Alumni Spotlight

EMR Alumni 2017
Expand the sections below to learn more about our alumni!

Dianisbeth Acquie '16


Dianisbeth Acquie


Winner, 2016 Senior Thesis Prize Competition in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights 
Thesis Title: An Abundance of Butterflies

Tell me a little about yourself. 

My name is Dianisbeth Acquie and I am a senior at Harvard concentrating in English and pursuing a secondary field in Latino Studies. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and call Lowell House my home away from home. 

What has been your favorite EMR class?

[My favorite class was] "Performing Latinidad" with Professor Garcia Peña last spring. The discussions in the class were vibrant and dynamic, and I could tell that everyone in the class had a real stake in learning the material. At its core, it was a class about identity, and I questioned my own identity as a Latina at Harvard throughout the semester. Being able to study my identity and culture was an amazing experience.

I took many excellent courses at Harvard. Among them: Professor Carpio's "American Immigrant Literature," Professor Kim's "World Theater," Professor Lassonde's "Childhood in America," and Professor Kincaid's creative writing class. 

What is something you have read recently that has struck you?

Over winter break, I re-read one of my favorite books, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The ending of the book carries so much weight now that I am about to graduate because it is all about not forgetting your roots and remembering those who have come before you and sacrificed so much so that you can succeed. The line "You will always be Mango Street" reminds me so strikingly that no matter where I go or what I do, I will always be Brooklyn and Panama and even Cambridge.

What was your most meaningful memory as a Harvard student? 

Handing in my thesis was definitely one of my most meaningful moments. I had spent a year scrolling through my thesis on my computer, writing it down in fragments, and giving an "elevator speech" version of it to dozens of my classmates. To see it the entire thing hard copy was a very emotional and fulfilling experience.

Puanani Apoliona-Brown ’18

Pua BrownWinner, 2018 Senior Thesis Prize in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights 

Thesis Title: Food Sovereignty and Traditional Hawaiian Agriculture in the Context of Global Food Systems

Concentration: Environmental Science and Public Policy

Pua’s thesis artfully demonstrates the connections between legacies of colonial violence and present-day situations of food scarcity in Hawai’i. The committee was thoroughly impressed by the way that this work reframes environmental justice through the interplay of cultural sovereignty and water rights.

About Pua
Born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, Puanani Brown (Pua) was a Waldorf student from kindergarten through 9th grade. She attended the Washington Waldorf School, while she also danced at the Washington School of the Ballet. Pua moved to New York City at the age of 16 to dance at the School of American Ballet and finished high school at the Professional Children’s School. She danced with the New York City Ballet for a year before enrolling at Harvard. After Pua’s freshman, she deferred her undergraduate studies to dance ballet professionally. She returned to Harvard as a sophomore in 2015 after a series of knee surgeries brought her career with American Ballet Theatre to an end. As the daughter of a Native Hawaiian rights activist and an environmental lawyer, Pua’s interest in environmental studies has always been closely tied to Indigenous rights. Pua’s academic interest in environmental justice began to take shape in her junior tutorial, Issues in Environmental Law in the United States. The final paper, written about the Dakota Access Pipeline, brought her attention to the shared struggle that Native American tribes like the Standing Rock Sioux share with Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians). She also began to see the limitations of federal law in a country constrained by systematic racism and enduring power disparities. In the spring of her junior year, Pua traveled abroad with the School for International Training to study the impacts of climate disruption in disadvantaged communities in Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia. The experience offered her a global perspective on the relationship between ecological crisis, environmental justice, and human rights. Pua hopes to use her degree in Environmental Science and Public Policy to work toward a more equitable and sustainable future by empowering marginalized communities.

Tell us more about your thesis and why you decided to conduct research in this area. 
This thesis explores the significance of water and traditional agriculture to the cultural revival and political sovereignty of Native Hawaiians as an important contribution to ongoing debates over Indigenous rights as intrinsic to environmental policies. I chose to conduct research in this area because of my desire to bring culture and human rights into conversation with environmental science and public policy. I also wanted to consider the unique experience of environment injustice experienced by Indigenous people.

The Environmental Justice (“EJ”) movement of the 1980s brought attention to unequal power dynamics that shape environmental discrimination and place disproportionate risk on certain marginalized demographics. My research and methods were inspired by EJ literature that seeks to translate human experience of environmental degradation to wider audiences – to create space for alternative futures and new alliances in a world of shared moral values. For this reason, I wanted to write about Indigenous EJ in a way that was both empowering and accessible to a diverse array of people. I found that this framework allowed me to center Indigenous voices and histories that are too often unheard and erased in the name of necessary progress.

