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MIT SHASS Diversity Predoctoral Fellowship Program welcomes 2023-24 class

The fellowship program enhances diversity in SHASS and provides fellows with professional support and mentoring.
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Michael Brindley
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Seven portrait photos arranged in two rows
Top row, left to right: Danah Alfailakawi, Nina Dewi Toft Djanegara, Alessandra Jungs de Almeida, and Amber Mackey. Bottom row, from left to right: Somayeh Tohidi, Vanessa Noemi Velez, and Biyi Wen.
Photos courtesy of the subjects.

The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) Diversity Predoctoral Fellowship program recently welcomed its 2023-24 class.

The purpose of the program is to enhance diversity in SHASS and to provide fellows with additional professional support and mentoring as they enter the field.

The fellowships are intended to support scholars from a wide range of backgrounds, who can contribute to the diversity of SHASS and the higher education community. 

Fellowships support graduate scholars for a nine-month appointment at MIT that generally runs from September through May. They offer an opportunity for scholars who plan a career in higher education and have completed all other PhD requirements to finish their dissertations with access to libraries and faculty of the school.

Danah Alfailakawi, MIT Literature

Alfailakawi's dissertation, titled “The Abject Queer: Barely being, nonhumans, and death worlds on the Arabian Peninsula,” brings the fields of psychoanalysis, queer of color critique, and critical race theory to contemporary literatures of the Arabian Peninsula. In her dissertation, she defines queerness as that which absorbs the cataclysmic violence necessary to erect and sustain subjectivity. In doing so, she poses the questions: Which historical processes and modes of being are central to the stabilization of a dominant Gulf subjectivity? How do these processes and modes of being create bodies, spaces, and worlds that are abject and queer, for the sustenance of the normative subject? Who and what fulfill the role of the abject queer not only in the Gulf, but on a global scale? Throughout her writing, Alfailakawi draws from the methods of Indigenous poetics, Black radical feminists, and women of color feminisms to play with erotica, storytelling, memory work, and citational practice, thus contributing to a body of scholarship that aims to reshape the very form of academic research.

Nina Dewi Toft Djanegara, MIT Anthropology

Nina Dewi Toft Djanegara is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. Her dissertation examines the use of facial recognition to govern U.S. borders and interrogates the sociocultural significance of the face as a symbol. In particular, she draws upon ethnographic and archival methods to understand how facial recognition technology makes claims about identity, citizenship, and belonging. Djanegara holds a MS in environmental science from Yale University and a BA in international development studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Her interest in the use of technology to “solve” political problems derives from her early career in climate change impact assessment and climate modeling.

Alessandra Jungs de Almeida, Program in Women's and Gender Studies

In the context of feminist and anti-feminist organizations’ disputes in Argentina and Brazil, de Almeida's research analyzes the efforts of both groups of organizations to act in the political structure of opportunities to promote and internalize international norms over the legalization and criminalization of abortion in the region. Concerning this framework of analysis, her main research question is: How did feminist and anti-feminist organizations use the political structure of opportunities to promote and internalize norms in the abortion rights agenda in Brazil and Argentina and internationally? This exploratory and qualitative research will be used for future comparative analysis. She hopes to identify similarities and differences in the actions of each group of organizations (feminist and anti-feminist) on how they promote and internalize international norms and build the political structure of opportunities in which they will act. Through this analysis, she will be able to formulate well-supported hypotheses on the reasons for different results in both countries.

Amber Mackey, Department of Political Science

Mackey is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting scholar at MIT. Her research examines public policy, representation, and race and ethnic politics in the United States. Specifically, Mackey's research explores when policies about race make it to the political agenda and how these policies impact existing racial inequalities. Her dissertation utilizes text analysis to track legislative attention to race across states and the federal government. Through this work she aims to document how variations in attention, responsiveness, and policy outputs impact the lived realities of people of color.

Somayeh Tohidi, MIT Philosophy

Scientists are not the sole recipients of statistical studies, and peer-reviewed journals are not the exclusive medium for the dissemination of these studies. Statistics and claims backed by statistical evidence are used in articles aimed at lay audiences. Tohidi's research focuses on how we ought to receive and interpret statistical evidence, considering our limited cognitive capacities and varying levels of knowledge about the field and the specific study generating the statistical evidence. She also investigates how these statistical claims relate to social stereotypes. Specifically, she addresses the question of how we, as bounded rational agents, should approach statistical studies that confirm social stereotypes. At this stage, she refers to her project as “Statistical Evidence with a Humane Face.”

Vanessa Noemi Velez, MIT Anthropology

Velez’s dissertation traces the environmental and political history of metro-Atlanta’s rapid economic development from the beginning of national urban renewal in 1949 to 1996 when the city cemented its status as a global hub after hosting the Centennial Olympics. In particular, she focuses on how Atlanta’s early and enthusiastic embrace of globalization and new urban planning and engineering trends led to great economic success and widespread celebration as the new “Black Mecca” for African American business and culture. Unfortunately, this progress came at the expense of the city’s most vulnerable communities and their local environments — the consequences of which Atlanta is struggling to overcome today.

Biyi Wen, MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Biyi Wen will be working in conjunction with Professor Nick Montfort in The Trope Tank to develop her dissertation project “TextBox: an intermedia assemblage on the history of Chinese text processing.” The project consists of two parts, a media archive and a dissertation. The media archive is a web repository for text processing artifacts that she collected by consulting various institutions for computing history and East Asian studies as an archivist, such as character types, text processors, computers, and computational language processing models. The dissertation investigates the material and epistemic ruptures and continuities of these artifacts under three time periods: pre-computing, analog to digital computing, and cloud computing.

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