“This was a community achievement,” says Gillan Chalono ’23 of his Beinecke Scholarship win. He is one of just 16 college juniors chosen this year from across the United States to receive this financial support for a graduate education—and he’s quick to credit other people who have helped him get to this point.
Among them is Christine Overstreet, director of Amherst’s Office of Fellowships. “She provided such stellar care and attention to my writing, my application materials and myself as a person,” Chalono says. He also thanks Assistant Professor of Philosophy Rafeeq Hasan for help with his personal statement for the Beinecke application, noting, “He’s been a mentor and supporter ever since I arrived at the College.”
That personal statement itself describes many community influences. “While growing up in Little Haiti gave me much to enjoy, it also drew my attention to how race, ethnicity and our other identities can determine the trajectory of our lives,” Chalono wrote of the diverse Miami neighborhood to which he immigrated from Martinique as a child. His mother, he added, “often contextualized our hardships through historical narratives of gender, and she introduced me to feminist theory through her own poetry and activism.”
Chalono’s statement acknowledges another mentor, Ann Thebaut, his philosophy professor and Ethics Bowl coach at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., where he studied before transferring to Amherst in 2021. Thebaut encouraged him to undertake an honors thesis for his associate’s degree—a research project based in the philosophy of Virginia Held, who “imagines the individual as inseparable from their relationships to others, suggesting that political and moral rights should primarily stem from our obligations to our fellow citizens,” Chalono wrote.
This kind of community-mindedness is also evident in Chalono’s work and extracurricular activities. He’s been an organizer for the Miami Workers Center, Gainesville’s Dream Defenders and Atlanta’s Working Families Party. “This summer, I’ll be interning at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans, an organization which provides direct legal services for indigent defendants who are facing capital punishment. I’m very excited,” he says. At Amherst, he’s an intern in the Center for Restorative Practices, certified in restorative circle practice to address community conflict.
Chalono cites Hasan’s “Equality/Inequality” seminar, as well as Senior Lecturer David Delaney’s “Property, Liberty and Law” and “American Legal Theory,” among the Amherst courses that have interested and influenced him most. During his senior year, he intends to write a thesis on the intersection of distributive justice and law. And, of course, the Beinecke Scholar will look ahead to graduate school: “I’m considering applying to several master’s programs in philosophy both in the U.S. and overseas.” Law school is also a possibility.
“I know that I want to empower and elevate my community,” Chalono says, “no matter what profession I choose to pursue.”