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Jordan O Beck '22 on Being a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow

January 28, 2022 Alina Peon '22
Jordan O Beck '22

The College is featuring a few of the Class of 2022 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows (MMUF) in advance of this year's deadline for applications. Jordan O Beck '22 is a Literatures in English major with minors in French/Francophone Studies and Film Studies.

MMUF is an initiative of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to increase the diversity of faculty within higher education. At Bryn Mawr College, the MMUF Program is co-administered by the Pensby Center for Community Development and Inclusion and a member of the faculty. Interested students apply their sophomore year and each year five students are selected to be a part of the program. The deadline for applications for the Class of 2024 cohort is 9 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 14. 

In addition to conducting research, Mellon Mays Fellows regularly meet with their cohort to exchange ideas and share research progress. Other activities include professional development workshops, cultural outings, and meetings with other MMUF campuses. 

Each fellow pairs with a faculty mentor at the College to conduct research on a topic they are passionate about. Jordan’s research focuses on the themes of queerness, race, environmental issues, and coloniality as explored and understood in speculative fiction.  

Who was your faculty mentor and what was it like working with them? 

My faculty mentor is Professor Kate Thomas of the Department of Literatures in English. I have found working with her to be a rewarding experience because she challenges me to think about where my research fits in with the conversations going on in the field of literary studies. Her research focus is very different from mine, but her varied expertise and our shared interest in queer studies and coloniality add more depth to my research than I would have if I was working entirely self-directed. 

What can you tell me about your research project? How has your process helped decolonize academia? 

My research project is, in the broadest sense, about speculative fiction and issues of queerness, race, and coloniality. I investigate how the genres of science fiction and fantasy, specifically in contemporary works, can reckon with those themes of coloniality and its effects. My current project is my senior thesis for Literatures in English, in which I read Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 science fiction novel Annihilation using the lens of toxicity to decentralize the human in the text’s confrontation of environmental crisis. 

One way in which we at MMUF decolonize academia is by promoting diversity, both of content and of person. Working on a text that rejects human dominion and features a woman of color as the protagonist expands the archive that we study. Furthermore, as a woman of color entering academia, my teaching and my service to my future students will be a small push towards diversity in the field. 

What opportunities were you able to take advantage of thanks to the fellowship? 

The most important thing that my fellowship has given me is the resources and structure to do my research. My stipend has allowed me to update the technology I use for my research and in classes, buy books and other materials, and relieved the burden of needing to prioritize work over study during the summer. Moreover, support in applying to graduate programs, like GRE prep and help researching programs, is invaluable. 

Additionally, at the MMUF regional conference this year, I was able to present my work for the first time, meet other fellows, and participate in the exchange of ideas which had gotten me excited about MMUF in the first place. 

How has your Bryn Mawr education been impactful in your research process?  

My courses at Bryn Mawr have given me a grounding in writing and research methods which I have found endlessly helpful. On a more specific note, my idea for my research grew out of my work in classes taught by my mentor, Professor Kate Thomas, and by Professor Matthew Feliz. Professor Feliz’s science fiction cinema course helped me focus my enthusiasm into the specific project that I have now. 

What are your plans for the future? 

I’m planning on taking a gap year after graduating this May to apply to Ph.D. programs in English departments. I’m currently still deciding whether I’d like to go into a postcolonial literature focus, or a film studies focus. In the interim, I’ll go back to my hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area and teach theater to kids at my local community theater. I’m also waiting to hear back from English teaching assistantship programs in France for the 2022-2023 academic year.