2021 Scholars

Informed by their unique training, experiences, and vision, the fourteen graduate students chosen for this year’s cohort bring a variety of approaches to public scholarship. Each project is designed to meet the challenges of the past year, which has underscored the urgent need for community-engaged humanities research that gives voice to injustice, resilience, and hope. 

View the 2021 Mellon Public Scholars Project Showcase.


Chloe Brotherton (Linguistics) Pronouns, Labels, and Inclusion: LGBTQ Voices

 I am working with the San Joaquin Pride Center, a local LGBTQ resource center in Stockton, CA, to create informational resources about language, gender, and sexuality. Topics will include pronouns and identity labels. The goal is to have materials the center can distribute to community members who may be exploring their own identity or for those who have a friend or family member they want to learn how to support.


Faculty Mentor: Eric Russell (French). Research Interest(s): Linguistic analysis of discourse practices; Language, hegemonies, masculinities and sexualities; Gender in/and/through language; Taboo language (insults, offenses, censorship)

Kazumi Chin  

Kazumi Chin (Cultural Studies) Collecting & Presenting Narratives of Artists and Arts Workers Fighting Against Displacement in San Francisco

This project creates a space for Asian American artists concerned with the geography and space of San Francisco to showcase their work and to enter into longform communication about what their art means to them, as well as their process and ideas behind the creation of that art. The primary community partner is Kearny Street Workshop, the oldest Asian Pacific American interdisciplinary arts organization in the country. Founded in 1972 on the ground floor of the San Francisco’s International Hotel, for nearly 50 years, Kearny Street Workshop has served the Asian American community in the Bay Area through arts festivals, writing workshops, fashion shows, and other cultural events serving Asian American artists and community members in the San Francisco Bay Area. I intend to create a podcast that allows folks to more deeply engage with the artist and their artwork, as well as the kinds of discussions that emerge around the work.


Faculty Mentor: Susette Min (Art History / Asian American Studies). Fields of interest: Asian American Literature, Ethnic American Literature, Asian American Art, contemporary art, and visual culture


Margaret Duvall (English) Participatory Journalism

Margaret is working with Community Engagement Strategist jesikah maria ross at CapRadio this summer on two projects. She will assist in crafting memos evaluating the impact of the ongoing project entitled After the Assault. This two year endeavor has consisted of crafting a series of stories in conversation with sexual assault survivors in Sacramento and building a set of recommendations for more informed trauma-response and improved reporting procedures through law enforcement and the Sexual Assault Response Team. Margaret will work with jesikah on a project to map and connect with communities currently underserved by CapRadio in order to build a foundation for long term participatory journalism.  As a team, she and others will begin the process of reaching out to understand what kinds of stories and news people are interested in hearing about their own communities.  After the summer, people from various communities and neighborhoods will be invited to participate in listening sessions with CapRadio to find shared threads of concern around which journalism can focus.


Faculty Mentor: David de la Pena (Landscape, Design & Architecture) research focuses on participatory design and planning methods, social housing, sustainable architecture, and urban agriculture. Current projects include an analysis and design for urban farms and community gardens in Sacramento, an examination of grassroots urbanism and housing in Barcelona, and a comparative study of community-based stewardship between California and Chile.


Amanda Hawkins (English / Creative Writing) Full Spectrum: Queer Religious Histories Writing Workshop with the Sacramento LGBT Community Center

Amanda Hawkins’ creative project seeks to offer a space for LGBTQIA+ people in the Sacramento area and beyond to write into their own religious histories through a series of writing workshops. The Sacramento LGBT Community Center’s multifaceted, longstanding work in the community and regular, ongoing support groups will act as the framework and reference point for these workshops. In this way Hawkins will lay the groundwork for relationally-based research into the needs and desires of the community for other possible community-based storytelling projects in the future.


Faculty Mentor: Archana Venkatesan (Religious Studies and Comparative Literature). Research interests: Tamil Vaishnava (Alvar) poetry, South Indian performance, Women and Goddess traditions in India


Jason Hockaday (Native American Studies) Determining Sharing Use and Protocol to Support Indigenous Music Reclamation

This project aims to collaboratively determine a protocol of sharing and use for ancestral recordings housed in archives such as the Library of Congress. These protocols are needed to protect the sacred nature of many of the recordings while upholding the collective interests of the community and building support for future reclamation goals. Specifically, this project aims to create guidelines for accessing recordings where a community does not have an existing structure to consult due to histories of genocide and conquest in which survivors intermarried with surrounding Tribes. There are therefore descendants in various communities today who have a stake in this project. In addition to developing specific protocol for my own community’s and family’s ancestral recordings, this project aims to share methods and designs for collaborative research with California Indian Tribes and Native American and Indigenous Studies more broadly as a framework for addressing colonial histories and building upon Indigenous philosophies for music and language reclamation.


