Fellows take first steps of yearlong projects

by Rebecca Asoulin | 10/27/14 6:40pm

Black masculinity, fibromyalgia and Dominican citizenship rights — these are the subjects of this year’s three senior fellows, who are each spending the year focused on one academic project instead of juggling classes. This week, Hannah McGehee ’15, Bennie Niles ’15 and Yomalis Rosario ’15 are completing their first-term updates.

A faculty committee selected the three students last May for the program, which allows students to pursue yearlong personal projects with faculty advisors and financial support.

Niles said his project, a documentary film called “I, Too, Am Man: Reconsidering Black Masculinity,” focuses on articulations and perceptions of black male identity. This summer, Niles workshopped his project at a six-week humanities institute program at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.

Two research trips, one to Morehouse College, in Atlanta, and the other to Chicago, informed his work. Following interviews and discussions, he decided to focus on black male behavior, clothing and sexuality.

Niles said talking to documentary filmmaker Taylor Witten ’08 solidified his focus, which expanded to include James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. along with Malcolm X, the topic of his proposal last spring. The additions, he said, will “draw out complexity and speak to different articulations of black masculinity.”

“It all started to click,” Niles said. “The work, the research trips and the questions I was interested in.”

Niles said other filmmakers have influenced his technique, particularly Marlon Riggs, who inspired him to incorporate visual poetic reconstructions in his film.

McGehee’s project, “Living Fibromyalgia: Communicating Chronic Pain through Narratives and Creative Expression,” will use art to show what it is like to live with chronic pain and fatigue, symptoms of the disorder.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder of pain and fatigue that is diagnosed by exclusion after running tests that return negative for other conditions.

“It’s an invisible disease because you can’t see pain, you cant see fatigue,” McGehee said of fibromyalgia. “I wanted to explore how people can express that in means other than words because it’s hard to express pain in words.”

Berry Library and the Black Family Visual Arts Center will display her exhibit in the spring term, McGehee said. After graduation, the exhibit will move to Colorado, where McGehee is currently working informally with the Colorado Fibromyalgia Center.

McGehee said her biggest challenge has been recruiting people with fibromyalgia to share their narratives, but she was surprised by the enthusiastic response she got from online forums.

From her initial conversations with doctors and patients, financial and weight issues emerged as themes.

McGehee plans to speak with Dartmouth students, community members and doctors from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs when she returns to campus for the remainder of the year.

“There’s no way I could have done the work that I’m doing right now through normal courses,” McGehee said.

Rosario also traveled for her project, spending a summer conducting interviews and taking photographs while living among people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic. She plans to publish the narratives and photographs along with historical context in a book.

During her summer in the Dominican Republic, Rosario worked with non-governmental organization el Centro Bonó. She plans on traveling back to the Dominican Republic to co-lead an alternative spring break program through the College.

Rosario is transcribing and translating 10 interviews with people whose Dominican citizenship rights are threatened by recent legislation. In the process, she has begun picking out themes from these oral histories and placing them in a historical context. Common threads include childhood poverty, anti-Haitianism linked to Dominican nationalism, the threat of statelessness and a lack of official documentation.

Rosario, whose family is from the Dominican Republic and who grew up in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York, said she feels most motivated in academics when the work is relevant to her, usually through a political connection.

“What motivates me is that sense of purpose, convincing myself I’m doing something significant for justice, for social transformation,” Rosario said.

Over the past few months, her project has evolved, switching from film to digital photography and focusing on one NGO as opposed to the proposed three.

Undergraduate advising and research Margaret Funnell director said budgets for senior projects vary. Costs, timeline and content all change over the course of the project.

While projects sometimes come in “streaks,” with multiple projects in a year drawing on art, music, science or other departmental backgrounds, Funnell noted that each student’s project is distinctive.

All three senior fellows are taking at least one class this year, and Rosario noted that the fellows’ senior year experiences are similar to those of other students.

“In many ways there isn’t that much of a difference,” Rosario said. “I’m still doing a lot of work all the time, and that’s what everyone else is doing.”

Rosario is a former member of The Dartmouth senior staff.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Oct. 28, 2014):

Rosario is traveling to the Dominican Republic in the spring to co-lead an alternative spring break trip, not to conduct research, a mistake made due to an editing error. The article has been corrected.

Correction appended (Oct. 29, 2014):

The name of the non-governmental organization that Rosario is working with isel Centro Bonó, notReconocido.