Undergraduate Awards

Anthropology Summer Research Grant

Every year in the spring semester the Department of Anthropology runs two competitions for Johns Hopkins University undergraduates. The Summer Research Grant (1-2 grants for $1000 each, depending on the number of applications) is to be used to support the costs of independent student research, or those associated with student participation in faculty research. This competition is open to all current and prospective anthropology majors and minors and requires a short proposal, itemized budget, and a brief note of support from an anthropology professor in the department.

Nafisa Haque, Winner of the 2021 Anthropology Summer Research Grant 

Nafisa Haque

“Civil Identity and Young Muslim Women in Madrasas in the U.S.”

My research project focuses on the subset of the Muslim American youth population who attend Islamic secondary education institutes, or madrasas, full-time. In today’s political climate, there are distinct and polarized conversations on gender, immigration, and Americanness.

This project will explore how young women who attend madrasas in the U.S. grapple with these conversations within the context of their education. The key questions of my research are: How do madrasa students experience and integrate these conversations within and outside the madrasa setting? That is, how are the public conversations regarding politics and feminism discussed in the madrasa setting? How does madrasa life contribute to the students’ performance of gender, politics, and Americanness in the different settings in which they operate? By answering these questions, my study seeks to shed light on how young Muslim women in the United States understand and navigate belonging in the U.S. given the contentious and divided nature of the American public sphere at present.  

Trouillot Essay Prize

The Michel-Rolph Trouilliot Essay Prize for Undergraduate Students was established in the memory of Michel-Rolph Trouilliot (1949-2012), a leading anthropologist of the Caribbean who received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1985.  This competition is open to all JHU undergraduates who are invited to submit original writing, an essay written for a class assignment, or an excerpt from a thesis or independent study.  The winner of the competition receives a cash prize of $500 and the runner a cash prize of $250.

Samantha Slack, Winner of the 2021 Trouillot Essay Prize 

Samantha Slack

“Online Community Building in Anti-Mask Groups” excerpt from final thesis

This paper examines community-building and shared notions within closed anti-mask groups, in order to understand the ways these communities are forging identities and worldviews in the face of a widespread discourse opposed to them. Particular attention is paid to the texture of online interaction and community-building, and the ways that this forum creates a shared space for communication and the construction of meaning. 

Anti-mask online communities on the Facebook platform have a few defining features: they tend be decentralized, private, and adhere to open forum communication within the groups. Membership is a matter of self-identification. As such, membership is performed by adherents to the group, through participation in certain types of posts, which encourage reactionary response. When interacting through these posts, there are clear correct and incorrect responses, which are enforced by community members, revealing that such performance is imbued with meaning. 

Actors are tied into and held accountable by a net of kinship mediated by social media. This discourse fabricates an entirely different worldview for members of the community, one that is necessarily built upon and driven by antagonistic forces. This media space and the way the anti-mask community operates within it can answer the question of how communities construct themselves in opposition to adverse actors, and the important role that heteroglossia plays in forming their worldview.

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Samantha’s essay:

Samantha’s paper presents ambitious original research, combining ethnographic data drawn from a virtual archive with adept references to anthropological scholarship. Her examination of discursive techniques employed in anti-mask groups on Facebook shows how these discourses simultaneously produce forms of community and inscribe worldviews. Her attention to detail and close adherence to the material to produce conceptual analysis demonstrates exemplary quality of research, as well as facility with the methods of anthropology as a discipline. 

Samantha’s explication of mana and collective effervescence shows how, rather than excitation of a state beyond the profane, the online experience embraces profane life. She demonstrates how collective effervescence figures in online discourses stripped of mana, and it is here that her originality lies; especially in how this point becomes framing material for the remainder of her analysis.

