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2024 Undergraduate Writing Symposium Program

The 2024 Undergraduate Writing Symposium is one of two annual symposium events being organized by the Writing Studio this spring, alongside the 2024 Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium and Arts Showcase, both of which give student authors selected for the event the opportunity to present and reflect on their written work alongside their fellow students.

Undergraduate Writing Symposium 2024 Web-based Program (Friday, April 5)

This colorful image promotes attendance at the 2024 Undergraduate Writing Symposium being held Friday, April 5, in Commons Center 237.When: Friday, April 5, 3:00-6:00 PM CDT | Where: Commons Center 237 MPR

UWS 2024 Schedule-at-a-Glance

Follow the links in the schedule below or scroll down for the full program of  presenters, which includes their bios and abstracts.

Additional Event Links

Full Schedule: Undergraduate Writing Symposium (Friday, April 5)

The Writing Studio thanks our UWS co-sponsors, the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons and the Vanderbilt University Libraries.

3:00-3:15: Panelist Check-In (Commons Center, 2nd floor)

3:15-3:30: Opening Remarks from Melissa Gresalfi, Dean of Residential Colleges and Residential Education (Room 237)

3:30-4:10: Spotlight Panel (Room 237)

  • Spotlight Panel (Room 237)
    • Faculty Panel Chair: Aimi Hamraie (Medicine, Health, and Society; American Studies)
    • Panelists: Claire Arney ’27 and Justin Luckner ’24

Claire Arney ’27: A Modern Lens: An Analysis of Davenant’s Macbeth Using Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton

  • Presenter Bio: Claire Arney is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Chemistry and Earth and Environmental Sciences with a minor in Spanish. Though science is her passion, she loves all things history, musicals, and books. Claire is from Denver, Colorado, and enjoys spending time outdoors she is lucky to call home as well as playing and watching basketball with family and friends. She is loving her first year at Vanderbilt and is so grateful for all the connections and experiences she has had. Claire is also a student manager of the women’s basketball team.
  • Abstract: This paper uses Miranda’s Hamilton to analyze and better understand Davenant’s Macbeth from the 17th century. It specifically analyzes the use of music genres, popular culture references, and choreography.

Justin Luckner ’24: Food as a Method of Placemaking for Latin American and Middle Eastern Immigrants in the US South: A case study examination of a neighborhood in South Nashville, TN

  • Presenter Bio: Justin Luckner is a senior majoring in Medicine, Health, & Society and Economics, while minoring in Spanish and Cinema & Media Arts. On campus, he co-leads the Vanderbilt Programming Board Speaker’s Committee, which helps to bring interesting and new perspectives to Vanderbilt’s campus through speaking engagements. Upon graduation from Vanderbilt, Justin hopes to move to Washington D.C. to work in government. While in the MHS honors program, he worked with Dr. Aimi Hamraie to investigate the relationship between food and immigrant communities in Nashville, TN, culminating in a 40-60 page thesis paper.
  • Abstract: Diverse groups of immigrants from both Latin American countries and Asian countries populate modern day Nashville in a parallel manner to many other urban areas in the US South. While these groups have experienced histories of oppression, triumph, expression, and assimilation throughout the country and across multiple centuries, the demographic characteristics of the US South are currently in an unprecedented state of flux. Since the 1990’s, immigrants from Mexico and Kurdistan, among other foreign areas, have migrated in high numbers to the US South, leading to the creation of terms like the “Nuevo South” and communities like Nashville’s “Little Kurdistan.” In Nashville, Mexican and Kurdish immigrants have expressed themselves through food, and food institutions have acted as an impetus for a sense of community. International grocery stores and cultural restaurants not only act as mediums to spread and establish a sense of culture, but as a place for communities to form and learn from one another while assimilating to a new environment. This paper will examine the existing literature on the recent influx of immigration to the US South and the expression of culture via food in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods throughout the country. Then, utilizing ethnographies of restaurants and grocery stores in Nashville, this paper will add to the existing literature by analyzing how a neighborhood in South Nashville compares to the spaces analyzed in existing publications, and how the COVID-19 pandemic and other societal changes may have affected these spaces.

