Research and Collaboration

Featured Projects

Through the Master of Arts in Cultural Studies curriculum, students integrate diverse content areas and research methods and often participate in community action research and experiential learning.

Here are examples of student research and collaborations.   


Pongo Teen Writing

Vanessa Hooper has been a volunteer mentor and assistant project leader with Pongo Teen Writing for three years.  Pongo works within local youth institutions, helping young people understand themselves and build self-esteem through poetry and other forms of personal writing. Teens are asked to speak from the heart openly and honestly about who they are as people, often finding safety in the space to write about their darkest moments. Each week, Vanessa visits King County Juvenile Detention Center as part of a Pongo team, and meets one-on-one with youth to create narrative poetry as a form of writing therapy.  Volunteering with Pongo allows Vanessa to interact with individuals who have survived severe trauma, and she finds this a privilege that is deeply rewarding.

While in the Cultural Studies program, Vanessa integrated her work with Pongo with an academic internship. Under the guidance of Professor Dan Berger, Vanessa expanded her understandings of the U.S incarceration system, exploring the historical and societal underpinnings of the industrial prison complex.  While the lives and stories of those on the inside provide her greatest teaching, the perspectives afforded by Cultural Studies have caused Vanessa to consider the multitude of social and political issues that perpetuate the carceral state, and therefore, to envision more holistic and effective interventions to build change.


Photojournalism and Whiteness

David Ryder is a Seattle photographer who chose to enter the Cultural Studies program to investigate "whiteness" and its relation to photojournalism. He came to define whiteness as a set of qualities that give privilege to an arbitrary group based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy with white on top. Whiteness is often inscribed through the media, including photojournalism. Photojournalistic whiteness often involves depictions of non-white subjects in passive, powerless roles, while images are sent to Western audiences by Western photojournalists working abroad. In his capstone project David offered two practice-based approaches to intervening in the inscription of whiteness through original photojournalistic work, while reflecting on his successes and failures. The capstone project included a discourse analysis of the institution of photojournalism and the processes that inscribe whiteness. David analyzed mainstream photojournalism practices, major photojournalism contest winners, an iconic photojournalist, and his own practices to show that photojournalistic whiteness is not only a question of oppressive imagery, but also of space and of audience. Especially important was his finding that whiteness manifests through patterns of spatial control of the physical world, as evidenced in his photo essay that explores the mapping and photographing practices of the Google Maps Street View project. Through this photo essay, David demonstrates the ways in which the physical world is depicted as being open for surveillance, cataloging and domination - something that has come to be a part of definitions of whiteness in current scholarly conversations.


UWB Women of Color Collective

Cultural Studies students often collaborate around shared interests and experiences. In the past, students have organized around the areas of film studies, gender and sexuality, and cultural politics. Four members of the 2009-11 cohort, Priya Frank, Theryn Kigvamasud’Vashti, Mona Halcomb, and Amanda Martin Sandino, formed the UW Bothell Graduate Women of Color Collective as a safe space to discuss current issues that graduate students of color, particularly women of color, face in academia. One output of this endeavor was the UWB Graduate Women of Color Collective blog. Of this experience, the collective writes:

“This blog was an accessible way of displaying a collaborative effort amongst the women that started it. Though our experiences in graduate school were different, and our ideologies varied, the blog was a place where we could all come together and voice successes, frustrations, concerns, and interests. In a program that did not often include speakers that reflected our own ethnic backgrounds or experiences, that kind of support was invaluable, and even the process of creating the blog became a source of encouragement and strength. As Theryn, a founding member of the blog expressed, at times it was an “underground railroad” to find ways of coping and supporting one another. This space filled a gap that existed in the program and our friendships created a new community of support. On a level of human agency, we could connect and make meaning of our experiences collectively. Having recently presented together at the UW Women of Color Collective Conference, we plan to continue utilizing this network both professionally and personally through a mentorship program, scholarships, and other community-building efforts.”   


Ronald McDonald House Charities

Working as a Spanish tutor and educator for several years, Holly Winters sought the MA in Cultural Studies degree as further preparation for a leadership role within the cross-cultural education sector. Holly knew that practical application would be critical to her overall learning, so she interned at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western WA & AK (RMHC) with the goal of enhancing her program development and evaluation skills. While at RMHC, a nonprofit organization that supports seriously ill children and their families, Holly created and implemented a Spanish language training program for staff and volunteers. Her objective was to enhance awareness, advocacy, and appreciation among RMHC service providers for Spanish-speaking and Latino families at RMHC, while discovering and employing new strategies in bilingual education. Working within a unique organizational culture, Holly’s internship provided a rich opportunity for realizing what’s effective within a given context. Additionally, she is using this experience to inform her capstone research project which examines bilingual education and the power dynamics involved in the language acquisition process. Holly’s ultimate aim is to found and direct a community-based Spanish/English bilingual education program, and she is well on her way!

