This article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2019 John C. Young (JCY) Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 29th year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.
Veronique Similien ’19 (Hyde Park, Massachusetts) spent her senior year studying the ways in which stories are commodified in exchange for higher education access and funding for her John C. Young project titled “Pimping Out Trauma: Commodification of Suffering in Exchange for Education Access.”
“My project focuses specifically on the experiences of college and graduate students with life writing and storytelling when applying for educational opportunities, which I refer to as access-storytelling,” Similien said. “Additionally, I was trying to understand the ways in which marginalized individuals experience this differently from their privileged peers. The results of my research are based on 50 survey responses; 13 interviews conducted with college and graduate students, admission counselors, scholarship administrator and a storytelling expert; as well as analyzing existing theory regarding race, storytelling, social capital and biographic mediation.”
The idea for Similien’s research came from her own experiences with access-storytelling while applying for educational programs, colleges and scholarships throughout her life; her experience reading applications as a program coordinator; and a tweet by Twitter user @anthonknees that said, “Has anyone written about the way we have to pimp out our trauma to get funding and institutional access?”
Similien said the tweet reaffirmed her decision to conduct this research and provided her with the framework of “pimping out trauma,” which calls into question the aspects of power, agency and capital involvement in access-storytelling.
“I’m interested in this topic because of my own experiences, my interest in education and its incorporation and accumulation of everything I’ve learned in my anthropology and sociology coursework,” she added.
Similien explained how the research process was extensive and challenging but an enlightening experience that has inspired her to conduct more research in the future.
“I’ve learned a lot about conducting sociological research, Critical Race Theory and different storytelling theories,” she said. “I’ve also learned more about my own positionality when conducting sociological research.”
Throughout the course of her research, Similien worked with Shana Sippy, visiting assistant professor of religion.
“Working with Dr. Sippy was definitely a highlight of this research experience,” she added. “Her expertise across disciplines—anthropology, sociology, religion and education—was helpful in giving me insight into this topic. She also challenged me to be a much better, succinct and compelling writer. She was constantly encouraging me and doing her best to support me in every way she can.”
Sippy said it was wonderful to watch Similien’s questions and analytical approaches develop over the year.
“Her work helps to elevate stories that are often unheard and helps us to pay attention to the counter-narratives of minority and marginalized students about the process of applying for and ultimately gaining access to educational opportunities,” she said. “Over time, she came to recognize the importance of her own story in relationship to her research, as I encouraged her, and as she allowed herself to weave in aspects of her own story, her analysis and research became deeper and more nuanced.
“She is working now to make her work accessible online, and she hopes to continue to develop this research further,” Sippy continued. “I have no doubt that this work and the work she pursues in the future will make a substantive contribution to the fields of education and sociology. I look forward to hearing how her story unfolds over the years to come.”
After Centre, Similien will be working as a high school English teacher in New Orleans with Teach For America.
by Kerry Steinhofer
June 6, 2019