American Studies majors Jade Grippe and Ruby Lou Balotovsky were awarded an AMST Internship Scholarship. Generously supported by Jim Citti, the Internship Scholarship allows American Studies Undergraduate Majors to pursue an internship for academic credit with a non-profit organization working on ​issues related to race, class, gender and sexuality, immigration, politics, and/or social justice. Jade spent the spring working with the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration as a Public Policy intern. Jade states: “This internship was extremely rewarding and insightful because I got to watch a bill be proposed to the House and Senate regarding funding for volunteer organizations. I also have been able to work on developing DEI contacts and resources, as well as helping with the organization's anniversary. All projects have been extremely rewarding and interesting because it's allowed me to see how local change can create big impacts, and how administration networks do a lot of  behind the scenes work which goes very far. I'm excited to stay on with them through this summer and continue helping and working with them!” Ruby Lou held a spring semester internship at the Northern Clay Center in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. Ruby states: “I have learned what the inner workings of an arts organization can look like. Being able to be hands on in both a curatorial setting in the setting up of an exhibition gallery, and a more administrative setting in the sales gallery has taught me a lot about the behind the scenes work that arts administrators spend their days doing. It has also taught me a lot about the value of community outreach in such organizations- the interconnectedness of NCC to the Twin Cities motivates inclusion and a diverse environment in both the galleries and studios of Northern Clay Center.”

We are also proud of our graduate students’ amazing accomplishments. Vanessa Guzman and Kiara Padilla were named Leadership in Equity, Inclusion and Diversity (LEID) Fellows. Michelle Lee was awarded a Harold Leonard Memorial Fellowship in Film Studies. Phoebe Young was recognized with a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow. Dewitt King was the recipient of a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship. Kai Pyle defended their dissertation, “Folks Like Us: Anishinaabe Two-Spirit Kinship and Memory Across Time and Space,” and was named a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Hana Maruyama defended her dissertation “AlienNation: The Role of Japanese American World War II Incarceration in Native Dispossession” and has joined the University of Connecticut’s History Department as an Assistant Professor.

The faculty and staff have also been recognized for their intellectual and administrative leadership. Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria is serving as mental health advocate. David Karjanen developed our first undergraduate internship class. Elaine Tyler May was invited to give the convocation speech at Concordia University. Jennifer Pierce is serving on the CLA Advisory Board for the Minnesota Prison Education Program. The Advisory Board is working with the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education to create a four-year college curriculum for incarcerated people at Stillwater Correctional Facility. Brenda Child was awarded the President’s Community Engaged Scholar award. Her powerful essay “U.S. boarding schools for Indians had a hidden agenda: Stealing Land,” was published in The Washington Post. Martin Manalansan and Kale Fajardo published the edited anthology Q&A: Voices from Queer Asian North America. Kale Fajardo was appointed a senior fellow at the Center for Applied Transgender Studies Research and has an essay forthcoming in Hydrohumanities: Water Discourse and Environmental Futures. Elliott Powell was awarded a “Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem Grant” for his book Sounds From the Other Side and published “Paint It Black” in ASAP Journal. Finally, Martin Manalansan and I were promoted to full professors, and I was named a Scholar of the College by the College of Liberal Arts.

I look forward to reconnecting with everyone in the year to come.

In solidarity,

Bianet Castellanos

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