What do universities really say about Juneteenth? What kinds of language do they use or leave out? And how do natural disasters affect social media narratives?

Several Virginia Tech students aimed to answer these questions and more, alongside English faculty researchers, as a part of the 2022 Juneteenth Scholars Program.

Each year, Virginia Tech faculty conduct research and select a student to be their undergraduate research assistant as a part of the Juneteenth Scholars Program. The program allows four students to assist and contribute to the research projects, helping to analyze the topic chosen by the professors and provide valuable insights to further the research being conducted.

Eric Kim, a junior in computational modeling and data analytics, workedwith Sherri Craig, an assistant professor in English, on analyzing statements published by universities around the state. They looked at article releases that these institutions made about Juneteenth over the past two years and studied the language included or excluded from these statements. 

Craig said she selected Kim for his creative mind and his ability to balance a deep commitment to diversity initiatives at university through his work in the Asian Cultural Engagement Center.

“I remain impressed by Eric’s ability to think critically about the influence of institutional statement-making on their daily practices,” Craig said. 

Over the course of this research, Kim looked for patterns between the released articles he and Craig were analyzing to see any major or minor differences between the university statements. He used skills from his major to complete a statistical analysis between the universities in terms of student population and faculty. Coming away from this experience, he said he learned the importance of not only what is said, but also what is left out. 

“The absence of certain words and phrases, I feel, speaks a multitude of volumes of what a person is intending to try and do or avoid,” he said.

Kim was able to grow his skills in data analysis and apply them to rhetorical discourse research while working with Craig.

Ursilia Beckles, an English education major with a pre-ed specialization, worked with Tyechia Thompson, an assistant professor, to create a storyboard and interactive map about the Black poet James A. Emmanuel. 

 “As a student in my American literary history course, Ursilia consistently had keen insights, and she welcomed opportunities to develop distant reading skills using Voyant Tools in a course where the expectation is usually close reading,” Thompson said.

As a part of their research, Beckles utilized digital humanities tools, like CUNY’s Manifold platform, to categorize and create metadata for the poems, select color schemes and images for the project, script the documentary section, draft storyboards, draw both digitally and by hand, and design wireframes or the skeletal framework of a website for what the project would look like on the Manifold site. 

 “I’m so thankful to be a part of the preservation of a Black poet that hasn’t had as many eyes on his works,” Beckles said. “It’s so great that our goal is to further increase the reach of his life’s work.” 

Using her skills and interests, she was able to contribute valuable information about this poet during this research program.

Tim Cox worked with Silas Moon Cassinelli, an assistant professor, to analyze Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s novel, “DICTEE.” Because of Cox’s experience studying queer theory in the context of his architecture major, as well as contributing many ideas on the subject in Cassinelli’s class, this project seemed like a good fit. 

“I knew Tim would be particularly well-suited to help me organize and assess the literary, fine arts, and queer studies publications on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s experimental novel, DICTEE,” Cassinelli said. 

Cox’s success studying these theories in the past supported his contributions to the research in this program and fueled the ideas he brought with him. 

“Tim’s sharp and compelling insights, whether on literature, LGBTQ+ studies, or architecture, stem from nuanced, interdisciplinary interests,” said Cassinelli. 

This broad understanding of many disciplines and subjects provided valuable insights to the research the two conducted over the course of this program.

Tad Kozusko worked with Cana Itchuaqiyaq, an assistant professor, in conducting Natural Language Processing and data analysis. Their research focused on how first-person narratives are affected by climate change related weather events. Itchuaqiyaq selected Kozusko because he has worked with her before in class and with her tribal organization, the Northwest Arctic Native Association in Northwest Alaska. Itchuaqiyaq said he has experience working within Inuit contexts with cultural humility.

During the course of their research, Kozusko brought a lot of ideas and problem-solving to their analysis. 

“Tad figured out how to sort language related to emotion and extreme weather events,” Itchuaqiyaq said. He was able to create a process that analyzed tweets and sorted them based on extreme weather events and emotional response indicators. 

“Tad brought in a lot of ideas and curiosity,” she said. “It was fun working with him on data, logic, and coding puzzles.” 

He also provided creative ideas and solutions when faced with data issues that grew over the course of the research process.

Written by Meghan Richardson ’22