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4:15-4:55: Concurrent Session 1

  • Panel A (Room 235)
    • Faculty Panel Chair: James Zainaldin (Classical and Mediterranean Studies)
    • Presenters: Mary Meacham ’27, Isabella Beard ’27, and John Hague ’26
  • Panel B (Room 233)
    • Faculty Panel Chair: Scott Juengel (English)
    • Presenters: Indu Kumar ’24, Rachel Sobers ’27, and Paige Elliott ’24

Mary Meacham ’27: The Duality of Memory

  • Presenter Bio: Mary Meacham is a member of the class of 2027 from Nashville, Tennessee. She is planning to major in history and psychology with a minor in English. She has always enjoyed reading, which has grown into a deep love for writing as well, and she has a special appreciation for note-taking. In her spare time, Mary enjoys exploring Nashville, finding and sharing new parts of the city.
  • Abstract: Memory impacts every aspect of life: our sense of self, our knowledge of suffering (our own and the suffering of others), the search for meaning, the formation of community. The study of memory has long fascinated psychologists, historians, doctors, and philosophers, all of whom work to uncover the meaning behind the act of remembering. In reflecting on what it means to be human, we cannot ignore the vital role that memory plays in shaping the self and defining humans’ collective life. This essay explores the complexities of memory, both the individual and the collective, and then translates the research into a print. The combination of art and writing speaks to the dual nature of memory, as it can be changed and shared through time.

Isabella Beard ’27: Rise and Fall of Dissection in Ancient Alexandria

  • Presenter Bio: Isabella Beard is a first-year student at Vanderbilt, majoring in biomedical engineering.
  • Abstract: The first documented practice of systematic human dissection was performed by the Greek physician Herophilus in the 3rd century B.C. in Alexandria, then the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. This paper explores the unique circumstances that enabled Herophilus to perform his dissections and the influences that led to the complete cessation of the practice immediately after his death.

John Hague ’26: Order in the Court: Freedom Suit Attorneys and the Rhetoric of Order in Antebellum St. Louis

  • Presenter Bio: John Hague is a member of the class of 2026 studying history and English. John has a passion for education and works with two nonprofits providing educational materials to youth in war-torn, disaster-stricken, and impoverished areas. Post-graduation, he would like to study law in hopes of litigating as a constitutional attorney. John lives on a farm and ranch in Glen Rose, Texas.
  • Abstract: Order in the Court examines the effects of language on law and life. The project tracks the rhetoric of attorneys and politicians in Antebellum St. Louis who advocated for and against black litigants, as well as rhetoric’s impact on shaping law. Through the life and practice of freedom suit attorney Charles D. Drake, the paper tracks a rhetorical shift indicative of changing understandings of slave law. The project offers a study of law in action by examining the tumultuous, discontinuous processes that shaped how slave law was created, amended, enforced, and understood.

Indu Kumar ’24: Lost in the Woods: REDD+ as Carbon Market Colonialism

  • Presenter Bio: Induja Kumar (Indu) is a senior majoring in Political Science and Climate Studies. Indu is a student, researcher, and organizer interested in designing solutions to the many issues posed by climate change. Indu’s approach to solution building takes the form of media production to fight climate denialism and inspire hope through long form writing and digital communications work, political advocacy through community organizing and building grassroots power around issues of environmental justice, and researching with an interdisciplinary lens the consequences that climate change will have on a number of issues ranging from housing security to health equity, both for marginalized communities in the US and for countries that will be the first to experience the most devastating effects of climate change.
  • Abstract: Given the history of REDD+ as a form of control by the Global North, the response of local communities to REDD+ can show us what Climate Change Justice should be and what practices to achieve Climate Change Justice should look like. To do this, we need to read the actions of Indigenous People and Local Communities for their normative insights. I will utilize these insights to assess the adequacy of other theories of Climate Change Justice, and to assess the proposals for improving REDD+, and the implications of the failures of REDD+ for Global Climate Change Justice as a whole.

