Series Note: This year, three Rutgers graduate students have been awarded the prestigious Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for 2016-2017. Read on to learn more about Carolyn Ureña’s research, commitment to diversity, and her thoughts on working as a Fellowship Advisor at GradFund.
A Fellowship Advisor’s Perspective
As a graduate student I started taking advantage of GradFund’s services even before I first set foot on campus! I participated in a summer mentoring program before my first semester, and that experience was transformative. Not only did it give me the opportunity to begin the long process of refining my research project, but I was able to begin building lasting relationships with faculty mentors — one of whom is my dissertation chair, another is on my committee, and another remains a trusted reader. As a Fellowship Advisor, I became a better reader and writer and in meeting with fellows graduate students I learned first-hand the value and pleasure of communicating across fields of study. Rutgers is full of passionate researchers and scholars, and in speaking with them about their work I learned how to better share my own.
Diversity in Research
Inspired by figures such as the renowned psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, and informed by decolonial theory, phenomenology, critical race theory, and disability studies, my dissertation, “Invisible Wounds: Rethinking Recognition in Decolonial Narratives of Illness and Disability,” challenges contemporary understandings of health, illness, and disability by engaging in the larger project of reevaluating how we define what kinds of lives are worth living. Specifically, I bring Fanon’s medical and theoretical contributions into conversation with U.S. and Caribbean narratives in French, Spanish, and English to examine how accounts that foreground the wounds and the embodied forms of knowledge that are the dual legacies of slavery and colonialism offer access to devalued or otherwise overlooked perspectives.
My work contributes to current efforts to build on the links between the humanities and the medical sciences, and in order to do so I draws from literary studies, Caribbean philosophy, critical theory, medical anthropology, and ethnography to enrich my interdisciplinary project. My goal is to foment discussion between seemingly disparate fields that can nevertheless serve to promote social justice while also working to increase medicine’s awareness of the complexity of patients’ stories, both of which are essential to the goals of the growing fields of disability studies and the health humanities.
I grew up in Washington Heights, a primarily Dominican neighborhood in northern Manhattan, where I was fully immersed in my family’s culture, speaking Spanish at home and English at school. My bilingual and bicultural upbringing provided me with early exposure to the value of inhabiting two worlds, and this experience inspired my passion for learning to speak multiple languages in order to be able to communicate with people across various cultures. This same desire to explore communication is what drives my current research on redefining health and illness because although we will all at some point in our lives encounter illness and disability, this is not always apparent given the ways we talk about what it means to be healthy or ill.
Giving Back by Teaching
My parents, immigrants to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, always valued education very highly and encouraged me to do my best in school. In fifth grade, I jumped at the chance to apply for Prep for Prep, a highly selective leadership development program for underrepresented public school students, and succeeded in being admitted. The program involves 14 months of intensive supplementary coursework, all while attending public school, in order to allow students the opportunity to gain admission to private school in seventh grade and gain access to more rigorous educational experiences that have lifelong consequences. This summer will be my third teaching rising sixth graders at Prep as a way to give back to a program that helped transform my life through education.
As a university professor and researcher I aim to promote new ways of understanding the world. Given my research interest in bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities, I have been pleased to encounter pre-medical students each semester whose understanding of patient autonomy shifts as we discuss the medicalization of the broad spectrum of human variety. Among my most rewarding experiences has been bringing together students from various majors and specializations and facilitating their ability to find common ground in discussions about what it means to be human.
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