Dissertation Fellows contribute to cultural vitality on campus

At the beginning of the 1997-98 academic year, Kenyon President Robert A. Oden Jr. announced the creation of the College's Dissertation Fellowships. A national search was conducted for doctoral candidates in the liberal arts who had concluded their course work but not their dissertations. Two individuals were chosen from a large group of applicants and began work at Kenyon this fall.

A n observer of the migrations of cultures across geographical boundries, Asale Ajani attempts to critique the ways in which these migrations are represented in anthropology. In her research, she explores questions of criminality, gender, immigration, and race, seeing herself as an activist-scholar engaged in the quest for social justice.

Born and raised in California, she headed east for her undergraduate education, taking a bachelor's degree from the New School for Social Research. She then returned to California for her master's degree from Stanford University, where she is now a doctoral candidate.

Beginning in 1992, Ajani worked in Italy examining issues of immigration and race. Most recently, she spent fifteen months in Rome working with incarcerated immigrant women, most of whom were from the African nations of Nigeria and Senegal. Upon her return to the United States, she took a position in New York City as director of community education and outreach at the Center for Immigrant Families.

"I think the thing that impressed me the most about Kenyon's fellowship advertisement in the Chronicle of Higher Education was its honesty," says Ajani. "And I'm very happy that the College brought two people into the program this year. It is so helpful to have a colleague who's going through the same process of writing a dissertation." Noting that she "will take everything possible from the interaction with students," she adds that she is looking forward to the teaching aspect of the fellowship. Her fall-semester course examines race, gender, and nationhood, while "Traveling Cultures" is the title for her spring offering.

Ajani, who has traveled widely, eagerly accepts every opportunity to do so. High on her list of places to visit is Cuba. Art and architecture, particularly industrial design, are also among her interests, and she is looking forward to exploring the galleries in nearby Columbus, Ohio.

A lawyer for several years, Marla Kohlman is now about to become a doctor--a doctor of sociology, that is. After earning a bachelor's degree at Haverford College, Kohlman went on to receive her law degree and a master's degree in law and justice in a joint-degree program at American University. Then, as a staff member at Mundy, Holt, and Mance, a Washington, D.C., firm, Kohlman underwent a rigorous practical training program in the law.

"As a law clerk, I did everything except actually take a case to trial," she says. "The training was thorough and comprehensive. After I was admitted to the Maryland bar, I added trial experience to my resume. But in the process of learning all about the many aspects of the law, both civil and criminal, I also learned it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

So Kohlman returned to school, this time in the doctoral program in sociology at the University of Maryland. "I'm really interested in sexual harassment and the institutional structures of U.S. society that are instrumental in perpetuating harassment in the labor market as well as in the daily lived experiences of men and women," she says.

As she neared completion of her course work and began to think about her dissertation, Kohlman was alerted to the existence of Kenyon's Dissertation Fellowships by a number of her friends and colleagues . The opportunity was intriguing, and the timing was right. "My husband, Mark, was employed as a staffing analyst for the Peace Corps," she notes. "His position was ending in October of this year anyway." The parents of a five-month-old daughter, Taryn, the Kohlmans moved this summer to Gambier, where Mark is serving as Taryn's primary caregiver during this fellowship year.

As a fellow at the College, Kohlman's primary task, like Ajani's, will be to complete her dissertation. Defense of her proposal will occur in February and of the dissertation itself in June or August of 1999. Also like Ajani, Kohlman will teach one course each semester. Her fall-semester class examines the sociology of U.S. race relations, while her spring-term class will study the sociology of women, power, and gender.

"I love teaching and working with students," says Kohlman. "My classes here will be small, and we will work primarily in a discussion mode. I think the lived experience of each of us informs our notions about these issues, and it will be interesting to see how the experiences of the students at Kenyon might be similar to or different from those of students in the larger, more diverse university setting at Maryland."

"I think it's especially important to consider this fellowship initiative within the larger context," says Associate Professor of English Theodore O. Mason Jr., who was a member of the search committee that brought Ajani and Kohlman to the College. "There is a need to expose graduate students from underrepresented groups to the environment of the small liberal-arts college, in the hope that those doctoral candidates might find places such as Kenyon to be attractive career options. It seems also important to think of this program in light of the benefits accruing to the fellows in terms of their development as scholars and teachers."

Both Ajani and Kohlman say they eagerly anticipate their participation in the intellectual life of their department and in the cultural and intellectual life of the College community as a whole.

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