Having been finished with classes since Winter Quarter, it had been a few weeks since I’d been in a classroom setting. However, I went to the American Studies Senior Research Symposium before the year ended to listen to a few of my best buddies present their senior theses.

The American Studies program has always been interesting to me; it’s an interdisciplinary program in which students take a range classes in areas such as Political Science, English, Gender Studies and History and apply them to the study of American culture. They take super cool sounding, very specific classes such as “Girlhood in Public Culture” and “The 2012 Presidential Campaign” (in which a group of students studied the election and campaign as it unfolded in real time). Apparently a lot of other Northwestern students are just as intrigued by the program as I am because when I went to the Symposium, the room was packed!

The Symposium gave nine American Studies graduating seniors the chance to present their thesis work in front of friends and family and talk about the research that resulted in those dozens and dozens of pages.  The topics themselves were incredibly thought-provoking; one of my favorites was my friend Hannah’s thesis on the book Harriet the Spy and its impact on literature and girlhood culture in America. She actually applied for a $3,000 undergraduate research grant the summer after our sophomore year, lived with me in D.C. and spent her days in the Library of Congress researching how First Daughters had been covered in the media over the past few decades. She did that research so long ago, but was able to incorporate it into a thesis she wrote her senior year! Watching her presentation was awesome.

Another one of my favorite presentations was Rachel Schwab (also a senior counselor here in the office), who presented her research on interracial coalition building between radical groups in Chicago during the Civil Rights Era. She talked about how the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, a Puerto Rican civil rights group and an organized group of Southern Whites in Chicago — three groups from three distinct Chicago neighborhoods — worked together to bring about change.

It was inspiring to hear Rachel be so articulate about this very intellectual topic she had been studying for the past few years. But I also got to learn a lot about Chicago’s history; I was so engaged because I could picture the neighborhoods she was talking about and really comprehend her findings. I love how Rachel, a Seattle native, paid tribute to Chicago by pouring her heart into a years-long research project. Two other American Studies students presented theses on Chicago-specific topics, and it made me so happy to hear how my classmates had taken advantage of being so close to a city with such a rich, diverse history and sociopolitical climate (a city that I’m leaving soon and will miss so much!) So, some parting advice from an old senior: When the time comes, go hear your friends talk about their work!

–Ava Wallace

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