“The First of Many Firsts”: Reflections on the 2019 Women & Girls in Georgia Conference
Dr. Hapsatou Wane
On October 26, 2019, I co-presented the paper “Can Black Girls Speak: Surviving Transgenerational Traumas in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give” at the 2019 Women and Girls in Georgia Conference in Athens, GA with my undergraduate research assistant (RA) Necole DeLoach (’20). As an assistant professor in English and French, this was the first time that I co-presented a paper with a student.
Actually, this exciting adventure encompasses the first of many firsts. After reading the conference’s call for papers and noting that the theme was “Community,” I contacted Necole immediately and asked her if she would be interested in co-presenting with me. Necole and I have been working together on a digital annotated archive on Black Immigrant Literature since summer 2018 when she replaced my former RA Margaret Higgins (’18). I’ve always thought of mentoring students as a way of building a community, so the conference, with its theme, resonated with me. I resonated with their commitment to “highlight feminist research and connect academics, advocates, activists, and community members from across the state and region in a collaborative and supportive conversation.”
Having worked with Necole since summer 2018, I had no doubt that this conference would be a great venue for Necole’s first academic conference.
Previously, Necole participated in the 2019 Center for Undergraduate Research and Intellectual Opportunities (CURIO) Symposium (Statesboro) and the 2019 Student Scholars Symposium (Armstrong). In her presentations, Necole introduced the digital annotated archive “Defining Ourselves: Black Immigrant Women on Identity” featuring writers such as Chimamanda Adichie, Taiye Selasi, and Edwidge Danticat. Her archive is accessible to students, staff, and faculty via their Georgia Southern accounts.
Thanks to our common interest in comparative world literature and black girlhood, it was an organic process to select the topic of our paper. Necole and I met twice a week during the month before the presentation to work on the paper. From a mentor vantage point, such a collaborative work was a first for me. Needless to say, it was a learning and teaching experience for both of us.
The Process and The Results: A Conference To Remember
Necole successfully applied for the Undergraduate Research Travel Grant which covered the conference registration, lodging, and transportation. We drove to Athens, GA on Friday evening. This was our first time in Athens, GA. The playlists reflecting my questionable taste in music and Necole’s excitement provided a much-needed entertainment in an almost 5-hour road trip. In the morning, we registered for the conference. We attended some of the morning panels as well as the keynote speaker’s performance “Not Quite: Navigating Citizenship and Belonging” by Dr. Ada Cheng. The 45-minute storytelling-based solo performance followed by a 30-minute audience and talkback discussion was a great opportunity for Necole to attend and participate in a non-traditional presentation of research and scholarship. Then, we had lunch with other participants at a communal table.
While the keynote performance was definitely one of the highlights of the conference, both Necole and I felt that our talk could not have gone better. Our paper on voicing traumas shows how black girls use cultural markers of their in-betweenness to endure and heal from their traumatic injuries. We explored how the concepts of the “T.H.U.G. life” in The Hate U Give and “Erzulie in Haitian Vaudou” in Breath, Eyes, Memory are central to the transformational change experienced by the protagonists and illustrate how black girls’ strategies of healing are locally and culturally situated. We had a great audience who engaged during the discussion session and was very supportive and appreciative of Necole’s first conference presentation.
Before heading home, Necole and I took advantage of our first trip to the University of Georgia where we took a picture with a statue of the university mascot and other university landmarks. We also could not pass the opportunity to try some Ethiopian/Eritrean food in Athens. Thankfully, Necole enjoyed her first taste of Eastern African food. We headed back to Savannah the following morning. No words can ever describe the privilege of witnessing an undergraduate student’s many firsts in their academic life: their first research presentation with faculty, their first academic award, their first conference travel, their first engagement with an academic audience, their first presentation in a regional conference, and their first taste of African cuisine.
Undergraduate Student Research: Looking Forward
Necole’s firsts–of what I hope will be many– is one reason why I worked with students in my fall 2019 Senior Seminar class to submit an undergraduate research panel proposal to the 29th Annual British Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies Conference hosted by the Department of Literature at Georgia Southern University.
Pending acceptance of the proposal, Necole DeLoach (’20), Christopher “River” Godbee (’20), and Chandler Hanton (’20) will participate in the panel, “Other, Otherness, and Othering in Postcolonial Studies” on February 21-22, 2020 in Savannah, GA.
In “Constructing (un)Situated Women: We Need New Feminist Spaces for Postcolonial Women,” DeLoach illustrates how voices of othered women she labels as (un)Situated contribute to the creation of new feminist spaces for postcolonial women. Godbee, in “Cultural Erosion: Colonialism and the Erasure of the Native Past in Post-colonial Literature,” coins the concept of “cultural erosion” as a manifestation of postcolonial otherness in postcolonial novels. In “Reflecting, Replicating, and Readjusting Reality: A Postcolonial Perspective on Fantasy Novels,” Hanton puts in conversation postcolonial theory on othering with the various forms of otherness displayed in young adult fantasy novels.
I am looking forward to witnessing and appreciating many more firsts in their academic lives.
Posted in Department of Literature Blog