Faculty Mentor: Jessica Bissett Perea (Native American Studies). Research interests: Music, sound, performance, and improvisation studies; Critical Native American and Indigenous methodologies, theories, and praxes; Critical Indigeneity, race, gender, and feminist studies; Relational studies of Indigenous-Black experiences in the Americas; Arts and activism in North Pacific and Circumpolar Arctic communities.


Brooke Kipling (Spanish & Portuguese) Storytelling through Food: Migrant Narratives and Maps from Tijuana’s Food Sites

Centering food as both a life-giving element and a means of relation, this project collaborates with the mutual aid group Comida Calientita in Tijuana to support food-access sites for migrants and to open spaces for migrant storytelling within them. Connecting storytelling to space, Storytelling through Food collaborates with both migrant and local communities to assemble an online virtual map that disseminates information of food-access sites for migrants in Tijuana and shares migrant digital stories told through these very sites. 


Faculty Mentors: Robert McKee Irwin (Spanish & Portuguese, UC Davis) and Dr. Juan Antonio Del Monte (Cultural Studies, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Tijuana)



Carla Martinez Plascencia (Cultural Studies)Cae en Oídos Sordos: Working With Deaf Latinx Families in the Los Angeles Area for Language Access and Cultural Wellbeing

Working with a Deaf Latinx Organization in the Los Angeles area, this project will provide free American Sign Language (ASL) classes to families with Deaf children. This two part project will allow for the implementation of free ASL classes and a series of workshops that demystify higher education and inform on other basic needs or resources the community may need access to. Working with an established community partner, the goal is to establish an ongoing curriculum and series of workshops/classes to foster language access, cultural wellbeing, and a flourishing Deaf Latinx community.


Faculty Mentor: Ryan Cartwright (American Studies) is assistant professor of disability studies in the American Studies Program at UC Davis; affiliated with the graduate groups in Cultural Studies and Performance Studies, as well as the Designated Emphasis in Feminist Theory and Research. Cartwright’s book manuscript, Peculiar Places: A Queer/Crip History of Rural White Nonconformity, is under contract with the University of Chicago Press. 


David Morales (History) Racialized Policing in California’s Gold Rush Era

David will analyze (digitized) Indian Indentures, jail registers and mug books from the Gold Rush era in the Center for Sacramento History’s collection to first identify the kinds of convictions and sentences that Black and Indigenous people received. Using that data, he will then compare those offenses and sentences to White people in the same time period. In addition to the data collection and analysis, the Mellon Public Scholar will work closely with CSH staff to conceptualize future exhibits of materials for the Sacramento History Museum which connect the historical archive to contemporary issues in policing and criminalization in this region.


Faculty Mentor: Gregory Downs (History) studies the political and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Particularly, he investigates the transformative impact of the Civil War, the end of slavery, and the role of military force in establishing new meanings of freedom. As a public historian, Downs co-wrote the National Park Service’s Theme Study on Reconstruction and helped edit the Park Service’s handbook on Reconstruction. 


Lauren Peters (Native American Studies) Sophia’s Return 

Lauren Peters (Agdaagux Tribe, Unangax) My project centers around locating, documenting, and returning home Native American children who were stolen from their homes and died in US Government-sponsored Native American boarding schools. My end plan is to create a best practice for repatriating these lost children.



Faculty Mentor: Keith David Watenpaugh (Human Rights Studies) is the founding director of the Human Rights Studies Program, the first academic unit of its kind in the University of California system. He has been a leader of international efforts to address the needs of displaced and refugee university students and professionals, primarily those affected by the wars and civil conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.


Bethany Qualls (English) Recovering the Forgotten Women of Metal Type Design

Recognizing women’s often overlooked role in typography and design since the mid-1800s provides more concrete links between them and the broader consumption of information and production of knowledge that continues today. This project works with Letterform Archive to foreground women’s contributions internationally and create a more accurate and inclusive narrative of the industry’s history. We will pull together disparate parts of the Archive’s collection to create streamlined, public access to women’s work in the metal type era (roughly the 1850s to 1950s), information that does not yet have a comprehensive source, via their Online Archive.


Faculty Mentor: Susan Verba (Design) is a designer and Associate Professor in the UC Davis Department of Design. She received her MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University and BS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. Susan is principal and co-founder of Studio/lab, where she leads research-based projects and advocates for the value of design in corporate, nonprofit, and government communications.