Because I was born and raised on the east coast, this thesis was also a chance for me to return to Hawai‘i to learn about my own history and culture. The research brought together my parents’ work in Hawai‘i during the 1970s, a decade commonly referred to as the Hawaiian Renaissance. My mother was a founding member of the Protect Kaho‘olawe Ohana (“PKO”), a group of young Hawaiians activists that successfully stopped the bombing of a sacred Hawaiian island that the United States military was using as target practiced for nearly 40 years. My father, born and raised in Iowa, was an environmental lawyer in Hawai‘i in the 1970s. With the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i (“Legal Aid”), he was able to work in the interest of the environment and Hawaiian communities. My father was involved in the early water rights litigation to restore streamflow to traditional food systems and Native Hawaiian communities on O‘ahu that set precedent for the current lawsuits on Maui.

Writing this thesis was a powerful learning experience that really impressed upon me the importance of increasing mixed cultural literacy. It was intimidating to write about Indigenous rights because of the unfamiliarity that exists within Environmental Science and Public Policy, but I felt it was extremely important and past time to open dialogue about the intersection of human rights and environmental degradation. It was important to me to create something that future students could point to and build upon.

Lorena Aviles Trujillo '17




Winner, 2017 Senior Thesis Prize Competition in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights 
Thesis Title: Migrant Smuggling: Understanding the Coyotaje Structure and Its Implications for Immigration Policy

Why did you decide to write on your research topic?

I decided to write my thesis on the migrant smuggling after my freshman year when I took Sociology of Immigration, and our final assignment was to write a final paper on a topic of our choice. Therein, I decided to investigate the coyotaje system and realized that there wasn’t much information about it. As time went on, I continued to investigate this issue and eventually began my project under Professor Jocelyn Viterna.

What has been your favorite EMR class?

Within EMR, I enjoyed numerous courses and found them the most meaningful as we were discussing topics relating to race, ethnicity, migration, and class.

What are your plans after Harvard?

After Harvard, I will be studying for the LSAT and the GRE, looking for a research, migration, or law related job, and applying to PhD and JD programs.

David Coletti '17

                                             David Coletti                                  

I decided to pursue a secondary in EMR because I realized that the work I am most interested in and passionate about center around ideas of identity, migration, and the advancement of fundamental human rights. Moreover, I was drawn to how students have an active role in forming and modifying the EMR program every year. It has been very exciting to watch the creation and growth of the Latinx and Asian-American Studies working groups, and I look forward to seeing how they come to influence the EMR community!

Eliza Decubelis '17

Eliza Decubelis

Honorary Recipient, 2016 Ethnicity, Migration, Rights Summer Thesis Research Grant

Topic: The Motivation Behind China's New Anti-Domestic Violence Law

Why did you decide to research this topic? 

I began studying Mandarin my freshman year at Harvard, and I was able to study abroad in Beijing with the Harvard Summer School program that summer. My experience really sparked my interest in the Chinese language and culture, and I knew that I wanted to learn more about the country and its people, especially in relation to their experience with human rights. Last summer, I began looking into women’s issues in China, and I learned that domestic violence is still a very prevalent issue but that the Chinese government just passed its first-ever national anti-domestic violence law in December of 2015. I was intrigued that such an authoritarian regime, which is not held accountable to voters and is not known for its exemplary human rights record, would pass such a law, so I decided to look into the factors that led to the passage of the legislation. I am particularly interested in the tactics of women’s NGO groups on the ground in China, so a large part of my research this summer will consist of interviewing many leaders of these groups who have pushed for protections against domestic violence in China for decades. I hope to find some answers to the broad question of what pushes an authoritarian regime to pass human rights legislation.

What have some of your favorite courses at Harvard?

I really enjoyed [the course], “Human Rights and Foreign Policy” with Professor Ignatieff at the Kennedy School. It covered a breadth of human rights issues and offered some practical guidelines for working toward solving them. I also enjoyed the government seminar I took this spring with Professor Pharr entitled “Globalization and Civil Society” because we looked in depth at the role that civil society plays in global governance and social movements, which is closely linked to my thesis topic.

Amanda Flores '18

Maria Amanda Flores

Maria Amanda Flores ’18 graduated with a concentration in Anthropology and a secondary field in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. During her time at Harvard, she was active member of the EMR community.

Why did you choose to do a secondary field?
Even before Harvard, I had been interested in issues of migration and of diaspora (being a Filipina immigrant myself), as well as questions about human rights, after a visit to the UN headquarters my junior year of high school. What I didn't know then was that I could study rights and migrations worldwide as part of an academic career. That being said, I like to think that EMR chose me, since I serendipitously discovered it through two classes I took out of academic interest. The first one was my expos class freshman fall, a class called, "Cross-Cultural Contact Zones." Another class I took that same semester, somewhat on a whim and out of a desire to learn about a part of the world I knew nothing about, was "Introduction to African Languages and Cultures." When I found out that both classes counted for EMR without my knowing it, I felt that it was meant to be, and I should declare it as my secondary.

What did EMR mean to your college experience?
Both EMR and my concentration, Anthropology, informed and complemented one another during my time as a Harvard undergraduate. I found that within anthropology, I was particularly passionate about human rights and migration issues, and within EMR, I always wanted to look at the phenomena I was studying through an anthropological lens. Incorporating both into my plan of study was an incredible way of exploring my academic interests both inside and outside the classroom, and this way EMR became an integral part of the perfect plan of study for me.