"Developing and implementing a Spanish language curriculum for staff, volunteers and guests at the Seattle Ronald McDonald House provided me with invaluable practicum experience while also addressing the linguistic needs of Latino cultures in our community. My personal pedagogy has been positively influenced by this internship, and I am eager to continue providing my community with Spanish language education through a cultural studies lens." --Holly Winters


Araçuaí, Brazil Documentary Film

Angelica and PedroAngelica Macklin began production on a collaborative documentary film in Brazil as part of her final capstone research project. The film investigates how certain members of the community of Araçuaí have historically organized citizens toward civic engagement and how their work laid the foundation for the social and political change between 1960 and 2009. The project seeks to understand how and where education, artisan production, and civic engagement intersect, and the role that every-day people play in cultural production, consciousness building, and identity changing politics. This documentary will highlight the early liberation work of Frei Xico, who was appointed by the Catholic Church as cleric of the town between 1969 and 1989, Maria Lira, an artist, researcher and founder of the Araçuaí Workers Party in 1983, and Geralda Soares, an activist who works primarily with indigenous movements around Araçuaí concerning issues of land rights and sustainability. The film will follow their roles and actions in the 1980s and 1990s that led to the election of Worker Party Mayor Caca-Maria do Carmo Ferreira da Silva in 1997. She was the first female mayor and first Black mayor of the town and played a significant role in policy reform. She was also instrumental in bringing in Tiao Rocha, director of the Center for Popular Culture and Development, who has spent the past few years developing the town’s public education system, agricultural projects, and economic growth.  


Nietzsche! The Musical

Jeremy Richards focused his capstone research on the dramatic potential of Friedrich Nietzsche. Over a century after his death, Nietzsche’s often misinterpreted influence still pervades intellectual and popular culture, from Freud and Foucault to Kanye West and Little Miss Sunshine. Beyond a cultural residue, however, remains the question of Nietzsche’s impact on, and reputation in, the public consciousness.

Drawing on Nietzsche’s texts, conventions of musical theater and gospel, and ethnographic interviews with Nietzsche scholars, Richards’ research culminated in the creation and production of “Nietzsche! The Musical,” which ran from May-June 2010 at Seattle’s Market Theatre. Because musical theater demands an emotional response, Richards’ work endeavored to transcend the obvious, delving into the complexities of the questions that Nietzsche provokes: What guides our morality? What is the role or absence of religion or spirituality in our lives? How do the stories we tell ourselves
about ourselves bridge or widen the gulf between intention and effect?

Richards hopes his musical and capstone research will contribute to a greater understanding of the cultural production of religion, the embodiment of moral philosophy, and the praxis of theater in exploring deep theory through wide appeal.  


Nordic Heritage Museum 

Photo by Monica UlsethInterning with Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, Martha Levenson desired an opportunity to explore the relationship between museums and schools - how they are similar as educating institutions and how they might collaborate for maximum benefit. Already Director of the Museum's Lilla Spelmanslag, Martha deepened her knowledge of the Museum as an institution by immersing herself in its programs and operations, which greatly broadened her perspective on and appreciation for the Museum’s inner-workings. During her internship, Martha assisted with event planning, cataloging, developing curriculum, facilitating public tours, and fundraising. One of her favorite projects involved preparing a folk art exhibit, which introduced her to best practices in exhibition. Martha views her internship experience as a catalyst for further inquiry into education policy and learning in formal and informal settings.

"This experience provided me with multiple opportunities to expand my knowledge base of the Museum's functions, mission and vision, and it increased my interest in the ways education policy can support collaboration between museums and schools." 
--Martha Levenson


Mixed-Race LGBTQ Families 

Joy MacTavish-Unten’s capstone research project was a pilot study focusing on the question of how mixed‐race LGBTQ families within the Seattle metropolitan area develop strategies and support systems. In recent years there has been an increase in the academic and community‐based work on the topics of LGBTQ families and mixed‐race families, but not always on the intersection of the two.

