Undergraduates' Exceptional Work Recognized with Grants and Prizes

April 29, 2021

The Pembroke Center is delighted to announce that four Brown undergradautes have won prizes and grants for their outstanding research projects.

Lyle Cherneff '21 has won both the Ruth Simmons Prize in Gender and Women’s Studies and the Joan Wallach Scott Prize for an outstanding honors thesis in Gender and Sexuality Studies for “The Ties That Bind: Incest and Family-Making in the Postbellum South.” 

The thesis explores how the socially constructed idea of “home” as a safe place conflicts with the reality of nineteenth-century Southern households, which he identifies in his thesis as the locus of “an unprecedented explosion of domestic violence.” In the work, Lyle explores white patriarchy and incest, marriage regulation, the sexual and familial structure of the slave plantation, and miscegenation laws that persisted into the twentieth century.

In conferring both awards to the work, the prize committee said that “Cherneff’s research advances our understanding of patriarchy, kinship, the roots of white supremacy, Southern jurisprudence, and intersubjective relations under slavery and in its aftermath through careful readings of case law, newspaper accounts, and letters. Discursive analysis of the figure of ‘home’ exposes its contradictory affective valences, the site at once of ideals of safety, security and privacy and of violence, confinement, and secrecy.”

It is very unusual for the Pembroke Center to give both prizes to the same thesis—in fact, this is the first time the Pembroke Center has done so. This speaks to the truly exceptional caliber of “The Ties That Bind: Incest and Family-Making in the Postbellum South.” 

While Lyle’s superlative thesis rose to the top this year, the judges were faced with an impossibly competitive pool of theses, and felt compelled to recognize the work of two additional undergraduate scholars whose theses they judged to be outstanding.

Gemma Sack '21 has been granted honorable mention for the Ruth Simmons Prize for her thesis “Selling Mrs. Procreator: Eugenics, Homemaking, and American Nationalism in Women’s Magazines, 1929–1939.” Bringing together several discursive threads--including gender, race, reproduction, and consumption--in a project drawing on historical, theoretical, scholarly, and popular sources, this thesis examines the interconnections of eugenics, domesticity, and the fortification of the American way of life in mass-market women’s magazines of the 1930s. The mutually reinforcing politics of home and nation during the interwar period are clearly evident, the thesis argues, in popular magazines targeting women as the reproducers of a particular ideological form of the family. 

The thesis by Cal Turner ’21, “The Virtue of the Virago: Gender-Crossing Difference and the Social Life of the Early Modern Female Crossdresser” deserves honorable mentionfor the Ruth Simmons Prize for its insightful analysis of two seventeenth-century literary accounts of female crossdressing, one from England and the other written in Spain. This thesis understands female crossdressing not as an instrumental act or a narrative device, but as a mode of relational and social being in the world. Reading the female crossdresser as a profoundly social figure who develops routes toward relationship through the mark of difference that crossdressing constitutes, this thesis finds present-day trans resonances in a historical lineage of counternarratives of gendered existential states.

History and Africana studies concentrator Connor Jenkins '22 was awarded the Barbara Anton Community Research Grant for his project “'Fear gave speed to our steps': Slavery’s Hauntings and the Long Lives of Plantation Geographies in Edenton, North Carolina from 1850 to 1880." The grant supports undergraduate students doing an honors thesis involving community work related to the welfare of women and children.

Describing his plan for this project, Connor said, "In 1861, Harriet Jacobs anonymously published her narrative about her escape from slavery. In the 1970s, historians located Jacobs’ enslavement in Edenton, North Carolina. To understand regional (mis-)remembering of slavery, I will map Edenton geographies and lineages pre-1865 and post-1865 through correspondence and newspapers. By interviewing Edentonians, I will investigate antebellum legacies in modern space and gender roles. This project simply asks: what changed in Edenton after emancipation? Much historiography considers slavery through geography and gender, yet local histories often omit these analytics. Calculated local forgetting of slavery undergirds spectacular insurrectionary activity and quotidian structural inequality, rendering this project urgent and timely."

Sabrina Bajwa '21.5, a gender and sexuality studies and Hispanic studies concentrator, won the Helen Terry MacLeod Research Grant for her project "Reproductive (In)justice in Detention." 
Describing her project, Sabrina said, "In September 2020, whistleblower Dawn Wooten drew attention to allegations of forced hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Just two years prior, the Trump administration found itself embroiled in a legal battle as the Office of Refugee Resettlement denied pregnant minors’ access to abortion in detention. Through archival work, reviewing key court cases, and conducting interviews with current organizers, my research traces the historical incorporation of reproductive coercion within immigration politics to illuminate how these seemingly contradictory anti-birth and anti-abortion pushes exist simultaneously. In considering these examples in conversation, I highlight the creative efforts of activists in urging for a reproductive justice-based movement to dismantle the white supremacy underlying the convergence of reproductive coercion and anti-immigration politics."