THESISCRAZY 2019 (Part 1): And So It Begins

“I just love to play with the old moldy shit” – Aviv Rau ’19

Welcome to the first post of THESISCRAZY 2019!

If you’re interested in being interviewed for a THESISCRAZY interview, please fill out this google form! Whether you’re heavy STEM or the most artsy fartsy out there, let us showcase all the hard work you’ve put in these past few months. If you’re looking for a terrific way of dealing with work and imminent deadlines, here’s the archive of interviews from previous years for your reading pleasure.

The interviews of three marvelous, intelligent women are after the jump!

Aviv Rau ‘19, AMST and SOC major, thesis in both, Olin carrel #354

Working Title: “Let Them Get Hazed: Conditional Co-Education at Wesleyan University, 1872-1912”

Is “Let Them Get Hazed” a direct quote from something Yes, from an Argus article that a sweet old alum wrote in 1871 in reference to women coming to Wesleyan. He was like, ‘let them get hazed!’”

On her topic“My umbrella topic is exploring the first wave of co-education at Wesleyan, which was 1872-1912, in conversation with the curriculum that was introduced at that time. I’m looking at this moment of democratizing the campus in terms of access—at least for women and some Black male students—but at the same time, closing the curriculum in terms of who it applied to by making it increasingly involving eugenics and sexology movement ideas. So it’s pretty depressing… Looking at those two aspects in conversation, and then really pointing out the ways that through that, administrators and professors were complicit in creating an environment that was increasingly hostile to women and to students of color. Because most works about co-education kind of suggest that male students were really bad to women, and that’s true, but that’s only part of the story.”

On how she came up with her topic: “I took a class with Professor Boggs, who is now my advisor, in the spring of my junior year, and it was called ‘Critical University Studies.’ It was definitely one of the best classes I’ve ever taken at Wesleyan. In it, we looked at Wesleyan history with a critical eye, and we looked at all these university abolitionist scholars, and I think that really landed me on the topic of co-education. I was thinking about trauma, and about the sort of weird position that white women have always been in in universities for as long as we’ve been able to go to them, which is that we’re kind of a bargaining tool, in a sense, where whiteness allows us to blend in and be complicit in a lot of the ways that the university produces pretty violent knowledge, but our gender becomes this site for administrative and peer trauma. And so thinking about that weird role and that interesting contradiction of white women in universities and thinking about histories of gender trauma at Wesleyan really landed me on the first wave of co-education as the primary example of that, at least in the way that it was portrayed in a lot of the institutional literature, and digging deeper and seeing where it fits that narrative and where it goes beyond that.”

When you say “university abolitionists,” do you mean people who want to abolish universities? “Yeah, so they want to abolish universities, and the weird contradiction is that most of critical university studies comes from scholars in universities, who are being paid by their institutions to write this work. That was something that we would grapple with all of that semester when we took this class, and that was the contradiction that I couldn’t get over. But yeah, these are people who are writing from universities and who are like, ‘So yeah, I’m tenured and making $100,000 a year at my university… Anyway, let’s abolish them!’ It’s this super-weird contradiction, but it’s what I’m really interested in. A lot of people write about university abolition as maybe a little symbolic or metaphoric, not exactly tearing down the structures literally, but abolishing the ways that the university has historically produced knowledge, and the capital that has come out of it, and the ways that it has been tied to some of the most nefarious investments in our country and in our age.”

On her progress: “*laughs* I definitely had a leg up at the beginning of this year because I had been working on this junior year, and that was really nice. I came out of the end of last year with parts of a chapter, and have since totally scrapped those and reworked things about a hundred thousand times, and am right now stressed as fuck… but I definitely have the privilege of having worked on it a little before this year, and that has been huge. So I’m not maybe as crazy-stressed as I should be.”