Sabrina Abrams, Runner-up for the 2021 Trouillot Essay Prize

Sabrina Abrams

“The Imagined Architecture of the Internet”

The internet is a multifaceted, complicated, and ubiquitous thing. In this paper, I begin with Peter Sloterdijk’s rendering of place and use a plethora of anthropological and theoretical writings to analyze the Internet as a physically enacted place. I dive into four films to examine the imaginary architecture of the Internet as enacted in media to trace its cultural and historical background. I find that the imagination of the Internet developed and drew from distinct user experiences ranging from well-versed hackers, the Dark Web, the front-end entwinement of shopping and social media, and dreams of something more. While the Internet predominantly becomes a place for the transmission of information — an idea showcased across a breadth of films — in the end I turn to James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) to find the dwelling perspective, with a grounded sense of place in its Internet architecture.  

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Sabrina’s essay:

Sabrina’s paper offers a refreshing exploration of different filmic spatial visualizations and physical enactments of the Internet. Her eloquent prose is well-organized, and demonstrates a sophisticated and layered approach to analysis, weaving together an exciting range of interdisciplinary sources. Her work develops an anthropological approach to film analysis while investigating the ways we “dwell” together on the internet, and the ethical implications of visualizing this togetherness in particular ways.

Tomisin Longe, Honorable Mention, 2021 Trouillot Essay Prize

Tomisin Longe

“Vaccine Hesitancy Among Black People During the Covid-19 Pandemic”

The concept of vaccine hesitancy within the Black community is one that takes root in the history of medical mistreatment of Black people. This project aims to provide this broader context through a focus on the Tuskegee study. The Tuskegee study provides insight into the medical injustices faced by Black people, how the study was perceived within the medical community, and the lasting effects of the study on discussions of racial disparity in healthcare.

The paper introduces the concept of the responsible individual, who is held accountable for their relationship with medical institutions as opposed to placing the responsibility on the institutions that create and perpetuate violence. By exploring conversations in public health and media surrounding racism in healthcare, as well as vaccine hesitancy, this project uncovers how the narrative of the vaccine hesitant Black individual is created and enforced. The paper concludes that without the acknowledgment of this historical background, vaccine disparities within the Black community cannot be properly addressed nor looked at in the broader social contexts that allow for these disparities to persist.

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Sabrina’s essay:

Tomisin’s paper draws from and builds on a long history of work on questions of the Black body and medicinal trust in anthropology. Their analysis insightfully takes into account the terms of the debate over the responsible individual, is anchored in strong anthropological investment in such issues, and propels a consideration of contemporary debates over vaccine hesitancy/accessibility among Black communities in the U.S. 

Mansha Kapur, Honorable Mention, 2021, Trouillot Essay Prize

Mansha Kapur

“Reverse Adaptation as a Barrier to Lifestyle Activism: An Autoethnographic Exposition”

Lifestyle activism is the practice of embodying one’s moral, ethical, and political stance in their everyday living. Vegan, minimal-consumption, freegan, and low-waste lifestyles are a few common manifestations. In this paper I engaged in several lifestyle changes by upholding a plastic-free, minimal consumption regime and documented my experiences as an auto-ethnographic exercise.

My experiences and reflections inspired me to explore how the human capacity for reverse adaptation may act as a barrier to lifestyle change. Highly evolved species sometimes possess the capacity to transform their surroundings to suit their needs, and our own propensity for this alternative to personal or societal change may attenuate motivations towards engaging in lifestyle activism. The problematization of disposal, observed in vistas of environmentally degrading landfills and anti-litter rhetoric, allows us to circumvent personal culpability in the plastic waste crisis. Likewise, emphasizing animal agriculture reform can undermine public calls to alter our society’s dietary practices, while corporate entities manifest reverse adaptation in their efforts to preserve ethically challenged industries. 

The jury of graduate students for the Trouillot Essay Prize had this to say about Sabrina’s essay:

Mansha’s paper effectively mobilizes auto-ethnographic reflection to discuss the moral stakes of lifestyle activism. The originality of her work comes in part from her unique writerly voice and point of view. Her analysis demonstrates an apt employment of the concept of reverse adaptation, and a progressive engagement with the concept of habitus, demonstrating comparative thinking and careful extrapolation of her argument from the individual to the collective.