John C. Young Scholar Victoria DiMartile '15 explores issues of racial identity through the arts

dimartileThrough self-designed initiatives and projects that speak to their passions, Centre College students are encouraged to find their own unique voices while on campus. Victoria DiMartile ’15 saw an opportunity to do so during her senior year while studying a topic close to her heart—racial identity.
DiMartile conducted independent research titled “Rupture Poétique: An Anthropological Analysis of Racial Identity Construction through Poetry,” supported through Centre’s John C. Young (JCY) Scholars Program.
The program is designed to serve highly motivated senior students, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.
The idea for her unique project, which combines her major in anthropology/sociology with her passion for creative writing, was born of her interest in her own heritage and racial identity.
“My JCY project focused on investigating the strategies of identity construction for bi-racial and multi-racial women through the lenses of anthropology, creative writing and ceramic art,” DiMartile explains.
As part of the lengthy JCY research process, she conducted 90-minute interviews with nine female Centre students about their identity formation and self-perception. She also read several poetry anthologies and fiction collections to inspire her creative writing on the subject.
DiMartile’s final paper was “structured like an ethnography, exploring the lives and experiences of each interviewee in depth,” she says.
“Many factors contributed to these women’s self-understanding, including interactions with white and black peer groups, socialization, race emphasis in the home and parental influence,” DiMartile explains.
Throughout the research process, JCY scholars work closely with faculty mentors on their respective projects. For DiMartile, those mentors were Associate Professor of Anthropology Andrea Abrams and Paul L. Cantrell Associate Professor of English Lisa Williams.
“Dr. Abrams provided unwavering support and insight. I was frequently overwhelmed by the topic of my project and the intricacies it presented and she never failed in offering wisdom and reminded me to continue forward even when the task is daunting,” DiMartile says. “Prof. Williams continuously pushed me, encouraging me to try new styles and to go into uncomfortable and unknown creative territory.
“From them, I learned that my best is always around the corner, that settling with the familiar is crippling,” she continues, “and that my artistic voice, like the lives of my participants, is always evolving.”
After the completion of her project, DiMartile did a reading of her poetry to accompany the gallery that displayed her ceramic and installation art. She also wrote and self-published Slip and Score, a collection of her poems inspired by the stories and experiences of her bi-racial and multi-racial participants.
In connection to the ceramic art portion of her JCY project, the title Slip and Score is borrowed from ceramic techniques where crosshatch marks are applied to pieces of clay to adhere them together—much like, DiMartile points out, the combining of dual racial identities.
“The collection is divided into the stages of clay before, during and after firing in a kiln, symbolic of the stages through which my participants progress in building their sense of self and refining their personhood,” she says.
DiMartile explains that the project reminded her of her “three loves: interdisciplinary learning, poetry and the beauty of others’ stories,” and hopes that she can integrate all three into her future endeavors.
“I also discovered that race is not a uniform experience,” she concludes. “I discovered race is more complex and unwieldy than any of us have ever imagined, and it is our duty to those who walk that path to provide a free and unhindered space for them to be validated and celebrated for who and what they choose to be.”
Read four poems from DiMartile’s Slip and Score.
by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
June 18, 2015