2012 WAGS Prize Winners

Congratulations to our 2012 WAGS Prize Winners Lilia Kilburn and Sarah Schear!

Lilia Kilburn

Lilia Kilburn

Lilia, an Anthropolgy major, is from Lexington, MA. In her application she stated "Gender has been the core of my anthropological studies, and I plan for it to remain my focus when I pursue a PhD in anthropology. Before beginning my senior thesis, I conducted an ethnographic study of female collegiate debaters, who are drastically underrepresented in the debating community, which focused on the ways in which they derive vocal authority in an often-hostile climate. This year, I aided Professor Gewertz in the teaching of her course,The Anthropology of Gender, by contributing readings to the syllabus and by planning and leading one 2.5 hour seminar meeting independently."

Department of Anthropology Honors Thesis

Articulated Identities: The Transformation of Transgender Voices

Abstract: Articulated Identities attends to the process of voice modification among transgender women, extending preexisting work on body modification to consider the voice more specifically as a contested site of gender performance. Scholars have long lionized those who engage in gender trouble through drag; this paper expands that conversation by seriously examining transgender women’s more subtle critiques of the gendered status quo. A transgender man who undergoes hormone therapy will see his body change and his voice deepen; by contrast, a transgender woman can change her body through hormones, but not her voice. As such, many transgender women grapple with the personal, political, familial, and aesthetic consequences of having a voice that is at odds with their hormonally femininized bodies, and turn to speech therapy, Youtube videos, and even surgery in order to change that voice. Drawing on in-depth interviews with twelve transgender women and two speech therapists, as well as participant-observation at transgender community events, this paper determines that the voice is crucial to personal negotiations of gender identity, and that the process of voice modification itself often convinces transgender women of the inadequacy of clear-cut models of male and female speech, a realization that then enables them to gain greater control over their voices. As such, rather than reflecting a single, stable perspective on gender, the voices of trans women exhibit a wide variety of discursive strategies for navigating fraught and sometimes coercive personal, political, and governmental realms—strategies in which the voice’s pitch and resonance, not merely its words, are crucial. This thesis critiques a strand of feminist thought that attacks trans people as complacent conformists who subscribe to an outmoded and oppressive gender binary by examining the ways in which trans women’s vocal strategies subvert and destabilize biological determinism, government regulation of gender, and the gender binary itself.

She has also been awarded a 2012-2013 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

Words Apart: Representing Global Debate in Local Communities
Ghana, Cameroon, Singapore, Qatar, New Zealand
"Bolstered by the status of English as a lingua franca, new organizations join the existing alphabet soup of English-language debating leagues each year. In my Watson year, I seek to explore the often-unexpected results of debate's encounters with indigenous spoken traditions. As a participant as well as an observer, and using varied media, I will travel to countries where the activity has flourished so as to document local interpretations of parliamentary debate and the wider landscapes of speech in which they inhere. By posting my own and others' words and images online, I will produce a collaborative compilation of debate's subtleties and surprises across the world."

Sarah Schear

Sarah Schear

Sarah, an Anthropology major, is from Bethesda, MD.

Department of Anthropology Honors Thesis

Valuing Daughters: Contestations of Kinship and Activism Surrounding Sex-Selective Abortion in India

Abstract: The phenomenon of sex-selective abortion and the low child sex ratio in India has generated an incredibly voluminous and conceptually tangled literature across multiple decades and disciplines--from women's studies and Indian feminist literature, to anthropology and demography. It has lead to much analysis of the cultural and economic underpinnings of "son preference" in Indian society, as well as generation of potential legal and grassroots activist approaches to curbing the practice. This thesis is an endeavor to understand and reconsider some of the most prominent contemporary stances on sex selective abortion, as well as the historical roots of these stances-- particularly for the women's movement in India, the Indian state, and the Indian medical establishment. In order to do this, I draw on the insights of activists, feminist scholars, and families of different caste and class backgrounds shared with me during interviews in two North Indian cities--Delhi and Varanasi--this past January. In light of these interviews, I re-consider prominent literature on son preference, women's agency, and the politics of development interventions and the constitution of children and mothers' value in contemporary India. In the end, my thesis is an effort to closely examine concepts of value and culpability, which suffuse activists’ efforts to pinpoint the locus of the problem of sex selective abortion and to generate grassroots and legal solutions, as well as the lives of some childbearing women I have interviewed, with tensions and meanings.

Sarah is also the receipient of a Fulbright Scholarship.

"With the help of a Fulbright Scholarship, Sarah Schear will have the chance to study women’s rights and family planning in Northwest India through a project entitled “Women’s Empowerment and Sex Ratios.”

This will not be Schear’s first stay in India; in fact, she spent the 2010-2011 academic year in Varanasi to study Kathak Dance and Hindi language as well as examine the work of social programs for children with disabilities. In her application, Schear explains that she hopes to contribute something she believes is “notably lacking” to India’s existing demographic statistics on sex ratios and sex-selective abortions: “fieldwork rooted in particular contexts and privileging the views and experiences of families. The central questions of my study, which will be of interest to policy makers, include: How are marriage practices, women’s employment and parental expectations of children affecting sex selection, and are these impacts specific to certain regional or class groups?”

Besides her previous experience in India, the Anthropology major has worked in China and visited Norway, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Professor Ranjana Sheel, who observed Schear during her time in Varanasi, praises her “penchant for details and hard work” which he believes will allow her to “be successful in meeting her objectives and bringing forth much-needed facts.” Ultimately, Schear, a volunteer EMT, plans to earn a joint degree in medicine and public health before becoming a pediatrician or family practitioner. She plans to work primarily with low-income populations while remaining “an advocate for global health equity.”"

The Amherst Student Issue 141-25

May 18, 2012