“Courage, curiosity, and generosity produce noble spirits,” writes trial attorney Kilory Oldster. In April, I spent 60 hours with seven people who embody those traits: Nicole Kassabian, Lauren Katz, Madeline Kleinerman, Anusha Kothari, Doreen Okey, Mercedes Sarah, and Reese Yang—all of whom envisioned research at Oxford College, pursued their research with curiosity, courageously travelled to University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, and generously shared their findings with a national audience.
I had the privilege and the fun of traveling with them as their support crew!
We left campus at 4 a.m. on Thursday, flew to Minneapolis, climbed in a rented Suburban, drove 90 miles to Eau Claire, and within an hour of arriving at the university, Anusha was wearing a suit and heels, giving a lecture on “Transforming Taboo: Discursive and Generic Uptake in South Asian Mental Health Recovery Narratives.” After her talk, she answered questions and the session ended with the moderating professor noting how important her talk had been to him as a two-time cancer-survivor.
Fifteen minutes after Anusha’s session, Mercedes was presenting on her research in a second floor lecture hall: “Covert Resistance to #MeToo: The Uptake of Social Change and Public Anxiety in the Men’s Lifestyle Magazine Cover Genre”—her talk barely concluded to enthusiastic applause before hands went up, asking questions that Mercedes answered with brilliant ease. I slipped out of Mercedes’ talk and ran upstairs to the third floor to hear Nicole give her talk on “Shakespeare and #MeToo,” after which a professor from Ohio found Nicole, talked to her for over half an hour, and told us that she was re-structuring her Fall Shakespeare class to align with what she learned from Nicole. She also suggested an outlet for Nicole to publish.
Then at 3:30, half us us stayed to support Reese’s fascinating research talk on “Cinematizing Immunity: The Rhetorical Effects of Science Fiction on the Public Communication of Science,” which the audience was eager to discuss in light of Covid-19, especially given Reese’s research about how science is accommodated (and sometimes distorted) for public consumption. The other half of our group supported Doreen’s stellar poster session—occurring at the same time— about her psychology research, “The Risk at Birth: Racial Health Disparities among Pregnant Black Women.” Doreen was surrounded by people asking questions about her crucial and compelling research.
In sum: day 1 encompassed eight hours of travel, a quick change into suits, and four research talks in four different places across the campus! We were ready for the Airbnb, some Wisconsin cheese curds, and wonderful, shared friendship and support.
Day 2 allowed us to hear from other undergraduate researchers across the country, to make new friends, and to walk along the Chippewa River for hours, talking… plus a parrot encounter, and some fabulous Thai food.
On our last day, Madeline presented confidently on her John Milton research, “‘All the Faded Roses Shed’: Beauty, Mortality, and Divinity in Paradise Lost,” drawing on Audre Lorde’s theory of female empowerment and making nuanced connections between Milton’s epic and mortality, beauty, and female power. Then Lauren drew many threads of the research and theory we’d encountered together with an innovative and generative talk, “The Female in Frankenstein: Man’s Attempt to Abort Femininity”—which, like all the students’ research—inspired the audience to discuss, wonder, question our assumptions, seeing truth in new light.
Chippewa River at flood stage
Loopy’s Log Cabin, with the world’s largest indoor sandpit
talking around the table at the Airbnb
“anything can happen in Chippewa Falls”
how are Anusha and Nicole getting first class upgrades??
“this is the longest I’ve ever spent in Wisconsin”
music fest in the Suburban