What from EMR will you carry into your postgraduate plans or work?
In my future work, ideally in international human rights, I anticipate traveling extensively and meeting people from many different walks of life. As one example, I will carry what I have learned from my studies in EMR when I make it a point to learn how people's identities (race, socioeconomic status, migrant or refugee status, and many more) play a role in the way their human rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled. Taking into consideration all of the nuances inherent in this diversity, I hope to be able to better serve people in a way that is cognizant and respectful of their individual life circumstances and their communities.

Update: June 29, 2018
Amanda is currently working as a Bilingual Paralegal at Justice In Motion, a nonprofit that works to protect migrant rights, particularly for persons from Central America. By working with a network of human rights lawyers in multiple countries, they help ensure that peoples' rights are upheld even when crossing borders. Congratulations, Amanda!

Anna Gomez '17

Tell me a little bit about yourself

My name is Anna Gomez. I’m a government concentrator in Cabot,considering a joint concentration in Sociology and pursuing a secondary in EMR.

Why did you decide to pursue a secondary in EMR?

I think where I come from has a lot to do with the reasons why I’m studying EMR. I have family on both sides of the US-Mexico border and live in a heavily populated Mexican immigrant community in Dallas, Texas. Growing up, I witnessed what the immigrant experience is like as well as how that intersected with race, ethnicity and human rights. EMR is my way of trying to understand what is going on in my world and in my community

What’s your favorite class in EMR?

My favorite class is actually one I’m taking right now with Ruxandra Paul entitled Migration and Politics in the Era of Globalization. She just got her PhD from Harvard and she’s amazing. This is the first class I’ve actually had the opportunity to go in depth on migration and I’m really excited about the junior paper because we get to choose our own topic and explore it profoundly. Right now, I’m actually thinking about writing on unaccompanied minors migrating to the US and looking at why private companies are getting involved. Really, I want to figure out why would private companies would want to cooperate seeing that migration is a very contentious issue. I especially love how engaging the professor is and how diverse the class is. We discuss issues in a very intimate setting and everyone brings in their different perspectives. It’s helping think about why I wanted to pursue migration as a topic in the first place.

How has pursuing an EMR secondary impacted you?

During the first few semester here, it was really hard to find classes that incorporated the voices of marginalized groups or looked at politicized issues from a human rights perspectives. I was frustrated because I couldn’t find that niches-- the niche that is EMR. Then one day, my good friend told me that my interests line up almost perfectly with EMR and advised me to check out the department. Now that I’ve discovered this community, I feel like I’m preaching the gospel to everyone and anyone who I think might be interested in the topics EMR encompasses.

Katherine Hoffman '17


Kate Hoffman

Honorary Recipient, 2016 Ethnicity, Migration, Rights Summer Thesis Research Grant 
Rita E. & Gustave M. Hauser Fund for Human Rights Research

Topic: The Politics of Contemporary Women's Rights in Myanmar: The Paradoxical Case of Aung San Suu Kyi

Why did you decide to research this topic?

Growing up, I attended an all-girls school for almost fourteen years. From an early age I have been thinking about the importance of women's empowerment and female leadership. Already I knew that my experience was a fortunate one- I was lucky to have the support from my family and school: to be continuously told I could do anything that I wanted to do. And yet when I traveled to Southeast Asia and particularly to Myanmar, something kept me up at night. I could not reconcile the fact that my life as a girl was so drastically different than my Myanmar counterparts, just merely because of the fact of where I was born. Once at Harvard this continued to challenge me and I decided to pursue a degree in Social Studies with a focus in Human Rights and Development in Southeast Asia to try and grasp at why this occurred but more importantly to eventually try and make a difference. At Harvard my interest in Myanmar continued to develop and before me an interesting research topic seemed to appear. Just last year in 2015 the country held its first democratic elections, marking the official transition to military to civilian rule. Women are now much more easily able to run for national seats in Parliament. But have they? I am interested in looking at why women have been able to rise to the top of social and economic circles and yet from the statistics they still fall behind in terms of entering the political realm (the exception of course is Aung San Suu Kyi). Better understanding the notions of female power and authority with regards to politics in contemporary Myanmar is essential in terms of the development of the country. I will be in Yangon, Myanmar this summer interviewing key informants regarding this issue. And I am excited to see where my research takes me!

 What has been your favorite course at Harvard?

At Harvard I have greatly enjoyed many of my courses, most significantly, of course, those related to my focus field of Human Rights and Development in Southeast Asia. I found my Freshman Seminar: Human Rights in Peace and War with Professors Leaning and Bhabha very engaging and foundational, as well as a wonderful introduction to Human Rights studies at Harvard. I also greatly enjoyed my Societies of the World requirement: Human Trafficking, Slavery, and Abolition with Professor Patterson. As both of these were some of the first courses I took at Harvard they were very eye opening and guided a lot of my later academic choices. This past year I got the chance to take Human Rights and Foreign Policy with Professor Ignatieff at the Harvard Kennedy School. This is an excellent course with an extremely great professor! Taking this course was challenging as I looked around the classroom to peers who had already worked for their national governments, the State Department, and Amnesty International. But the class was well worth the challenge!

