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Now that all of our application materials are done (I hope, but bless ya'll who may still be working), I'm wondering if anyone would like to swap their SoP?  Considering how much of our lives we've spent crafting these, I thought it would be fun to compare, compliment, and commiserate.  I'll go first!  Here's my SoP for UChicago (my top choice).  Can't include my UIC one because I used the word "additionally" twice, which I will probably never forgive myself for.

 

 

Kendall Dinniene Meador

Personal Statement

 

“Look for where women try to wrest control from others to tell their own stories, to tell what has not yet been told.”  It’s a note on page 41 of my densely highlighted, underlined, and scrawled on copy of Ana Castillo’s So Far from God, a book which has influenced my development as a student of literature, and illuminated the intersectional interests which propel me toward graduate study.  All of my work engages with a feminist lens, however in researching for the paper I ultimately wrote on Castillo’s novel, I found that complicating my initial responses to the text with Indigenous, queer, and differently-abled perspectives was crucial.  In my paper, I argue for the faithfulness of Fe, a character rarely mentioned in existing published scholarly work on the novel, and never described as living up to her namesake. My argument relies on considering the various layers of marginalization this character faces, and in understanding her methods for working within, and attempting to escape, those oppressions.  Intersectionality has always been important to me, particularly as a queer woman from a rural, working class background. However, the experience of interacting with Castillo’s work further cemented my desire to look to where marginalized people are telling their own stories, with an emphasis on the layered identities from which those stories emerge.

 

Since then, my papers have consistently returned to representations of people on the fringes and their negotiations of power.  I have explored how Edith Johnstone’s impoverished Irish twins in A Sunless Heart use classist ideology and gender role swapping to combat their status as racialized Other within Victorian Britain.  I have written about Marge Piercy’s Chicana mother in Woman on the Edge of Time, specifically how that character creates a complex identity through her experiences with Catholicism, pain, and disability.  My senior capstone project on James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room argues that the novel’s central figure partners with darker-skinned men, and uses transactional heterosexual encounters, in order to recuperate masculinity and abate a femininity which threatens to swallow him.  These multi-faceted investigations provoked and enthralled me throughout my time as an undergraduate, and I plan to continue this work as a graduate student.

 

I am eager to begin the next phase of my academic career.  I would like to continue to focus on texts which examine the experiences and contributions of those within marginalized communities, particularly women, and people of color.  Expanding my understanding of cooperating oppressions is one goal that I hold for graduate study. However, while I have always enjoyed learning for the sake of learning, my ultimate goal is to gain the knowledge and skills I will need as a professor of English literature.  I am therefore intent on acquiring teaching experience, and began doing so as a college senior. At Southern Oregon University, I served as a Teaching Assistant to my advisor and Chair of the English department, Dr. Alma Rosa Alvarez. This position allowed me initial practice grading papers, developing lesson plans, working with students in the writing process, and leading class discussion about topics that I would like to teach one day.  For instance, I asked the class not only to question elements of Euripides’ Medea, but also to query how Luis Alfaro’s gender and sexual identities may have impacted his contemporary Chicano reimagining of that play, titled Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.  Observing how intersectional discussions of texts led to deeper understanding of the material, and increased engagement amongst students from many backgrounds, was remarkably impactful.  It reminded me of my first day as a student in an English Literature classroom, when I realized how much my professor cared about the subject, and what an opportunity I was going to have to discuss and learn.  I want to spend my future giving students that same opportunity.

 

The University of Chicago’s English program appeals to me for several reasons, particularly its commitment to creating excellent teachers and researchers from incoming PhD students.  Furthermore, I am very excited at the prospect of learning from U Chicago’s own exemplary faculty, specifically Dr. Kenneth Warren, whose publications on African American literature I admire, and Dr. Lauren Berlant, whose work on gender, sexuality, and embodiment in culture fascinates and inspires me.  I feel that my interest in layers of marginalization with a focus on a feminist perspective make me a good fit for your existing program. Additionally, I believe that U Chicago will provide the challenging and invigorating academic environment I am looking for, in order to achieve my purpose as a scholar, and to prepare me for my next steps.  

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On 12/24/2018 at 3:13 PM, kendalldinniene said:

My senior capstone project on James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room argues that the novel’s central figure partners with darker-skinned men, and uses transactional heterosexual encounters, in order to recuperate masculinity and abate a femininity which threatens to swallow him. 

I never saw this post, but really enjoyed reading your SoP. I find this quoted argument very intriguing— what theorists/research methodologies did you use in your capstone? Cool stuff!

Edited by swarthmawr

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@swarthmawr thanks for the feedback!  I hate theory (I know, I'm a bad English person) so I didn't incorporate much, really relied on criticism and sources from other fields.  The trickiest bit was justifying making an argument about Black masculinity when the protagonist in the novel is white, but I found some wonderful sources including a book called Playing in the White that were really helpful.  I read a ton of Trudier Harris-Lopez (always a pleasure for me!), and incorporated some (I think) interesting pieces, including a passage from "Chickamauga" to argue that American masculinity and the image of the white "conqueror" have always been intertwined, and an article about fallen women in Victorian novels (I argue that Giovanni is treated similarly in GR).  I looked at some psych sources about Black masculinity and fatherhood, particularly transmission of values.  Also Cleaver's commentary on Baldwin in Soul on Ice and a lot of Baldwin's own essays.  I also posited that the protagonist's view of femininity had a lot of Gothic elements, that was probably the most "fun" but of the paper to me.  I feel like his construction of femininity was like a dangerous black hole, more about being not male (lacking, haha, I see you Freud, but I still hate you) rather than anything else.