Rachel Sobers ’27: American Poet Jorie Graham: Hero of Both the Mind and Spirit

  • Presenter Bio: Rachel Sobers is a first-year student at Vanderbilt University majoring in Creative Writing and Political Science. An avid writer and thinker, Rachel is a part of the Curb Scholars Program for Art, Entrepreneurship, and Public Policy. As of 2024, Rachel has self-published two of her own collections of poetry and illustrated the covers for each of her works. Rachel is also part of the Honors College Scholars program at Vanderbilt, and she is eager to use her education to further explore the intersection between art and science. Rachel’s academic areas of interest include metaphysical philosophy, political theory, and American literature; she relishes contemplating questions concerning human existence and societal tradition. Rachel’s hope is to continue coupling research with her creative practice in order to discover new, innovative avenues to social change.
  • Abstract: “American Poet Jorie Graham: Hero of Both the Mind and Spirit” is an investigation of Jorie Graham’s thematic use of time as a manner of enhancing the artistic value of her work. Graham explores time’s dual nature as being both momentary and infinite—both belonging to the objective universe and to the particular individual. Through time, Graham reveals the secrets that us humans prefer to leave untouched.

Paige Elliott ’24: “Unsophisticated Productions”: Unpacking the Elusive Politics of The Scarlet Pimpernel

  • Presenter Bio: Paige is a senior from Redondo Beach, California, majoring in English with a concentration in literary studies and minoring in business and Spanish. This year, she’s also on the board of The Vanderbilt Review and an alto in the VUCC. In her free time, she enjoys watching historical dramas on Netflix, eating Sun & Fork brunches with friends, and pretending she remembers the names of the characters in whatever book she’s reading.
  • Abstract: My thesis focuses on the early books of the Scarlet Pimpernel series, a series of historical romance spy novels that saw massive success in the early 1900s and are viewed as inspirations for the superhero genre. My first section will focus on the series’ class and gender politics, the second will discuss its feminist allegiances, and the third will engage with the ways in which it uses and abuses history in service of its sometimes-conflicting political and entertainment agendas. Throughout, I aim to call attention to ambiguities in a series whose political goals seem, at first glance, transparent. Orczy nuances and undermines her own points at every turn, a strategy that I believe contributed significantly to the series’ success as popular fiction, allowing it to cross the very class, national, and gender boundaries it seems determined to define.

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5:00-5:55: Concurrent Session 2

  • Panel C (Room 235)
    • Faculty Panel Chair: Joshua Murray (Sociology)
    • Presenters: Drew Spiegel ’27, Samantha Brabeck ’27, Caroline Jacobs ’24, and Dara Elqadi ’24
  • Panel D (Room 233)
    • Faculty Panel Chair: Jennifer Fay (English; Cinema and Media Arts)
    • Presenters: Gerard Monteiro ’27, Rachel Koh ’27, Sawyer Sussner ’24, and Sophia Podolsky ’24

Drew Spiegel ’27: On What Makes Us Human

  • Presenter Bio: Drew Spiegel is a freshman at Vanderbilt University studying political science. Originally from Deerfield, Illinois, a suburb outside of Chicago, Drew loves to write both for academic and personal purposes and has been expressing himself through the page for his entire life. When he is not writing, he is solving crosswords, running, trying new foods, and advocating for political causes important to him.
  • Abstract: This essay explores what it means to be human, connecting challenging conceptual ideas to my recent experience in 5k. It delves into humans’ distinct emotional complexity and empathy, arguing how these traits distinguish us from other life and artificial intelligence. I intertwine my personal story with texts from class and my own reasoning to try to grasp what is at the center of our shared humanity.