Anita Lo '16

Honorary Recipient, 2016 Senior Thesis Prize Competition in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights 

Thesis Title: The I-Hotel in Social Movement and Collective Memory

How did you decide to write on your topic? 

From classes I'd taken before and my junior paper on Vietnamese and Cuban refugee resettlement, I knew I wanted to write about contemporary Asian American history, but it wasn't until reading the book I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita the summer before senior year that I was able to ground my interest in a concrete event. The multitude of voices that Yamashita included in her novel inspired me to explore the social movements and interethnic cooperation that surrounded and propelled the I-Hotel Movement. 

What have been your favorite courses?

Some of my favorite courses were Asian American Literature with Professor Ju Yon Kim and a class on colonization and Asian diasporas with Professor Genevieve Clutario. These courses formed the basis for my understanding of Asian American studies and really changed my understanding of the possibilities within the field of ethnic studies.

 What are your plans after Harvard?

I'll be in New York City working in legal/compliance at a trading firm.

What was your most meaningful memory as a Harvard student? 

I spent much of my time volunteering with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), which gave me an opportunity to actively engage in social justice as well as share university resources with community partners. 

Samantha Luce '17

Samantha Luce
Honorary Recipient, 2016 Ethnicity, Migration, Rights Summer Thesis Research Grant

Topic: Death and Taxis: Taxi Violence and the Politics of Mobility in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Why did you choose this research topic?

I had a transformative summer study abroad experience in South Africa after my freshman year, and I knew I was destined to return. I chose to write my thesis on minibus taxis initially because they had constituted such a lively and dynamic force in my experience of Cape Town's urban landscape: they were crowded, fast, inexpensive, and above all, a venue of the common citizen. Yet, as I researched more, I realized how powerfully the history of this singular industry maps onto the national story of the free South Africa, a point of intersection between everyday mobility and two decades of frustrated social mobility after the fall of apartheid. Writing on this topic has become a project in articulating a history from the bottom up - about people, transportation, and the possibilities and perils of movement within this country.

What was your favorite course in EMR?

AfrAmer 111 Spectral Fictions, Savage Phantasms: Race and Gender in Anti-Racist South African and African American Drama, Fiction, and Film

Yusuph Mkangara '17

Could you introduce yourself?

I'm Yusuph. Right now I’m living in Ohio, but I’m from Tanzania. I’m in Quincy house and a rising junior. My concentration is Sociology and African Studies.

What was your favorite course in EMR?

I really loved my African and African American Studies 97 course. Migration is huge in that context in that a lot of these people are of African origin and then a lot of these people are also immigrants from whatever country they came from. It’s all about migration. What happens when you take somebody and move them by force? In terms of rights, a lot of these communities struggle with maintaining rights and putting a voice out there saying that we need to be able to maintain our own rights. We need to, for example, have a space where people respect our language as an actual language instead of just gibberish. That’s why I really love the notion of EMR.

What are you interested in?

My general academic interests are Africa and education, like trying to see and understand ways of improving education, policy decisions, things of that nature. I have a big interest in Tanzania, but there’s no such thing as Tanzanian studies. I’m interested in seeing the policies the Tanzanian government makes with regards to language of instruction. Right now, schools start in one language and then secondary school is in another language. It’s very much a hodgepodge there, a huge Pandora’s box.

Diana Nguyen '15

Diana Nguyen

Diana Nguyen ‘15 graduated with a concentration in Government and a secondary field in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. She was active an member of the Student Advisory Council, conducted research on the history of ethnic studies at Harvard, represented EMR at campus outreach events, and ran a teach-in on ethnic studies. Diana remains involved with the Ethnic Studies Coalition and recently contributed to the Harvard Asian American Alumni Association's recent campaign that launched EMR's Asian American Studies Summer Thesis Research Grant. We are grateful for and proud of Diana's work as a student and an alum! 

Why did you choose to do a secondary field?
One of the best decisions of my undergraduate years was choosing to do a secondary field in EMR because it, not my primary concentration, demonstrated to me what an academic community feels like. In my primary concentration, Government, I went from class to class never knowing the names of my peers. Interactions with the community felt surface level at best and enraging at worst, such as the time a section leader said "imperialism" was too strong and sensational a word while discussing the topic of human rights. The environment felt stilted in praising governments instead of developing skills to critique them, especially when considering perspectives from marginalized populations. EMR was the complete opposite environment. I considered my classmates as friends and professors, mentors. The classes shifted my worldviews, introducing me to concepts such as intersectionality and Orientalism. Today, I still keep in touch with the community members of EMR and continue to be inspired by their work.