Jonathan Radocay  

Jonathan Radocay (English) “Re-storying” the Cherokee Diaspora in California: A Digital Archive and Storytelling Project

Partnering with the Cherokees of Northern Central Valley, an at-large community organization of Cherokee Nation citizens, Jonathan is creating a community-based digital archive and storytelling project that draws on the personal and family histories of Cherokee people living in the California diaspora. This project engages longstanding community interests in genealogy, education, Native art, and creative writing, and serves as an important 2021 community outreach event during a pandemic that has left many community members isolated from each other. The project culminates in an ongoing digital space for expressing the history of Cherokee diaspora communities–and their many relations among California Indian, Indigenous, and migrant communities–in California. The storytelling project not only helps the Cherokee community tell its own diaspora story but also interrogates difficult questions about Indigenous and migrant diasporas residing on California Indian lands in this region of the Pacific world.


Faculty Mentor: Beth Rose Middleton (Native American Studies) research centers on Native environmental policy and Native activism for site protection using conservation tools. Her broader research interests include intergenerational trauma and healing, rural environmental justice, indigenous analysis of climate change, Afro-indigeneity, and qualitative GIS. 

Larissa Saco  

Larissa Saco (Sociology) City of Davis Arts and Cultural Affairs Program: Public Art, Community Engagement, and Digital Storytelling

In partnership with the City of Davis Arts and Cultural Affairs Program, local artist Susan Shelton has created a bronze seal that endeavors to share ongoing histories of the city in a multi-faceted way through a circular, ringed design and themes such as engagement, community, and aspiration. Larissa will support activities that promote community engagement and dialogue around the public art installation, including research on engaged arts practices, digital storytelling, and public programming.


Faculty Mentor: Javier Arbona (American Studies and Design) focuses on the emerging field of explosivity studies, with special attention to spatial politics and landscape. Arbona’s life as a scholar with current homes in the humanities and the arts reflects his interdisciplinary trajectory and interests in buildings, landscapes, archives, infrastructure, oral histories, sounds, and much more.

Haliehana Stepetin  

Haliehana Stepetin (Native American Studies) Sharing Subsistence Processes and Recipes in Unangam Tunuu Through Digital Stories

This project includes collaborating with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (a non-profit serving Unangax̂ communities) to create digital stories for public engagement, documentation, and continuation of qaqamiiĝux̂ [subsistence] processes and recipes in Unangam Tunuu [Unangax̂ language]. At their core, our collaborative digital subsistence stories will illustrate summer processes — such as gathering, hunting, and fishing — and recipes that depict various methods of preparing and preserving foods for winter. As a subsistence practitioner and Unangax̂ language teacher, my kin-responsibilities involve transmitting my own Unangax̂ Knowledge  including recipes and methods for preparing and preserving subsistence foods. This project centers ongoing language resurgence efforts serving learners in and of the Aleutian/Pribilof region. Unangam Tunuu is considered an endangered language given the dwindling number of speakers and the barriers affecting the transmission and application of the language in daily contexts. My project will combine Unangam Tunuu language resurgence with Alaska Native subsistence processes as a way to expand current discourses of food sovereignty and environmental justice to include Arctic lifeways, where climate change is disproportionately experienced by Indigenous Peoples and communities.


Faculty Mentor: Justin Spence (Native American Studies) research focuses on three main areas of interest: Native American languages – especially Hupa and the other Pacific Coast Dene (Athabaskan) languages – language documentation, and historical linguistics. I use a variety of methods to investigate the historical relationships obtaining between the Pacific Coast Dene languages and the rest of the Dene language family. 

Brianna Riviere  

Brianna Tafolla Riviere (History) Developing California Native American Walking Tours at Marshall Gold Historic Park and Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

California State Parks is developing a pilot California Native American Walking Tours for Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma, California and Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. With Governor Newsom’s apology for California Native American Genocide in California, California State Parks is in the beginning stages of reviewing interpretation at Parks with an Indigenous nexus. This project will be the first of several reviews of other Gold Rush-era parks through current interpretation and education standards. Brianna will assist the Tribal Affairs Program, Interpretation and Education Division, and the Cultural Resources Program and  engage and consult with tribes whose history, culture, and traditions interact with Marshall Gold Discovery Park and Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park.


Faculty Mentor: Kathleen Whiteley (Native American Studies) Whiteley’s dissertation, “The Indians of California versus The United States of America: California Dreaming in the Land of Lost Treaties, 1900-1975,” traces the history of two land claims cases brought by the Native peoples of California against the federal government. This project argues that these legal actions and the Indigenous political organizing behind them not only offered Indigenous peoples in California a path towards remuneration, but also new ways of conceiving local identities and imagining inter-tribal political coalitions.