Samantha Brabeck ’27: The Zoe Project: A Beacon of Hope and Joy for African Mothers

  • Presenter Bio: Samantha Brabeck is a first-year undergraduate student and Chancellor’s Scholarship recipient. Before starting her academic career at Vanderbilt last fall, she deferred her enrollment a year to take a gap year, where she traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, to work as a maternal health counselor. At Vanderbilt, Sam is double majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society and Human and Organizational Development.
  • Abstract: Twenty-two years ago, South Africa, a country with so much potential and home to so many innocent people, still battled with the remnants of apartheid, and maternal health practices and outcomes seemed to only be getting worse. A maternal health clinic, founded by a woman named Tracey Aitken, at first glance might seem insignificant, but it is slowly changing the landscape of maternal healthcare throughout the Western Cape.

Caroline Jacobs ’24: (Not) in my Backyard: Local Policy Attitudes in Tennessee

  • Presenter Bio: Caroline Jacobs is a senior from Evanston, IL. She is pursuing majors in Public Policy and Sociology, and is especially passionate about housing access and affordability. This project is part of her Honors Sociology thesis, which she has been working on since August. Caroline is fascinated by public opinion, and hopes to pursue a career in social impact communications after working on campaigns during the 2024 election cycle. When not doing research, Caroline enjoys long-distance running, trying new restaurants, and writing for fun.
  • Abstract: Scholars have conducted extensive research on the prominent factors that inform people’s policy attitudes. These studies, which primarily concern federal policies, suggest self-interest has minimal influence over people’s policy attitudes. However, newer research suggests these findings are misleading because they provide insufficient focus on local policies, which threaten one’s self-interest in a way federal policies may not. My research aims to fill this gap, focusing specifically on the differences between people’s broad ideological values and their attitudes toward local policies. My work builds upon Marble and Nall’s (2021) study, which found dissonance between homeowners who value housing affordability but who oppose new affordable housing developments in their communities. Using an original survey, I examine whether these discrepancies are present across other social issues (affirmative action, police funding, drag shows, refugees, and vaccination mandates), as well. Each social-issue policy consists of three question forms: one assessing values, one assessing attitudes towards a vague policy with no specified location, and the third form assessing attitudes towards Tennessee-specific policies. Governments and corporations spend billions of dollars trying to understand public opinion, making major decisions based on these findings. These insights, if consistent with Marble and Nall’s findings have the potential to be instrumental in reforming issue polling and legislative campaign strategies, changing the way we think about public opinion.

Dara Elqadi ’24: Regulating “Forever Chemicals”: An Analysis of PFAS Regulation Around the World

  • Presenter Bio: Dara Elqadi is a senior from Barrington, Rhode Island. She studies civil engineering and environmental and sustainability studies. Throughout her time at Vanderbilt, she has explored the intersection of environmental engineering and sustainability in the context of environmental remediation and has gained valuable work experience in drinking water contamination mitigation. She is a Research Assistant with Drinking Water Justice Lab here at Vanderbilt, where she works with the PFAS Team on a project that uses machine learning models to predict PFAS presence in community water systems.
  • Abstract: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS, are synthetic organic compounds that have become ubiquitous in the environment due to their large-scale manufacturing and use in various industries. The widespread presence of PFAS has resulted in increased human exposure through drinking water and commercial products. The exposure increases the risk for some cancers, developmental delays, reproductive complications, and weakening of the immune system, among other negative impacts. This study expands on current literature that examines the environmental presence, health risks, and mitigation efforts of PFAS contamination in order to explore existing regulatory policies and the extent of their successful implementation. Three different countries are analyzed in this study: the United States, Australia, and Germany. Through an investigation into the three countries, this study compares varying legislative frameworks to draw conclusions about approaches to PFAS regulation implementation. Additionally, this study examines the level at which regulatory policy is implemented and efforts in policy development to determine the efficacy of different methods of PFAS regulation. Analyzing components of policy development and implementation reveals that an optimal approach to PFAS regulation is built on a strong, active, centralized authoritative body that supports the development of regulation. Furthermore, a localized legislative framework and non-enforceable standards were found to be ineffective in practice. The findings of this study outline an optimal legislative framework and approach to PFAS regulation, thereby encouraging legislative bodies globally to adopt successful components. This study also presents the opportunity to discover further optimized approaches to PFAS regulation on top of the concluded ideal foundation.