What did EMR mean to your college experience?
EMR is the primary reason I donate every year to Harvard College, because it has been so integral to my experience at Harvard and my growth as a person. (If you are wondering if I am getting paid to say this. No - I am not getting paid. I do really, really love EMR.) When I was a first year student, I was clueless and pretended like I knew I was doing. What does going to college and studying mean?  EMR showed me that an academic community is one where you stay after an event continuing to talk about the themes of the seminar because the topic naturally interests you. EMR is an academic community where you feel empowered by the work your colleagues are doing, and motivated to write a thesis. I did not write a thesis, but I sense that if EMR had a greater presence on campus I would have. EMR has a long tradition of activism; it felt meaningful to be a part of its history within the context of Harvard's 382 year history.

What are you doing now? What are your upcoming plans?
At the moment I am teaching 9th grade World History and 10th grade Modern European History at a comprehensive public high school in the Bay Area. I plan to be a teacher for a pretty long time.

What have you carried from EMR into your postgraduate life and work?
I carry so much of EMR in my history classroom. I try to foster a classroom community that encourages youth to learn about their personal history, the history of others, and to love learning for the sake of learning. Recently, I framed a unit on the Middle East using Orientalism where students learned that stereotypes from the region came at the dawn of imperialism.

William Oh '18

William Oh

William Oh ’18 graduated from Harvard College this past May with a concentration in Social Anthropology and a secondary field in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. During his time at Harvard, he was active member of the Student Advisory Council and a strong advocate for ethnicity, migration, and human rights. He is currently working as a Youth Organizer at the HANA Center in Chicago, IL. HANA Center's mission is to empower Korean American, immigrant, and multi-racial communities through service and organizing to advance justice and liberation for all. As a Youth Organizer, William strives to empower and inspire youth from different communities to become leaders for social change together.

Why did you choose to do a secondary field?
A secondary field helped me expand and build upon my main concentration, which was Social Anthropology. It gave me the opportunity to branch out into new classes while allowing me to return to similar topics, themes, and ideas with a new lens. Finally, choosing to do EMR was in many ways a political choice - one where I could help support and grow ethnic studies as an academic field at Harvard.

What did EMR mean to your college experience?
EMR has been the gift that keeps on giving. It gave me the invaluable gift of helping me learn and know my roots as a Korean American, an immigrant, and as a person of color. It taught me the importance of knowing our histories and the stories of those who came before us. And it showed me that this should not be a privilege reserved for a select group of people, but a right for everyone. EMR helped cultivate critical thinking skills, empathy, and solidarity because it helped me learn that whether we like it or not, all of our fates are delicately interconnected.

What, if anything, have you carried from EMR into postgraduate life and work?
EMR has taught me that we are all delicately interconnected; that none of us are free until all of us are; that it isn't just the oppressed who "lose out" by relegating fields like EMR to the sidelines, but also the oppressors. By making some histories "optional" while others "mandatory," we miss out on the complex, messy, and interdependent nature of people's different histories throughout time and in this world. And we become poorer for it.

Allyson Perez '17


Allyson Perez

2016 Latina/o Studies Thesis Research Grant Recipient

Topic: Demystifying the Cuban Food System and Opportunities for US-Cuba Agricultural Relations

Why did you decide to write on this topic?

Coming into the thesis writing process, I knew that I wanted to write on a topic related to food and agriculture in the Americas.  I eventually decided to write about the US-Cuba agricultural trade relationship after a three-week research course on the Cuban food system in Havana I took this past January.  Visiting various farms and markets, I started to realize just how much food Cuba was importing from other countries, including the United States, to my surprise.  When I returned to campus and started looking more into the topic, I realized that it would make for a great thesis, and my summer research has done nothing but confirm that.

Tell us about a memorable moment from your summer research experience. 

Perhaps the most wonderful moment from this summer was my first day at the Library of Congress. Walking into the Main Reading Room for the first time, I was completely blown away by its beauty and the intricacy of its design.  Being able to study and conduct research in there was even more amazing, and I felt so grateful to be able to use such an incredible resource.

Robert Rasmussen '16

Honorary Recipient, 2016 Senior Thesis Prize Competition in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights

Topic: The Trials of Trovan: Civil Society and Corporate Science in the Developing World

How did you decide to write on your topic?

When looking for a thesis topic, I hoped to find something that would combine my two areas of focus: History of Science and African Studies. As I conducted preliminary research, I noticed one event in particular kept surfacing - Pfizer's 1996 Trovan trial in Kano, Nigeria. While the trial and the controversy that resulted were mentioned frequently in academic texts, no complete narrative existed. In part this was because the legal disputes between Pfizer and the Nigerian plaintiffs only recently were resolved and the story itself was convoluted and complex. The deeper I dug into the Trovan story, the more confusing the narrative became - it was the perfect allegory for science in the developing world and provided a lens through which to address the ethical dilemmas that result when western pharmaceutical companies conduct research abroad.

