Student presenting at Senior Symposium. Text reads: Humanities

Student Abstracts: Dwight - Panel D


Sabryna Coppola, Philosophy
Should Solidarity Replace Charity?: The Systemic Harms of Effective Altruism and Mutual Aid as an Alternative Moral Structure
Project advisor: Nina Emery

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced mutual aid to the wider mainstream community; whether giving to GoFundMe campaigns or helping neighbors get groceries and PPE, it became a more common practice to many who had previously had little experience with mutual aid. However, mutual aid is by no means a new practice and has been a crucial tool for survival among marginalized groups when the state or aid programs fail to meet their needs.

Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher, wrote a paper in 1972 called “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” that had a lasting impact on the way that we think about giving to charities and NGO aid projects. His writings helped to create a branch of practical ethics called effective altruism. The goal of effective altruists is to save the most lives per dollar amount possible. Using a maximum efficiency model, they select causes based on how successfully they can yield results. However, this means that some causes are ignored because they are too expensive or hard to show a return on investment. Singer also encourages people to get higher-income jobs, like the CEO of a company, so that they can be paid more and donate more money to ‘effective’ organizations. Singer cites Bill and Melinda Gates as some of the most effective altruists in the world.

However, these organizations cause systemic harm both within their own structures, in the communities they engage with, and their approach to the problem. I argue that the actual and potential harm these organizations and the effective altruist mindset pose are more harmful than their benefits can reliably outweigh. I show how we should be cautious to endorse these kinds of organizations and be open to considering alternative methods of meeting immediate needs.

I discuss mutual aid as an alternative to effective altruist organizations because it, by nature, does not pose the same potential harms that effective altruism does. Beyond that, it creates more support networks for the future and builds solidarity among communities, organizing and mobilizing individuals to change or disengage with the structures that often create the material need that mutual aid addresses and amplify the challenges that marginalized groups face. The non-hierarchical structure at the heart of mutual aid emphasizes every individual’s importance in decision making and their potential to contribute to their community. Morally, we ought to devote more resources to mutual aid.

Bethany Powell, CST
Writing Sanctuary: Interviews on Writing Against the Carceral System and Toward Recovery
Project advisor: Kate Singer, Iyko Day

Creativity can flourish in the most absurd of circumstances--and possibly better them. This project surveys programs that lead creative writing workshops inside the dehumanizing world of women's prisons and jails. This project seeks to articulate how these workshops restore humanity to those inside, and render it into a resource.

This project integrates oral history interviews and my hands-on experience with two different nonprofits offering creative writing programs to incarcerated people and those in recovery. My initial objective was to compare practices and articulate a theory of creative writing as a therapeutic practice. My research has shifted in focus after starting the interview process to analyze how these groups function as important places of connection, and how creativity facilitates that process. I interviewed volunteers and participants in different states about their experiences. From these interviews, I seek insight on why writing together and sharing creative work elicits connection.

While I focus on embodied knowledge with interviews and continued community experience as my focus, some of the signpost readings for this project have been Kay Pranis's The Little Book of Circle Processes1 , Paula Johnson's Inner Lives2, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore's Golden Gulag3. Connecting Restorative Justice practices to the approach the workshops take has been key in understanding their structures as restorative spaces. Exploring how trauma correlates to incarceration and addiction is also an intrinsic part of this research.

In keeping with the theme of creative expression, I am creating a digital magazine that the organizations I interviewed can utilize to promote their work, as well something similar organizations can utilize. This digital magazine will include both a reflective piece of writing on my research, excerpts from the transcripts of the interviews, and further resource lists.
1 Pranis, Kay. The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking. New York: Good Books, 2015.
2 Johnson, Paula. Inner Lives : Voices of African American Women in Prison. New York: New York University Press, 2003. Accessed March 26, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.
3 Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. 2007. Golden Gulag : Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press. Accessed March 26, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Lucy James-Olson, CST
Crossing Gender: Reading "female husband" narratives through queer phenomenology and critical fabulation
Project Advisor: Kate Singer

What are the limits of the archive in representing queer gender in the eighteenth century? This is one question which I seek to explore through the archive of “female husband” narratives—a genre of newspaper stories published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries about people assigned female at birth who lived as men and legally married women. I engage with Sara Ahmed’s theory of queer phenomenology, which “emphasizes the importance of lived experience, the intentionality of consciousness, the significance of nearness or what is ready-to-hand, and the role of repeated and habitual actions in shaping bodies and worlds.”1

I consider two methods of queer phenomenology through two narratives of gender crossing from the eighteenth century—a mobility-based approach, and an object-based one—in order to develop a new methodology of phenomenological speculation. Phenomenological speculation acknowledges the inherent speculation involved in asking the phenomenological question what do objects do as well as the speculative elements of stories about gender crossers. This methodology, which is deeply indebted to Saidiya Hartman’s theory of critical fabulation, engages speculative fiction grounded in phenomenological thinking as a valid method of writing and telling (hi)stories.

In chapter one, I consider the emergence of a binary sex system during the eighteenth century in order to contextualize my reading of Henry Fieldings 1746 narrative “The Female Husband.” Then, I use queer phenomenology to examine the extreme mobility of Charles Hamilton, the central gender crossing figure of that narrative. In chapter two, I turn to the most popular “female husband” narrative, that of James Howe, originally published in 1766. I adjust my phenomenological method, focusing not on mobility but on two conspicuous objects in the narrative which shaped James Howe’s life. Using these objects, I develop an analysis of the effect of James Howe’s class position and return to womanhood on the public reception and popularity of the narrative about them. I consider the speculative elements of their gender crossing and eventual detransition. In the third chapter, I turn in more detail to the methodology of phenomenological speculation, providing a critique of standard queer historiographical methods and advocating for the possibility of using speculative fiction in understanding queer history. To conclude, I discuss Jordy Rosenberg’s speculative historical fiction novel Confessions of the Fox, which reflects that possibility.
1 Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 1.