Gerard Monteiro ’27: A Student’s Perspective on Principled Neutrality

  • Presenter Bio: Gerard Monteiro is a first year student in the College of Arts and Science, majoring in Economics and Political Science with minors in Business and Spanish. He is originally from North Brunswick, New Jersey. He is also a student ambassador for the Open Dialogue initiative. In his free time, you can find Gerard laying on Alumni Lawn or trying new foods in Nashville.
  • Abstract: In light of recent events surrounding higher education, colleges and universities around the country are coming under fire for their handling of addressing current events. In an effort to combat this, Vanderbilt has adopted a policy of “principled neutrality”—a policy that has not been well received by many. In this paper, I provide reasoning for why it is our best course of action, not just for the university, but for every student and faculty member as well.

Rachel Koh ’27: Accent as Cultural Artifact: Identity and Power in Taiwan’s Traditional Chinese

  • Presenter Bio: Rachel Koh is a Cornelius Vanderbilt scholar studying Computer Science and Physics. She is interested in quantum computing and machine learning, passions she is actively exploring through high-energy physics research within the RKE lab. One of Rachel’s deepest passions is advancing the accessibility of science for young girls, something that she is currently working on via her children’s fantasy book where she uses fiction to demystify STEM concepts. In her free time, Rachel enjoys journaling and late-night karaoke sessions, and can be reached at Please reach out if you are interested in any of the above, or if you would just like to have a conversation!
  • Abstract: For decades, Taiwan has used Traditional Chinese as a unique marker of the Taiwanese identity and heritage separate from Beijing. What happens when AI language learning technology teaches traditional Chinese with a Beijing accent, grammar, and syntax? This paper explores how one such app, HelloChinese, eradicates Taiwanese culture even as it democratizes access to learning its language.

Sawyer Sussner ’24: “AIDS – Do Not Touch”: The Effect of Zines on Public Health Outcomes During the AIDS Epidemic

  • Presenter Bio: Sawyer Sussner (he/him) is a transmasculine writer and poet based in Nashville. He is a senior and an English and Political Science major from New Jersey with research focusing on LGBTQ+ public policy. His creative works have been featured in Red Bean Press, Ogma Magazine, en*gendered literary magazine, and others. When he isn’t scribbling in his journal, he can also be found knitting or reading whichever queer young adult novel is closest.
  • Abstract: The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) Epidemic was, prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, widely considered to be one of the most widespread and deadly disease outbreaks in United States history. Consistent and disastrous inactivity and mismanagement of public health funds let HIV/AIDS spread until neighbors grew distrusting of one another, students wouldn’t touch in schools, and children were taught not to use public restrooms out of fear of contracting HIV/AIDS. While some public health campaigns were funded in the middle to late 1980s, the lack of proper messaging in the first few years of the disease’s activity cost tens of thousands of lives. In the absence of effective public health policy, many turned to self-published magazines, called “zines,” for community, humor, and health information when the government failed to provide it. Thousands of zines were distributed during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, fostering a network of writers, poets, artists, and researchers across all sexualities, genders, and races to create comprehensive resources for the gay and lesbian community in particular regarding HIV/AIDS. These zines contributed to the dispersal of life-saving public health information when the government failed or neglected to do so, demonstrating that it is often marginalized communities themselves who care for those affected by public health disasters when their governments allow social and political boundaries to become barriers of care.

