Prepped for Grad School
Kendall Witaszek arrived at the University of Minnesota already confident that her academic future would rest in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS). Interested in feminism and racial justice, she began her studies in GWSS and along the way decided to major in both GWSS and political science, as well as to minor in Asian American studies and comparative race and ethnicity studies. This May, she graduates a year early, while also earning the highest latin honors of summa cum laude—an extremely impressive achievement.
To prepare for graduate school, Kendall has participated in research and directed studies with both GWSS and Asian American Studies faculty. She has worked on a project regarding race, militarism, and empire as it relates to Asia and the Asian diaspora with Professor Yuichiro Onishi, and is completing her senior capstone paper and honors thesis with Professor Zenzele Isoke. Her honors thesis is comprised of an in-depth analysis of the books Kindred and Fledgling, by Octavia Butler. Kendall critically explores the books’ main characters and events through the lens of multiple feminist theorists, including Hortense Spillers, Sylvia Wynter, and Katherine McKittrick, in order to better understand underlying concepts of violence, resistance, and life.
After graduating, Kendall will attend Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario to pursue a master’s degree in gender studies. She will be working with black feminist theorist and geographer Katherine McKittrick to research memory and diaspora. The study will explore the establishment of solidarities for mixed-race persons, especially those of Asian and Black descent, who often deal with unknowns and gaps in their family’s histories. Kendall is concerned with these issues, noting that histories are essential factors in establishing identities. “There is pushback in critically talking about histories and identities outside hegemonic understandings,” says Kendall, “especially in academia.” White feminism frequently glosses over these issues, a phenomenon that has been extremely difficult to combat throughout time—especially when this pushback infiltrates on an academic level.
Kendall appreciates the GWSS department’s focus on building awareness of these and other issues, which she believes makes it stand out from other departments of its kind. “They’re very dedicated to race-based feminisms,” she said. Last fall, the GWSS department provided her with gracious financial support to present an abstract of her thesis at a graduate-student conference at UMass Amherst. “GWSS is dedicated to supporting their students’ academic and personal pursuits,” said Kendall. “I have felt unwavering support from my mentors and professors within the department. They have prepared me to pursue advanced degrees and have excited me about the process.”
In taking ahold of opportunities to strengthen and apply her education outside of the classroom, Kendall currently works as a teaching assistant for a cross-listed GWSS and Asian American studies course, and she coaches the Minneapolis South High School debate team. She utilizes these educational opportunities to support her students’ pursuits in bringing social justice into their advocacy, and she translates the work that she does in GWSS into her teaching. “It’s especially important for high schoolers to develop a critical awareness of these issues,” she says.
Kendall believes that her studies, experiences, research opportunities, and engagement with Minneapolis youth and community enable her to think through issues less rigidly and hegemonically. She’s confident in her preparation for graduate school and one day hopes to become a professor of gender studies, so that she may continue teaching and enriching the lives of generations of students.