On her current mental state: “Ummmmm, yeah… not my best. Not my worst. It’s nice that I’m still excited about my topic, but I think that the more excited I get about it as this goes on, the more I’m like ‘Ah fuck this topic is really complicated, and I don’t know what I’m saying about it!’ so that’s been probably my main concern. I feel like this is really important work to have done in the university, and I don’t feel qualified to be doing it.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “I read some really upsetting things. My thesis is mostly archival, or at least starting at the archive, looking at archives, and then acknowledging their epistemic violence and their shittiness, and then reading historians and feminist scholars and queer scholars onto what’s already in the archive. So I’ve found some really just awful things that I’ve been engaging with throughout this. Probably the most upsetting experience is that I found in an 1880s or 1870s yearbook issue, I found this kind-of joke, maybe, but it’s unclear… It’s this page that says ‘KKK Chapter’ and it has the names of male students from that era listed. And this was while there were a couple of Black students at Wesleyan, and a couple of Black students who had already graduated from Wesleyan. This was less than 10 years within the KKK forming in Tennessee, and so it’s crazy that, even if it’s a joke, and even if it’s something that they meant satirically, that students were interacting with that discourse so soon after this horrible thing was founded, and that it made it to Wesleyan. That has probably been the most upsetting thing that I’ve found.”

Her favorite form of procrastination: “My favorite form of procrastination is that I share my carrel with Tomas Rogel ‘19 and it’s not like what I think the university intended, but we have just both been chilling in this carrel because it’s pretty big. We talk for hours on end when we’re in there, and probably annoy everyone around us, so, sorry to everyone on 3A. Neither of us do our work ever, but we make so many Wesshop trips together, and we go get coffee, and we talk for hours about all the things we’re going to write but never end up writing. It’s been really nice to have someone in my carrel, and despite that procrastination, it’s awesome, and I wouldn’t want it any other way!”

On her plans for April 16: “My plan for April 16 is to come out here, on these steps that we’re on right now! I’m still debating whether I want champagne, or maybe I want something else? Maybe I want prosecco? Maybe I want just like, a whole lot of beer? But whatever it is, I’m gonna drink so much of it. I’m just gonna be soaked. I hope it’s warm, my plans are all contingent on that.”

On her advice for future thesis writers: “I don’t know, do something that you’re really excited about. And, obviously it doesn’t work this way for everyone, but for me, the thing I was most excited about was being ‘the closest to home,’ so to speak. I think that, especially people who are interested in being critical scholars, we spend so much of our time with our eye outwards toward other movements and other places. It was really important for me to do this looking at myself and thinking critically about my role, and about historically what roles mine have meant in universities, and about my university. I think for anyone who’s interested in critical scholarship and wanting to do a thesis where they don’t have to spend money or apply for grants to do research, it’s really nice to stay close to home and to complicate our own relationships. It feels like a nice capstone on my four years here, to reflect on what I’ve done here, and what my role has meant throughout the years.”

Her favorite part of her thesis: “It’s this constant kind of running joke between my advisor and me that I, like, love archives, and am really interested in archives, and refuse to read into what I’m finding past a certain point. Like I just love to play with the old moldy shit and be like, ‘Oh my god, I found this thing!’ and tell her about it. And she’s just like, ‘And…? Like, what theory are you gonna apply to it?’ and I’m like, ‘Binch, naw!’ I love it! I’m just interested in the old shit. So the archiving has been really fun for me, but I’m really grateful that she’s been pushing me to do something with it. I feel like now I have a lot of really cool theory that I’ve read and wouldn’t have had the chance to read otherwise. So, shoutout to Abigail Boggs!”

On if her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “Okay, so I love this question, and I was talking to people about this question because I’m so interested in it! I was asking Tomas about this, actually, and he was like, ‘I don’t know??’ And I talked to a few people and realized that I think it would be the Wesleyan Fight Song, but like, really demonic-sounding and slowed down like 5000%! Because my thesis is very much taking Wesleyan’s ‘Ah, we’re just a fun college with lots of spirit!’ and just turning it on it’s head, and the sort of dark legacy that’s come out of all that.”

Her most used word/phrase: “‘Co-education,’ or ‘archive,’ or ‘masculinity,’ ‘whiteness,’ ‘womanhood’… have all been famous words that you can find a thousand times in my thesis.”

