Graduate education prepares you for many ways to positively impact the world around you. For Raquel Escobar, recent doctoral graduate in History, the opportunity to have a broad and active impact on the community comes through a Mellon/ACLS Postdoctoral Public Fellows Program. The fellowship allows Escobar to marry her scholarly expertise in history, memory and public humanities with a position at the Humanities Action Lab (HAL) at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“The thing that I valued the most during the course of my academic work was not the individual research I was doing. Instead it was the outreach/service that I found fulfilled and motivated me. These were often tasks that many around me saw as “extras” that were “getting in the way of me writing,” but in reality, these were the interactions that had the biggest impact on me,” Raquel explained.
Her new position as the Public Engagement Manager for HAL prizes this experience and perspective. In her new role, Raquel will continue her work in Public History while overseeing a collective multi-media project documenting HAL partner communities’ response to COVID and participation in recent anti-racist social movements. In addition, she will oversee HAL’s new national fellowship program for faculty, students, and community partners at Minority-Serving Institutions. The purpose of the fellowship program is to foster leadership from these institutions to use public humanities for climate justice and other social justice issues.
Raquel, whose dissertation looks at indigenous politics and political mobilization in the Americas in the mid 20th century, was drawn to the fellowship and the position with HAL because of the emphasis on collaboration within and between communities. Throughout her graduate career at Illinois, Raquel ensured that her historical research connected her to the communities she wanted to serve - indigenous and other underrepresented and historically disenfranchised people in the US.
“For me, the big thing is people, when you are working in a more recent time period, you can talk to them, talk to their descendants and relatives, get an idea of their actual experience and how these histories impact their reality today,” she said. “Because of this, I tried to make sure I asked a few questions of my work: Are the lines of inquiry I’m working on of interest and/or use to indigenous communities. Indigenous people and communities are still very much here, so for me it was critical to ask how my research served them and what I could share that would be of value to the decedents I am in contact with.”
Like many graduate students, her decision to pursue a PhD and her particular line of research inquiry was personal. The theoretical frame for her work investigates the systems (political, economic, cultural) that Americans exist in and how societal ideas and practices like white supremacy, anti-blackness, and anti-indigeneity are embedded in those systems of power. At the heart of her work is a question of how scholars and individuals can work together to negotiate tearing down systems of inequality that “we are embedded within but don’t necessarily think of as being constructed,” she said.
In undergraduate, Raquel, a first generation college student and second generation Mexican American, was unsure what she wanted to study. “I wanted to get my bachelor’s to ensure that I could do office work rather than manual labor,” she commented matter-of-factly. The American Studies courses she took spoke to her own lived experience of the world and a new way to think about and view it.
“I was introduced to how the world I was living in back then was constructed, how things unfolded and a better understanding of the systems of power at play. It was a world away from what I was taught in grade school. As a doctoral student, my research was driven by being the best researcher I could be to translate that into opportunities to teach, mentor, and open pathways to other people who came from similar communities,” Raquel said.
The Mellon/ACLS Postdoctoral Public Fellows program places recent PhDs from the humanities and related social sciences in two-year staff positions at partnering organizations in government and the nonprofit sector. Fellows work for these organizations while receiving professional mentoring. Because agencies and organizations apply for Fellowship positions each year, the opportunities vary from year to year, but all are designed to expand the reach of doctoral education in the US by demonstrating that the capacities developed in the advanced study of the humanities have wide application, both within and beyond the academy. You can learn more about the fellows program in the Fellowship Finder Database.
Caitlin Brooks is a PhD candidate in Recreation, Sport, and Tourism. Her research focuses on the creation of communities of meaning in subculture leisure spaces and her dissertation explores narratives of home at Burning Man. In her free time, you can find her traveling, cooking, and exploring with her handsome pug, Torbin.