What was your favorite course?

 My junior year I took a bioethics class with Sheila Jasanoff at the Kennedy School. Exploring how scientific and medical research often advances far quicker than the law and the ethical implications of that lag provided the contextual basis for my thesis. Sheila ended up becoming my mentor and my adviser.  

What are your plans after Harvard? 

I am working for a real estate firm in Seattle but my interest in Africa remains strong. I hope to find a way to continue the work I did as an undergraduate and further examine issues of rights in the context of scientific and medical research. 

 Tell us about a meaningful memory as a Harvard student. 

My freshman spring I took a seminar taught by Roger Owen that was based on his book The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life. Just a month after finishing my final paper for that class, I stood on a rooftop on the outskirts of Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt on June 30th, 2013 and watched as millions of Egyptians came together to protest and overthrow Mohammed Morsi. That day was the first time that I was able to take the lessons I learned in the classroom at Harvard and see them play out in real life. 

Aaron Roper '16

Aaron Roper


Winner, 2016 Senior Thesis Prize Competition in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights 

Thesis Title: The Effect of Electoral Systems on Immigrant Representation

How did you decide to write on your topic?

Since sophomore year, I have worked as a Research Assistant to my adviser, Professor Justin Gest. One of the first projects I worked with him on examined the descriptive and substantive representation of immigrants. While a rich literature examines how various factors impact the representation of minorities at large, few scholars had looked at immigrants in particular, although the subject was drawing increasing attention. After taking an electoral systems seminar with Professor Daniel Smith in my junior year, I knew I wanted to look at the intersection of immigrant representation and electoral systems, both of which are burgeoning fields within political science. My topic took more concrete form after conversations with Professors Gest and Smith about how to best test how electoral systems shape immigrant representation.

What was your favorite course?

Professor Gest's Sociology of Immigration course was integral to my interest in immigration politics and my eventual thesis. The course blended political science and sociological approaches to the study of immigration and was a great launching pad to future research in the field. More generally, my favorite class at Harvard was the public speaking practicum, Expos 40. The class provided a uniquely comfortable space to work on a crucial skill that most of us were distinctly uncomfortable with. We had the opportunity to watch each other grow as speakers, learn about the issues our classmates held dear, and share our own passions as well.

What was your most meaningful memory as a Harvard student?

My most meaningful experiences over the last four years came from my two tours with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra in which I played French horn. My freshman year we travelled to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan and last year we visited the Philippines and South Korea. The trip to the Middle East was especially engaging from a cultural perspective as we got to play alongside and discuss the political situation in the region with musicians from divergent walks of life. Despite their profound differences, everyone we met and played with was exceptionally open and welcoming and eager to share their perspectives with us, teaching us more about the conflict on a human level than we could ever get from a textbook.

What are your plans after Harvard?

Next year, I'll be headed to Yale Law School where I hope to focus in on constitutional law as well as taking advantage of the school's diverse offerings and open plan of study.

Asia Stewart '18

Asia StewartWinner | 2017 Ethnicity, Migration, Rights Thesis Research Grant 

Topic: "Hurt to the Point of Invisibility": Interpreting the Standard of Social Visibility in U.S. Court of Appeals LGBT Asylum Court Cases: 1995 - Present

How did you decide to write on your topic?

"Last summer, I had the opportunity to work as a legal intern at the Asylum Program at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in their New York office. The Asylum Program at PHR serves asylum seekers, advocates for improved conditions in U.S. immigration detention centers and documents human rights abuses that immigrants suffer. Mainly, my work was concentrated on supporting PHR's Asylum Network, which helps survivors of human rights violations gain asylum in the United States by connecting them with volunteer health professionals and attorneys.

During my time at PHR, I realized that the U.S. immigration system is founded upon inequality and the assumption that there are certain individuals worthy and deserving of the right to live within the United States and others who are not. The laws that define the U.S. asylum system are particularly convoluted and confusing. Not only is it quite difficult to receive asylum, but thousands of asylum seekers are suspended in a state of limbo until their case decision is reached - often years after they first filed an application for refuge.

As I began to conduct more research on asylum law, I grew particularly invested in learning more about the challenges and barriers that LGBT asylum seekers face in the United States. The U.S. immigration system has long regulated sexuality to reproduce sexual norms that are gendered, racialized, and classed. The Immigration Act of 1917 was first deployed to "keep out tainted blood" and persons with "medical traits which would harm the people of the United States". It suggested that homosexuals and other sexual deviants were associated with medical disorders and diseases. Subsequent acts equated homosexuals with imbeciles, delinquents, and vagrants, and directly referred to lesbians and gays as "psychopathic inferiors" and "persons with abnormal sexual instincts". Deemed a pathological condition, homosexuality was an excludable and deportable characteristic, which reflected the U.S. government's anxiety to maintain and reproduce heteronormative conceptions of sexuality. Although the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, the ban on lesbians and gays remained legal. Until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, the United States was the only country in the world that explicitly excluded immigrants due to their sexual orientation.

