Many Haverford students are inspired to forge new post-collegiate professional goals after working on their theses. But for Kelsey Owyang ’16, her research on Asian American educational access and experiences (“Asian American Educational Experiences and the Malleable Persistence of Orientalism”) wasn’t so much an eye-opener as a reassurance. “My thesis has not so much guided my future career path as reaffirmed that I am exactly where I need to be,” says the sociology major and Chinese minor, who is now embarking on a career as an educator.
“I am grateful that I had four years at Haverford, as well as my capstone experience, to encourage me to think about using education to fight injustice, oppression, and inequality,” she says. “I will approach my career with more tenacity and excitement because of my thesis-writing process and the mentors and peers who shaped it.”
What are the implications for your research?
My research suggests that administrators, staff, and faculty at institutions of higher education, as well as scholars and researchers, need to pay more attention to Asian American students. Even socioeconomically privileged Asian Americans from highly represented ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese American college students in my study, reported racism, discrimination, and feeling unwelcome. Experiences ranged from being called racist epithets to witnessing the underfunding of Asian American student centers or Asian American Studies on university campuses. Asian Americans, framed as the high-achieving, quietly submissive “model minority,” deserve attention and resources that help us connect with our identities and connect with each other.
What did you learn from working on your thesis?
The mandatory senior thesis, like the Honor Code or the black squirrel, is one of those Haverford hallmarks that I was aware of even as an incoming freshman, but it was hard to understand the magnitude of the process before undertaking it. For three years, I thought that the thesis was an individual project. I did learn about being persistent, humble, and committed, and about speaking and writing with conviction. But the biggest takeaway for me was realizing that my work at Haverford, and in the future, is incomplete without the support of mentors, advisors, and friends.
Photo by Elena Harriss-Bauer ’19
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.