Chican@ Studies grad student wins Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship

By Marge Pamintuan
Friday, March 10, 2017 10:32 AM

Chican@ Studies doctoral candidate Rosie Bermudez recently received the 2017-18 Woodrow Wilson Women's Studies Fellowship Award for her dissertation "Doing Dignity Work: Alicia Escalante and the East Los Angeles Welfare Rights Organization, 1967-1974" inspired by the activism and advocacy of Alicia Escalante, the founder of the East Los Angeles Welfare Rights Organization.

The Woodrow Wilson Women’s Studies Fellowship helps support the final year of dissertation writing for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences pursuing original, interdisciplinary research on women and gender. Since 1974, over 500 emerging scholars have been funded, many now prominent in their fields. Rosie's research has also ​been supported by the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship ​and the UC MEXUS dissertation research grant, and she recently received the 2017-18 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship.

At UC Santa Barbara, Rosie has been instrumental in acquiring Escalante's personal archive for the UCSB Library. The civil rights leader will be the featured speaker at a welcome reception hosted at the Library on Friday, April 14.

We caught up with Rosie to discuss how her personal experience inspired her research into Escalante's advocacy, the importance of diversity in graduate education, and what she hopes to accomplish after receiving her Ph.D.

WHAT INSPIRED HER AWARD-WINNING DISSERTATION

I was inspired to pursue this research topic because, like Alicia Escalante, I grew up in poverty and witnessed the indignities my mother endured. These connections are testimony to the realities that continue to face poor people across the generations: poverty and economic inequality, which contribute to the stripping away of poor people’s humanity, have persisted and accelerated in the twenty-first century.

​I am committed to producing progressive political change in our society because of the transformation that I personally experienced as a working poor first-generation college student ​reading Escalante’s life history as she recounted it. ​In it, she details the discrimination she faced in the welfare system, the formation of her political consciousness, and her commitment to fighting for poor women’s human dignity. I thought, "Finally, here is a historical figure who reflects my experience but more importantly, who represents a legacy of resilience and resistance to social inequality." It is my goal to make Escalante’s story of social and political change accessible to wide audiences, who will in turn be motivated to carry on her legacy.

ON ACQUIRING ESCALANTE'S ARCHIVES FOR THE UCSB LIBRARY

Helping to facilitate the acquisition of Escalante’s personal archive for the ​UCSB Library has been an amazing experience. It has honestly been a long time coming, and it's been an honor to play a role in the preservation of the archive of a path-breaking and fearless individual and organization. I think it's important for our students to attend the welcome reception for the Alicia Escalante Papers on April 14 so that they can educate themselves about a vital and often unrecognized social movement leader and organization. Students will also have the opportunity to hear Escalante speak.

ON DIVERSITY IN GRADUATE EDUCATION

The importance of fostering diversity at the graduate school level in the academy is directly linked to student equity. I believe that student equity in education means that diverse students are able to see themselves reflected in the university that they attend. For me, this means much more than just being able to see other diverse students on campus; it also means that diversity is reflected in the faculty and the administration as well as the curriculum. This is important in order to account for and atone for deeply rooted, historical inequality of access to higher education for racially and ethnically diverse students.

WHY UCSB?

I have been drawn to the field of Chican​@ Studies since I was an undergraduate student. As a transfer student at UCLA, I was exposed to Chicana and Chicano history for the first time in my academic journey. I became enthralled with Chicana history in particular and decided to double major in both History and Chican​@ Studies. Given that there were very few Ph.D. programs in Chican@ Studies, I decided to pursue my graduate studies here at UCSB.

FUTURE PLANS

My career ambitions include joining the professoriate at a research university that serves a diverse student body. I plan to publish my manuscript and make it available to a wide audience and continue to dedicate my research and scholarship to Chicana history.

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