As my knowledge and understanding of U.S. immigration laws grew junior year, I decided to focus my senior thesis upon the inequities that members of the LGBT community face in the U.S. asylum system. Ultimately, I will explore how various performances of gender and sexuality affect case outcomes in LGBT asylum court cases.

What courses did you enjoy most within EMR or elsewhere?

One of the first EMR courses that I took was "Mass Incarceration in the Historical Perspective" with Professor Hinton. I was captivated by Professor Hinton's engaging lectures and encouraged to connect the structure and ramifications of the prison industrial complex in the United States with the immigrant detention industry.

Another EMR course that I recently took my junior year was "Migrations: American Immigrant Literature" with Professor Carpio in the English department. In this class, we read a new book each week, and I absolutely loved every single one of them. We read stories of movement and migration - stories that celebrated the diverse voices of immigrants and proved that there is no singular immigrant narrative.

What are you looking forward to in doing your research?

I started off my summer at the American Political Science Association’s Ralph Bunche Summer Institute at Duke University. While I was at the program I started to conduct a quantitative analysis of U.S. appellate court case decisions. After reviewing the legal databases of Fastcase and Lexis Nexis, I created an original data set composed of all available U.S. Court of Appeals LGBT asylum court cases from 1995 to present. My preliminary research suggests that the outcome of LGBT asylum claims largely depends upon the nature of an adjudicator's subjective opinions on gender and sexuality. Although asylum cases are centered around the identity of claimants, including their gender identity, sexuality, nationality, and HIV status, there is evidence that suggests that the strongest determinant of case success is the identity of the adjudicators, rather then that of the claimant.

I'm excited to now complement my quantitative research with the real voices of asylees, asylum lawyers, asylum officers, and immigration judges. I don't believe that one can truly study people and institutions, while only reducing them to abstract numbers and figures. Migration is a human phenomenon that is rooted in real people and tied to real places. The heart of my research will be the knowledge that I gain from interacting with those who have been directly impacted by the U.S. asylum system.

Megan Taing '16


Megan Taing
Megan Taing '16, graduated with a joint concentration in English and Folklore and Mythology and a secondary in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. While on campus, she was co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Conference and  heavily involved in PBHA’s Strong Women, Strong Girls mentorship program.  She was also an intern at a nonprofit in the square called the Asian University for Women, which brought together her academic and practical interests. 

Why did you decide to pursue a secondary in EMR?

Honestly, I felt that it was quite hard to find classes that touched upon my interests in questions about ethnicity, migration, or rights. EMR does a good job of compiling together all the classes that deal with these topics, and I think it represents certain fields that aren’t very well represented currently, such as Asian American studies or Latinx studies. EMR “hits the nail on the head” for me, and so that’s why I decided to pursue a secondary in EMR.

What was your favorite EMR class ?

I took a history and science class on colonization and globalization of the Asian diaspora which is about exactly what I wanted to study and turned out to be the perfect class for me, an unfortunate anomaly. The funny thing about EMR is that it overlapped so well with my interests and what I was already studying so it was a very natural secondary for me. The classes that I took to fulfill the EMR secondary really allowed me to view things from a lot of different perspectives.

How did an EMR secondary impact you?

It was definitely a very satisfying choice. Strangely enough, the thing it most helped me do, is articulate why I am passionate about ethnicity, migration and rights in the first place. These were always topics that were briefly touched upon in other classes but were never discussed in depth and so I wasn’t familiar with, for example, how “Asian Americans” came about as an area of academic study or other fundamental questions. In short, EMR complemented my passions nicely and helped me delve deeper into ethnicity, migration, and rights as a field of study.

Anastacia Valdespino '18

Anastacia ValdespinoWinner | 2017 Latino Studies Thesis Research Grant

How did you decide to write on your topic?

Given that Ugly Betty and Jane the Virgin are two of the most well-known Latinx-based shows in the U.S. to date, this project will utilize a comparative analysis of the two as a mode of interrogating trends within the televisual representation of Latinas. Though both feature intelligent, accomplished, strong female leads, why is it that each character is defined by her sexuality: Betty through her appearance, and Jane by her virginity (as informed by her Catholic faith)? How have the American adaptations of these Latin American telenovelas created further space for not just Latinx representation in television but also in queer television representation, albeit through secondary characters. In what ways are the characters defined by the success they find in their white-collar career ambitions and how do these achievements potentially make them more palatable to a predominantly white audience? This is only a small sample of the rich and complex tensions these shows implore us to explore which is why I intend to dedicate my summer to this research as well as take a course on the Latin American telenovela next fall during the study abroad program.

What courses did you enjoy most within EMR or elsewhere?