I feel like there's so much, I'm not really communicating it clearly...this grad app stress-induced hangover probably isn't helping ?  Anyways if you want to see my sources or chat further let me know, I could geek out about this forever, I love GR so dearly!

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There are a few too many proper nouns in my SoP for me to share the whole thing here, but I am happy to post the second half of it. The first half was a sort of big picture summary followed by a personal history of my undergrad research experience. After spending a paragraph discussing my thesis methodologies/takeaways, here is what I had (this is the UCLA version):

I plan to expand these questions beyond the formal focus that characterized my thesis’s observations about bodies, minds and emotions and engage more critically with our responsibility to the changing world in which subjects are situated. I have spent my two years away from school watching environmental protections and regulations unceremoniously disappear, pushed out of focus by flashier and more apprehensible scandals. To me, the repeated failures of calls for change in our interaction with the planet illustrate the limitations of our ability to explain enormous global crises which confound the cognitive mechanisms that lead to political action. This is not a separate question from my thesis’s exploration of animation as a visual language of mind—comprehending the scale of phenomena like climate change and migration will require new textual strategies and perspectives that will give us access to incomprehensibly large and phenomenologically distant events.

In my graduate coursework, research and teaching, I want to continue exploring the shared conceptual spaces between cinema and theories of mind, particularly the way that film theory, contemporary media studies, and ecocriticism have commingled to challenge our ideas about human consciousness and its relation to a rapidly changing planet. Animation’s openness to the transformation of material and cognitive boundaries has made it a useful medium for exploring these questions. Keeping that observation as a center of gravity, I plan to expand my focus to include a broader array of texts and technologies that mediate and theorize our interactions with the planet, investigating the way they interrogate the limits what we are capable of representing and understanding. I am confident that animation studies, ecocriticism, and media theory more broadly, will benefit from this interweaving of new and well-established critical vocabularies.

UCLA English’s faculty in the environmental humanities make it an exciting place to envision this project. As I’ve reconsidered and reconfigured the trajectory of my research in my post-graduate years, Ursula Heise’s work in Sense of Place and Sense of Planet has clarified the urgency of perceptual disparities between global and local—and given shape to my motivating questions about the impact of our representational strategies on environmental policy outcomes. And her Public Culture article “Plasmatic Nature” was a guiding light in the early stages of my thesis as I sought to understand animation’s capacity to depict and modulate the boundaries between minds, bodies and worlds. Working with Heise has been an appealing prospect since before I began the application process. I am also drawn to Allison Carruth’s research on technology and the environment, and particularly her work with the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies.

I am looking for a program that offers the methodological flexibility to investigate interdisciplinary theories of ecology and perception while also providing opportunities to develop essential teaching and research skills in literary studies. For this reason, I’m encouraged by the presence of scholars like Heise, Carruth, Elizabeth Deloughery and Louise Hornby, whose work encompasses a wide variety of textualities and critical frameworks. They show that UCLA recognizes the persistent, evolving value of textual analysis and theoretical literacy in an increasingly interdisciplinary humanities field, and they give me confidence that my graduate studies will prepare me for a career whose contours are yet unknown to me.

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@kendalldinniene that's really kind of you to say, thank you ?

I really admire the clarity and social vision on your own work. It'll be exciting to see where you end up!

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On 1/20/2019 at 11:47 PM, kendalldinniene said:

@swarthmawr thanks for the feedback!  I hate theory (I know, I'm a bad English person) so I didn't incorporate much, really relied on criticism and sources from other fields.  The trickiest bit was justifying making an argument about Black masculinity when the protagonist in the novel is white, but I found some wonderful sources including a book called Playing in the White that were really helpful.  I read a ton of Trudier Harris-Lopez (always a pleasure for me!), and incorporated some (I think) interesting pieces, including a passage from "Chickamauga" to argue that American masculinity and the image of the white "conqueror" have always been intertwined, and an article about fallen women in Victorian novels (I argue that Giovanni is treated similarly in GR).  I looked at some psych sources about Black masculinity and fatherhood, particularly transmission of values.  Also Cleaver's commentary on Baldwin in Soul on Ice and a lot of Baldwin's own essays.  I also posited that the protagonist's view of femininity had a lot of Gothic elements, that was probably the most "fun" but of the paper to me.  I feel like his construction of femininity was like a dangerous black hole, more about being not male (lacking, haha, I see you Freud, but I still hate you) rather than anything else.

I feel like there's so much, I'm not really communicating it clearly...this grad app stress-induced hangover probably isn't helping ?  Anyways if you want to see my sources or chat further let me know, I could geek out about this forever, I love GR so dearly!

I’ll have to check some of these sources out, I haven’t read them! Overall, very cool project. I have a Baldwin Christmas ornament so suffice it to say I’m a fan ? 

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1 hour ago, swarthmawr said:

I’ll have to check some of these sources out, I haven’t read them! Overall, very cool project. I have a Baldwin Christmas ornament so suffice it to say I’m a fan ? 

Now I know what my tree needs next year ❤️

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@dilby I did my undergrad in UCLA, and was quite close to most of the faculty you mentioned. Let me know if you ever want more information about the department or individual people.

Edited by manymusings14

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12 minutes ago, manymusings14 said:

I did my undergrad in UCLA, and was quite close to most of the faculty you mentioned. Let me know if you ever want more information about the department or individual people.

What a coincidence! I'm glad I chose to share the UCLA statement here :) I may hit you up if they ask me for an interview.

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