Using a feminist cultural studies analysis of textual materials and ethnographic interviews with adult members of mixed‐race and LGBTQ families, Joy sought to gain a greater understanding of how the decision‐making and experiences of mixed‐race LGBTQ are tied to anti‐oppressive strategies and support systems. Her inquiry found that each family develops unique strategies and support systems based on their needs and experiences. Many participants shared that the Seattle area offers many opportunities to connect with other mixed-race LGBTQ families and that overall they felt supported by family, community groups and schools as they strive to raise happy and well-adjusted children. 


Humane Research Council

A consummate advocate for animal rights, Diane Venberg pursued an internship with Humane Research Council (HRC) to further her passion and commitment to animal welfare. HRC empowers animal advocates with access to the research, analysis, and strategies that maximize their effectiveness to reduce animal suffering. Seeking an opportunity to enhance her research skills, Diane assisted HRC by conducting secondary research and analyzing data and also focused on grant research and writing to expand her knowledge of the philanthropy arena. Diane’s experience as an intern deepened her professional skills while enhancing her world view of the animal rights sector. In addition, her internship with HRC provided a wealth of information and expert contacts for her intended capstone research, which will examine the interconnectedness of feminism, race and animality, and human empathetic correlations to animals.  

"It was exciting to discover all of the emerging research and growing segment of theorists, activists and academics in the field I'm engaged in. HRC is incredibly well-connected to animal protection groups all over the world and has established their organization as a highly-respected and valued asset - I was very impressed with my experience." --Diane Venberg


Seattle Human Rights Film Festival 

Five cultural studies students worked with faculty member Ben Gardner to develop a course that designed post-film audience engagement activities.  Partnering with Amnesty International's annual Seattle Human Rights Film Festival, the students facilitated two post-film activities to promote dialog and social action around human rights issues. 

The selected films included "To See If I'm Smiling," which features the stories of six female Israeli soldiers formerly stationed in Gaza, and "Journey Through Hell," which documents the perilous journey of Somali and Ethiopian migrants risking their lives to cross the Gulf of Aden in search of a better future.  Both post-film activities evoked difficult questions and thoughtful dialog, and audience members were encouraged to visit a wiki website developed by the students to foster more discussion and resource sharing. 

"What I appreciated most about the film curriculum project was that it gave us space to practice activism and community-building within an established Seattle festival. The insights gained about festival organization alone made the project worth the effort. Combined with the team's preparation and the multitude of activist-connections, this project was among the most rewarding I've had." 
--Nikki Neuen, participating student   


Imagine Children's Museum

Imagine Children's Museum invited Faith Simonelli to evaluate their summer enrichment program for Hispanic/Latino children.  Called “Imaginate,” the program targets bilingual children with the goal of increasing their sense of belonging to the community as well as their English language retention over the summer. 

Through the Cultural Studies program, Faith received training in various research methodologies.  She immersed herself in the three-week day camp program, and her activities involved participatory observation and surveying “campers,” their parents, and elementary school educators.  Faith is in the process of analyzing the data and hopes her findings will broaden dialog around the needs of bi-lingual children while enhancing the museum’s cultural programming.   The experience confirmed Faith’s commitment to elevating the needs of minority communities and solidified her desire to pursue a career addressing local diversity issues.  In addition to her work with Imagine, Faith serves as a member of Everett’s Cultural Arts Commission.  


Wing Luke Museum 

WLAM Ballot PartyIn October 2008, Cultural Studies students participated in the first-ever Ballot Party held at Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle's International District. In conjunction with the museum's exhibit "Our Voices...Our Democracy: Civic Engagement in the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Community," the Ballot Party was co-hosted by a number of community-based organizations, including: Wing Luke Museum, Asian Pacific American Labor Association, APIAvote WA '08, ROAR, and OneAmerica.

The Ballot Party featured a presentation on the importance of elections, interpretive services, assistance with voting, and ballot collection. Cultural Studies students participated in a variety of ways: helping staff the Ballot Party, documenting the event, and meeting with community organizers to discuss how civic engagement operates within our local APIA communities. 

 "Personally, the most interesting and meaningful part of this site visit was when the organizers shared their personal experiences and understandings of the historic and contemporary civic engagement within and by the APIA community. Their stories from the past, their hopes for the future, and their current actions to link the two made the theoretical aspects of civic engagement and democracy more tangible." 
--Joy MacTavish-Unten, participating student