In Spanish 126, Performing Latinidad with Professor Garcia Peña, I read this astounding article by Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, "Dora the Explorer, Constructing "Latinidades" and the Politics of Global Citizenship. After discussing it, I realized that there was a window in my scholarship to synthesize an array of my interests in Latinx studies, film and television analysis and cultural criticism in literary texts. Hence, my thesis topic developed from the recognition that Jane the Virgin, a successful American show featuring a lead Latina actress had very little scholarship written on the new show to date. As I researched the topic of Latina representation on television for my junior essay in history and literature, I came across a stacked reservoir of essays and books about Ugly Betty, which in so many ways functions like a predecessor to Jane the Virgin. Recognizing that this phenomenon was a fascinating indicator of trends that exist regarding the portrayal of Latinas on American prime-time shows, and a project beyond the scope of my junior essay, I knew that I had found the beginnings of a senior thesis topic that would fully engage and stimulate me.

With that in mind, I would definitely say that Spanish 126, which serves as a popular portal course for the Ethnicity, Migration and Rights secondary, is the course that I've enjoyed most not just from the list of cross-listed EMR courses, but during my time at Harvard altogether.

What are you looking forward to as part of your research?

I am most looking forward to visiting the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the world's largest university-based media archive. While there I will be able to access television shows that featured Latino actors beginning in the mid-1900s in order to develop historical context for how we have arrived the current state of a televisual Latinidad. Though my thesis is concerned specifically with Latina representation, their absence in leading roles on television in conjunction with the stereotypes applied to Latino characters and actors both inform the present moment in question.

Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez '17

Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez
Winner, 2017 Senior Thesis Prize Competition in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights | 2016 Latina/o Studies Thesis Research Grant Recipient
Thesis Title: Unincorporated and Unprotected: East Porterville and the California Drought

Why did you decide to write on this topic?

I decided to write on this topic because I’m a native Californian and have lived most of my life in a drought. I have a lot of pride for the state and love learning as much about California as I can.

 About a year ago, I had come across an article in which NASA warned that California had only one year of water left. In a frantic google search, I came to learn that there were actually towns (only about 3 hours from me!) that hadn’t had water for 2 years. I was shocked that I didn’t know about this before, and that this situation was not being covered very much in the media. I knew then I just had to write and investigate this topic further.

What has been your favorite course at Harvard?

EMR of Food has been one of my favorite classes at Harvard. I took last semester with Tessa (EMR 110); I absolutely loved it! Tessa is a fantastic professor, and in her class we read books and articles from many different academic disciplines. I also appreciated that we read authors of many different races and ethnicities. This is one of the only classes that I’ve taken that has had such a breadth of different readings that all tackle similar questions. It was mind-opening to say the least. Also, the class itself was much more diverse than most of the classes that I’ve taken at Harvard so far, and I felt like I learned just as much from my classmates as I did from Tessa and from our readings. If you haven’t taken an EMR class yet —I definitely recommend this one (though they’re all great really)!

Joyce Zhou '17

Joyce Zhou

Winner, 2016 Ethnicity, Migration, Rights Summer Thesis Research Grant

Topic: The Making of Elderly Participanthood at On Lok's Jade Center

Why did you decide to research this topic?

Upon entering college, I knew that I was interested in the older adult population.  I had volunteered extensively at an Alzheimer's day center at home and loved spending time with the elderly, particularly by listening to their stories and learning from their experiences.  Anthropology research was a perfect way to continue listening to and growing in the presence of others, so with my interest in elderly care in mind, I developed this thesis project.

As a daughter of immigrants myself, I was fascinated by the post-immigration experiences of elderly Chinese who came to the US with remarkably different customs, histories, and worldviews.  When I was introduced to On Lok, a comprehensive health and social program that aims to keep frail elderly out of the nursing home, and learned that it served a large Chinese immigrant population, I knew I had stumbled across my fieldsite.  Ethnicity, belonging, and institutional caregiving were intersecting in complex but intriguing ways, and I wanted to learn more.  How do the interdisciplinary forms of expertise shape the concept of an "On Lok participant," and how does this designation impact obligations, rights, and practices of power?  What common experiences or histories shaped the way elderly Chinese responded or related to acts of institutional care?

I spent the summer of 2016 at On Lok observing, befriending, and having honest conversations with the elderly participants and staff members who cared for them to explore these questions.  

What has been your favorite course at Harvard?

My favorite courses at Harvard were Chem 17: Organic Chemistry and Chem 27: Biochemistry.  I got a glimpse into the ways that organic molecules interact and developed a deep appreciation of the elegance and subtle logic of chemistry in both the laboratory and the body.  I enjoyed these classes so much that I returned to teach it a year later!

Tell us about a memorable moment from your summer research experience. 

My fondest memory of my summer was going on a home visit with an occupational therapist, who was evaluating the safety needs of a new On Lok enrollee.  We arrived at the home and were greeted by the smell of delicious food before a petite woman welcomed us in.  Although she was physically frail, she persistently treated us with the hospitality of my own grandmother by bringing us snacks, giving us slippers, and asking us to sit and talk.  My heart was so touched by this gesture.