Sophia Podolsky ’24: Into the Swiftiverse: The Star as Medium

  • Presenter Bio: Sophia Podolsky is a senior at Vanderbilt with majors in Cinema and Media Arts and Psychology. Her research and academic interests focus on new media theory, celebrity, and notions of personhood in the AI era. After graduation, she intends to pursue an academic career in media studies.
  • Abstract: Previous theories of stardom establish that stars arise from networks of media – pictures, videos, and text. Media, in this case, are defined as technologies for (re)producing and disseminating information about stars. However, as the example of Taylor Swift demonstrates, stars are not only mediated – relying on media to sustain their existence – but can also serve as mediators, shaping how individuals experience the world. From the start of her career, Swift has coached her fans in how to read her and her work, fueling a worldview through which the smallest details can be ripe with meaning (so-called “Easter eggs”). Building on John Durham Peters’ theory of elemental media and its call for a more expansive definition of media as world-sustaining infrastructures, this essay lays the groundwork for a theory of celebrity media. Evidence from social media activities within subgroups of Swift’s fandom demonstrates how fans’ differing conceptions of stars, sometimes contradictory to stars’ stated truths about themselves, further the separation between stars’ identities as people and as manipulable media objects.

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6:00: Closing Remarks and Reception (Room 237)

Please join us for closing remarks and a buffet reception following the event.

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Access to Scaffold: A Showcase of Vanderbilt First-Year Writing, Volume 6 (Spring 2024)

Did you know that Undergraduate Writing Symposium has a digital companion?

You can read many the essays on which our first-year panelists presented during the symposium and listen to each author reflect on their piece in Scaffold: A Showcase of Vanderbilt First-Year Writing.

Scaffold is a digital collection of first-year writing curated by the Vanderbilt Writing Studio. As an extension of the annual Undergraduate Writing Symposium, this collection honors and celebrates undergraduates’ accomplishments as writers, scholars, and artists specifically in their formative first year of college. To that end, Scaffold highlights the developing writing processes and learning experiences so central to the growth of undergraduate writers by pairing each piece in the collection with a recorded reflection from its author.

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Special Thanks and Acknowledgements

The Writing Studio offers special thanks to all those who helped make our event possible and have contributed to its success.

Our Event Co-Sponsors

The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons

The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries

Our Faculty Panel Chairs

Jennifer Fay (English, Cinema and Media Arts)

Aimi Hamraie (Medicine, Health, and Society; American Studies)

Scott Juengel (English)

Joshua Murray (Sociology)

James Zainaldin (Classical and Mediterranean Studies)

Our Outside Reviewers for First-Year Submissions

Faculty Reviewers

Elizabeth Catania (Neuroscience)

Celina Callahan-Kapoor (Medicine, Health, and Society)

Lidiana de Moraes dos Santos (Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies)

Leor Halevi (History)

Anna Marra (French and Italian)

Richard McGregor (Religious Studies)

Adam Meyer (Jewish Studies)

Isidora Miranda (Musicology and Ethnomusicology)

Kristin Rose (Gender and Sexuality Studies)

Paul Stob (Communication Studies; American Studies)

Library Reviewers

Emily Bush

Jennifer Castle

Pearl Chai

Leslie Foutch

David Golann

Ryan King

Melissa Mallon

Stephanie Morgan

Chris Ryland

Kathryn Shepas

Andrew Wesolek

Our Writing Studio and Tutoring Services Team Members

Beth Estes (Assistant Director for the Writing Studio), Lead UCWS Coordinator
Drew Shipley (Academic Support Coordinator), Lead UWS Coordinator
Cameron Sheehy (Multilingual Learner Education), Graduate Assistant Symposium Coordinator
Tim Donahoo, Administrative Specialist for the Writing Studio and Tutoring Services
Writing Consultants Events Committee Members
and all consultants present to support the event today

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