Mellon Mays Awards Celebrate Pathbreaking Research

The Antonio Maceo Award for Racial Justice and the Susan DeBevoise Wright Award for Gender Studies honor outstanding scholarly contributions—and reflect the commitment of alumni, staff, and faculty to Dartmouth's Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship.

Two Mellon Mays fellows received Dartmouth awards this summer for outstanding contributions to their fields. 

Associate fellow Lizet Garcia '23 was awarded the Antonio Maceo Award for Racial Justice and Hayden El Rafei '24 received the Susan DeBevoise Wright Award for Gender Studies.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, known as MMUF, encourages undergraduates from underrepresented minorities to pursue academic careers in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The program exists at nearly 50 institutions nationwide and in South Africa. At Dartmouth, the Dean of Faculty and Provost support an expansion of the program for additional Associate Fellows.

"At Dartmouth, the Maceo and Wright awards honor MMUF's tradition of pathbreaking research and activism," says Sara Biggs Chaney, associate coordinator of the program and a senior lecturer in writing. "These prizes are invaluable sources of motivation and inspiration for MMUF fellows who are contemplating their scholarly futures."

Though Dartmouth's MMUF program is small, it has been remarkably successful. Of more than 200 Dartmouth Mellon Mays and Associates alumni, 67% have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees—more than double the national ratio of BA-level graduates to PhD enrollments. More than 30 have gone on to careers in academia.

Racial justice and the struggle for equality

Lillian Guerra'92, a professor of Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida and one of the first Dartmouth MMUF fellows to pursue a PhD, founded the Maceo Award in honor of the legacy of Antonio Maceo, a Black hero of Cuba's wars for independence from Spain and a warrior for the abolition of slavery.
"For more than a century, in Cuba and elsewhere, Maceo's exceptional intellect and scholarly writings have been silenced and denied in favor of honoring only Maceo's military brilliance," Guerra says. 

Guerra felt that she and other aspiring intellectuals she knew had been "told our whole lives that because we were Black, Latino/a, or Native American, our primary contribution to society lay anywhere but in the realm of ideas. Discovering our capacity to create new knowledge, especially about our communities' relationship to power and the United States, changed everything for us."
In 2018, Guerra created the Maceo Award to assure more generations of MMUF fellows that "their intellectual sacrifices" make a difference. 

"This is true even when society only seems to value academic endeavors that can deliver profits and material goods, rather than the ideas that change how humanity thinks and acts for the better," she says. 

The Maceo Award is presented to a graduating senior for a thesis that addresses themes of racial justice and the struggle for equality. 

In her thesis, Garcia, who is an associate fellow, examines a phenomenon known as the "school-to-prison pipeline,"which refers to the criminalization of nonwhite students from low-income backgrounds through surveillance and outsized disciplinary actions in their schools. 

Current research shows that this pipeline disrupts academic performance, increases students' lifelong experience with violence, and costs taxpayers $35 million annually. Garcia probes whether geographical research methods can help dismantle this pipeline, and if there are ways to improve campus safety without relying on surveillance. She focuses on South Bay schools and communities in Los Angeles, where she grew up.  

"I worked with alumni and high school students to juxtapose carcerality and safety, and de-naturalize the presence of police in their schools and neighborhoods," Garcia says. "We also worked towards imagining what a future without carcerality might look like—one that emphasizes safety and love."

This fall, Garcia began a PhD in geography at the City University of New York, where she is supported by a fellowship from the National Science Foundation. (CUNY recently featured Garcia and her research on its website.)

Enriching the field of gender studies

The Susan DeBevoise Wright Award for Gender Studies recognizes outstanding research in gender studies by any MMUF or associate fellow at Dartmouth on the path to a PhD, both current undergraduates and alumni in graduate programs. 

The award was inaugurated in 2015 with a gift by the Upper Valley Women's Network in honor of Susan DeBevoise Wright, the founding coordinator of the MMUF program at Dartmouth and wife of the beloved late Dartmouth president Jim Wright. It is currently supported by a generous gift from Susan DeBevoise Wright.
El Rafei's paper, which will appear in the upcoming issue of Embodied: The Stanford Undergraduate Journal of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, applies queer theories of space to examine two popular Netflix shows,Young Royals and Heartstopper.

"My aim was to ask why normative publics are so very captivated by a show like Heartstopper, which, I argue, is always doused in a politics of respectability disguised as a simple form of representation," El Rafei says. "This very normative brand of LGBT coming-of-age story is what I call the 'gay-bildungsroman,' from the German literary term. But do certain queer of color complications in Young Royals present different sets of stakes for today's coming-of-age plots?"
Both television shows have been picked up for second seasons, while a separate novel in this genre was just adapted into an Amazon Prime Video original film. 

"The ongoing public reception of these narratives represents the complex, discursive nature of popular formations of sexuality," says El Rafei, who plans to apply to PhD programs this fall in the fields of American studies, performance studies, and gender studies.
"Receiving this award reflects the sheer force of support I receive in my pursuit of interdisciplinary scholarship in MMUF," El Rafei says. "To me, it demonstrates a commitment to critical thought and queer of color knowledge production within the vast field of gender studies."

Garcia also says that the support she experienced through the Dartmouth MMUF program has been invaluable to her academic career.

"As a first-generation student, applying to undergrad was already difficult enough, and graduate school and fellowships were even harder," she says. "I had no idea how to go about the process, find who I should work with, or write a thesis."

"Professors Michelle Warren and Sara Chaney weren't just there to funnel us into graduate school; they were really there for us and had our backs. Somehow they had all the answers, all the steps, and all the encouragement to go along with it. And for that I am forever grateful."