On her theses feces: “Fine? I feel like not weirder than normal, but my normal is really weird, so like, y’know, we’re at a 40% normal right now. There’s lots of fiber in my diet, so everything’s coming right out, but it’s good!”

 

Rachel Williams ‘19, COL and FGSS major, thesis in both, carrel #442

Working Title: “Le robó el alma”: Male Lovesickness in Early Modern Spanish Literature”

On her topic: “It’s on male lovesickness in early modern Spanish literature! *laughs* I’m sort of looking at it as a gendered counterpart to what we later recognize as hysteria in women, but those sort of symptoms were common in both men and women in the literature of the period, so I’m using that to prove how hysteria is a constructed disease.”

On how she came up with her topic: “So last fall, I took a class in the Spanish Department on Medieval Spanish literature, and we read a book called The Celestina, where the central male character is very lovesick, and the way he behaved is kind of hysterical. Two students in that class actually gave a presentation on lovesickness as a disease, which I thought was really interesting. I started thinking about it more, and when it got to spring, I was doing a little research, and I found that not a lot of work has been done on Spanish lovesickness. There are works on English or Italian literature as it talks about it. So I talked to my advisor and proposed this, and now I’m here.”

On her progress: “I’m pretty good! I submitted a draft two days ago, so on like Thursday, and I’m hopefully meeting with my advisor on Tuesday to get those edits. So that’s a solid week to edit before it’s all due, but it’s mostly done. I just have a few things: I need to write my acknowledgments, do my bibliography, and whatever other minor edits I get.”

On her current mental state: “Uh, I’m okay. I’m tired, but since the draft is in, it feels kind of mostly done, so I’m not freaking out. But I also kind of feel bad because I know a lot of other people are probably much worse than I am right now.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience:  “Well, there was one at the beginning of this week where I was trying to format all of these poems that I put in, where I translated them. I was trying to do it in columns, but Microsoft Word was hating me and messing up all my footnotes, and all the format, and I almost cried. So that was pretty bad. Other than that, I had a meeting with my advisor right before spring break where I’d submitted everything that I had written so far, and she gave me the stuff back and told me I needed to restructure both of the chapters I’d given her. That was kind of traumatic cause then I had to go into Spring Break and do all of that work.”

If you haven’t figured out how to fix the column thing, insert a table and make the lines white. Word columns are dumb, and tables are easy! “I might need to go do that! Like, it’s fine now, but when I have to adjust my margins, it’ll probably mess it up again.”

On her favorite form of procrastination: “I have a lot. I struggle a lot to actually do work in my carrel because I feel like there’s no one there to tell me not to procrastinate. It’s just me in my little room. I play a lot of Candy Crush, I watch basically anything I find on YouTube or Hulu or Netflix… Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna take a quick break!’ and then I’ll watch an entire episode of Brooklyn 99 as a ‘break,’ so, not the best…”

On her plans for April 16: “I’ll be on the steps, and then I don’t really know what’s happening after that! I’ll definitely be on the steps, and then I’ll probably be drunk, and then I’ll have to figure out how to wake up for my 9 AM work shift the next day.”

Her advice for future thesis writers: “All the stuff that everyone says: like, choose a topic you like, get started early, know your work habits… If you’re someone who works well under deadlines, set them for yourself. If that’s not for you, figure out a way to know how this will work best for you because it’s a major project and bigger than anything anyone’s ever done before mostly in college. It’s not the same as, ‘Oh, I have a 15-page research paper due,’ it’s like, much more work than that, and you really need to budget your time. Also just like, still live your life! Don’t let it be just thesisthesisthesis because you’re just gonna start hating it and not enjoy senior year, which you should still enjoy.”

