Celebrating an Extraordinary Class During Extraordinary Times

The Swearer Center celebrates Brown’s Class of 2020 and honors six student award-winners
by Kate Porter, Assistant Director of Communications and Public Engagement
May 26, 2020
Brown graduation artwork by Ellen Jiang '19.5

Artist: Ellen Jiang '19.5; see more of her artwork and follow her on Instagram at @ellenjiang7

The Class of 2020 – a unique group of students – has experienced a senior year unlike any other. Unable to convene in-person due to a global pandemic, Brown University honored graduating students with a Virtual Degree Conferral ceremony on May 24, 2020, anticipating a joint graduation ceremony with the class of 2021 next May. 

The Swearer Center recognizes this senior class for their innate talents, their generous contributions of time and energy, and their ability to adapt and thrive in the face of challenge. In their honor, our staff created a virtual celebration to share with our community, as well as a 2020 End-of-Year program to celebrate the hundreds of graduating seniors and AmeriCorps members who have participated in Swearer Center programs and fellowships and taken on leadership roles within the Swearer Center community. 

This year, six Swearer Center students have been honored for their outstanding contributions to the Center’s mission to build on community strengths and address community challenges through collective action, as follows: 

  • Community Engagement Award: Nathaniel Pettit '20

  • Engaged Scholarship Undergraduate Award: Tabitha Payne '20 and Katherine (Katie) Vasquez '20​

  • Engaged Scholarship Graduate Award: prabhdeep singh kehal and Anar Parikh

  • Student Leadership Award: Tafari Williams '20

The Community Engagement Award

Nathaniel Pettit’s leadership of Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE), a student-led Community Corps group based out of the Swearer Center, has been exemplary – centering and elevating the voices of people experiencing homelessness in order to enact policy change, expanding the capacity of House of Hope (a Community Development Corporation based in Warwick), and building systems within HOPE that will endure after he graduates. His thesis, researching a history of Brown’s role in displacing working-class communities and communities of color from its surrounding neighborhoods, can be viewed here. Nathaniel’s nominator writes:

“Nathaniel’s unflinching commitment to creating more just and equitable communities is not unique among Brown students, but he stands apart because of the depth and breadth of his approach to housing justice. Nathaniel holds firm to his commitment to directly serve people who are homeless, while he moves beyond one-time individual approaches, harnessing his policy and advocacy skills to bring about long term systems change…. Despite his multiple gifts, Nathaniel is unpretentious, humble, and easy-going, qualities that make him respected and sought-out by diverse groups of people with widely divergent life experiences. Nathaniel possesses an impressive intellect, a firm moral compass, a strong voice for social justice, and an unshakeable commitment to a career in housing and public service.”

The Engaged Scholarship Undergraduate Award

Tabitha Payne’s projects have included a senior thesis on the oral histories of transgender men (featured in the documentary film Golden Voice) and a seminar paper that examines the visual representation of Cambodian women in French colonial postcards. In addition, Tabitha has worked extensively with CamASEAN Youth’s Future, Providence Youth Student Movement, and the Southeast Asian Studies Initiative at Brown. Tabitha’s nominator writes: 

“Supporting Golden Voice means bringing unrepresented queer Cambodian histories to light. This documentary is a staggeringly impressive accomplishment and contribution to our understanding of critically important fields of Southeast Asia, genocide, queer and transgender experience. I am honored to nominate Tabitha for her work with Golden Voice, her undergraduate thesis, and involvement with local Southeast Asia organizations Providence Youth Student Movement and Southeast Asian Studies Initiative at Brown University.”

Katherine (Katie) Vasquez has become a role model in the physics community at Brown, where she has been a leader in the Society of Hispanic Engineers (SHPE) as well as the Physics D-DIAP committee. A staunch advocate for underrepresented groups in physics, Katie was involved in the restructuring of the freshmen year physics core curriculum to promote a culture of focusing on learning physics and remove the stress of imposter syndrome and grades. In addition, Katie worked with a Dean of Engineering to find a classroom space in Barus and Holley where SHPE and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) could convene. Katie’s nominator writes: 

“Through her work, more women and historically underrepresented groups have stayed within the physics concentration, mentorship has been provided in the Engineering/Physics Hispanic community, and underrepresented groups feel like they have a voice to the staff and faculty.”

The Engaged Scholarship Graduate Award

prabhdeep singh kehal has served as an inaugural graduate fellow in community-engaged scholarship at the Swearer Center for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years. At the intersection of the sociology of higher education, critical social and racial theory, and organizational studies, their research explores how we define and recognize the nature of racialized organizations and what implications arise for social change once we account for an organization’s racialization. Their website can be found here. prabhdeep’s nominator writes:

“prabhdeep’s research with the Swearer Center has been focused on the pedagogy of community-engaged teaching and learning, and modes of institutional accountability towards proximate communities. prabh taught us how best to honor indigenous people not just with symbolic performative land acknowledgments but also through contextualizing and offering suggestions on how to center indigenous voices. They taught us how to be more inclusive of students who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or gender non-conforming and how to eliminate some of our heteronormative structures in language and praxis. Many of these learnings have resulted in policies and practices we now employ as educators with each other and with our students.”

Anar Parikh has been exploring questions of identity and representation in a variety of contexts throughout her graduate career; her doctoral research examines questions of identity among South Asian Americans. Anar is working to develop a model of community-engaged and activist research within anthropology that is rooted in reciprocity between researchers and their interlocutors. She has served as a graduate fellow in community-engaged scholarship at the Swearer Center for the 2019-20 academic year. Anar’s nominator writes: 

"Her study creatively turns classical anthropological questions about race and ethnicity on their head. In doing so, Anar is contributing to literature that is simultaneously concerned with 1) how ethnic and racial minorities are excluded (and sometimes included) in mainstream political processes in the U.S., but also 2) how ideas of citizenship, belonging, and identity are made and remade particularly, in the context of migration and diaspora. Her research and the subsequent analysis will contribute to a broader public understanding of South Asian American ethnic, racial, political identity in the United States.”

The Student Leadership Award 

Tafari Williams is a Bonner Community fellow and student leader. In this role, he has helped to prepare pre-season activities for incoming Bonner fellows, facilitated ongoing Bonner workshops in engaging – and often musical – ways, and served as a mentor for first-year Bonners. Tafari’s nominator writes: 

“Tafari has become an integral part of the program that we all know and love. In my short time knowing him, I and many first-years have come to realize how integral Tafari is to our experience – he serves as a guide for many of us and a role model for us all.”

To see more of the virtual events and celebrations on social media, follow the hashtags #Brown2020, #BrownU, and #SwearerCommunity. Visit the Swearer Center’s Instagram to hear from our award winners during the Swearer Center’s Awards Week from Thursday, May 28 - Tuesday, June 2, 2020 (take a look at our stories highlight after the week concludes). Congratulations graduates!