On her favorite part of her thesis: “I’m working with these two books, one by Cervantes and one by this woman author named María de Zayas. The de Zayas text is really interesting because she’s not super-well-known. People in Spain know who she is, but not in the US. There’s not like, a ton of scholarship on her, so it’s been really cool to work with that. Also she says stuff in the book that I’m working with that’s really radical in its ideas about gender. She’s basically saying that gender is constructed. She’s writing in 1637, and she’s saying kind of the same things that Simone de Beauvoir is says, and everyone’s like, ‘Wow! The Second Sex!’ But she said it like 300 years before that, and so that’s been really cool to discover.”

On if her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “Any song/movie/tv show that has ever depicted someone being super, super upset about their love lives, really. Also the whole album by Rosalia, El Mal Querer, because she’s keying into themes in that album that are present in a lot of the literature that I’m working with, in terms of how a relationship goes. So I’ve been listening to that a lot.”

Her most used word/phrase: “Well, ‘lovesickness.’ Also, ‘suffering’ because that’s the language that the characters in the books use. They’ll be like, ‘Oh! My suffering! My pain!’ So then I’ll say, ‘this is how blah blah blah makes his suffering worse.’”

Anything else? “One thing I wanted to say was that one of my forms of procrastination has been reading old thesiscrazy posts this week, since you guys put them all up. So I was reading, and some of them from like 2-3 years ago, people were like, ‘I’ve been living in Olin! I get locked in here overnight! I only eat Wesshop frozen meals!’ And I would say that I’m very glad that is not me, and most of the people that I know who are writing theses are not there either. I don’t know if my friends and I are just more prepared than those people were, or what? It was really sad! They were suffering a lot! And for the most part, the people that I know are like, ‘I’m stressed, but it will all be okay!’”

 

Maya Dorn ’19, NS&B and PSYC Majors, FILM Minor, thesis in General Scholarship (PSYC, NS&B, FILM), carrel #407

Working Title: “Scare Me, I Dare You: A Neuropsychological Account of the Horror Film”

On her topic: “The psychology of neuroscience and why we like horror film. The reason why I’m interested in it is that it’s a paradoxical liking of horror film because we usually hate fear; it’s aversive, but in the context of horror film, we eat that shit out. Before the Star Wars Saga, Jaws was the highest grossing film of all time. And I wanted to study it from a neurological perspective.”

On her progress: “Right now, I’m just editing. The thesis is divided into four chapters, and the first one is the really heavy neuroscience one. This is what I have the most trouble with, and will probably never be done. It’s keeping up with the literature of the neuroscience of motivation and reward and fear, which takes up a lot of energy, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to finish it.”

On her current mental state: “I am chill, but I am frustrated with how chill I am.”

On her favorite form of procrastination: “I go through different phases. Right now, I play this jeopardy game to see how smart I am; but you have to watch these ads to play the game. You have to wait a few hours for your “bank” to earn enough money to enter another competition, so it’s addicting. I have to anticipate the next time I get to play.”

On her plans for after the 16th: “I’m just not going to give a fuck. I’m going to have so much fun.”

On her advice for future thesis writers: “Make sure to pick a topic you’re passionate about. Writing this felt like hell, but I genuinely wanted to learn about this topic, which kept me going. Some people say that they want to write a thesis, but don’t know what to write about; don’t write a thesis unless an idea comes to you. Don’t force an idea.”

On her favorite part of her thesis:“My intro and conclusion because the body paragraphs have a scientific approach, which is fun, but the intro and conclusion are when I’m speaking like a real person. In my intro, I talk about how this isn’t just about intellectual curiosity When I was little, I thought monsters were so fascinating, and I get to talk about that in my intro. In conclusion, I talk about the applications of the intersection between fear and reward outside of the context of film.”

Her most used word/phrase: “Probably scare.”

Anything else? Scott Higgins. I was making my thesis advising appointment the other day, and I thought to myself that I am going to miss Scott. He’s become a father figure to me, and so I go to thesis appointments like his kid and get really excited and say ‘Look at what I put into my thesis, isn’t this cool?!'”

*NOTE:MAYA WILL BE PRESENTING HER THESIS AT 5:30 TODAY!! IN WOODHEAD LOUNGE!

Interviews by michelle and Meli