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Honors Student Profiles


Rachael Bittick

Sociocultural Anthropology

Thesis: Experimenting with Normative Social Behavior: A Study of Space, Communication, and Performance in Club Culture

Summary: My project looks at the ways in which we construct and perceive social spaces as outlets for experimentation with normative behaviors. In a parallel structure, I critically analyze foundational theories discussed by influential academics such as Edward T. Hall, Gregory Bateson, Irving Goffman, and Judith Butler, to name a few, in order to then apply those theories to my observations from club culture and interviews with frequent club attendees. By cross-referencing my theoretical and ethnographic data, I explore the social implications of such experimental spaces.

Future Plans: I am currently working for the University of Michigan's Office of New Student Programs as an Orientation Leader for the incoming freshman class of 2023. In the Fall, I will be working as a Campus Representative for College Year in Athens, the study abroad program I participated in my Junior year. I will travel across the US to various college and university campuses to act as a liaison between the program administration and prospective students. Beyond that, I will be pursuing a masters degree in Higher Education, most likely in the field of student affairs.

Caroline Richburg

Sociocultural Anthropology

Thesis: Laboring to Conceive: The Sociomaterial Making of a Queer Mother 

Summary: My thesis project studied queer women who pursue motherhood through reproductive technologies. More specifically, my goal was to shed light on the complex negotiations that queer women make in their journeys to conceive and mother. I argue that queer motherhood is not about achieving a heteronormative ideal or capitalizing on technological advancements, but rather about laboriously aligning a particular set of conditions such that a certain reality—motherhood—may come into being. Among these conditions are biological manipulations via reproductive technologies, legal rulings made possible through marriage equality, adoption laws which remain vastly unequal and fragmented nationally, social movements that accept (or reject) queer families, and the reality that negotiating each of these categories individually and in relation to one another requires an astounding amount of money and educational savvy. 

Future Plans: In July 2019, I will begin medical school at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. I am looking forward to learning more about women’s health and social medicine while pursuing my medical degree, and hope to continue engaging with these themes as a future-physician. 




Rachel Hurwitz | Biological Anthropology

THESIS: Effects of GnRH Agonist Treatment on Transgender Adolescent Bone Health and Maturation studied via a Mouse Model

SUMMARY: My thesis looked at a type of drug colloquially termed a "puberty blocker," which is frequently used by transgender adolescents to delay the onset of puberty and lessen feelings of gender dysphoria and make potential future surgeries less invasive. This drug is frequently used in adults with reproductive disorders as well, wherein it is known to cause detrimental losses to bone, but it has not been studied for similar effects in adolescents. Because transgender healthcare is such an important and underrepresented field of medicine, I wanted to try to add to this growing area of research, by conducting a pilot study using a frequently used model organism, the laboratory mouse.

FUTURE PLANS: I am currently working for a clinical research project called the MIPACT study for Michigan Medicine during my gap years. My plans thereafter are not yet finalized, but I hope to either apply to medical school or graduate school and hope to continue being involved in anthropology and research regardless of which path I choose.


Megan Knittel | Sociocultural Anthropology

THESIS: More Than Skin Deep: Playing Gender in the Social Worlds of Overwatch 

SUMMARY: My project centered on examining experiences related to gender in the online, multiplayer video game Overwatch. Overwatch is unique amongst virtual worlds due to its design, including compulsory teamwork, and the extensive pop culture presence and fan communities surrounding the game.  Through dozens of hours of gameplay and deep analysis of forums, blogs, and news related to Overwatch, I concluded that gender becomes a symbolic marker of ability in the game. When players present as masculine or feminine, player expectations about their ability and skill vary based on these gender assumptions. Overwatch’s misogynistic design choices interact with the biases and behavior of its players to create a space in which female energy is degraded and commodified. Female players persist in the world of Overwatch by connecting with other women players, and due to their enjoyment of the game despite these challenges surrounding gender. 

FUTURE PLANS: I will be pursuing my doctorate in Information & Media at Michigan State University beginning Fall 2018. In the program I plan to continue researching digital worlds, fandom cultures, identity in the media, and related topics. 


Danielle Leander | Biological Anthropology

THESIS: Factors Affecting the Visibility of Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at the Detroit Zoo

SUMMARY: The goal of my research project was to determine how visible on average the chimpanzees are during visitor hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at the Detroit Zoo. I also used additional data to determine whether or not factors such as temperature and number of visitors at the chimp exhibit have an impact on the visibility of the chimps. I discovered that the chimps are visible the majority of zoo visitor hours, and that temperature and number of zoo visitors does not impact their visibility. This project was enlightening for my undergraduate career and I am grateful for the opportunity from the staff at the Detroit Zoo for allowing me to spend my time observing the chimps, and Dr. Mitani's support throughout the entire project. I highly encourage undergraduates outside and within the Anthropology department to pursue an honors project or even just undergraduate research experience!

FUTURE PLANS: I will be taking a gap year before pursuing a PhD in biomedical sciences. During this time I will be working as a research technician for The Center for Research in Critical Care at the University of Michigan exploring different approaches for Emergency Medicine. 


Franny Melampy | Biological Anthropology

THESIS: Taxonomic, Geographic, and Temporal Biases in Primate Assessments on the IUCN Red List

SUMMARY: My research focused on the largest database for categorizing threatened and non-threatened species of the world. My study questions were used to find out which factors play into the severity of primate threat statuses. By collecting information from the Red List pages of all listed primate species, I found that the statuses of these primates were dependent on the amount of information, location, and temporal variation of their assessment pages. 

FUTURE PLANS: I am currently working at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, and I hope to pursue a career in environmental education.


Andrew Mitchel | Sociocultural Anthropology

THESIS: La Comida Latinoamericana: Food, Friction and Selfhood among Latinos in New York City

SUMMARY: My thesis was a full survey and examination of the conception of authenticity when it comes to how Latinos in New York City discuss food and food practices. I completed 14 interviews with participants who have ancestry in a number of Latin American countries and whom all live/work/grew up within New York City. I concluded that there exists a general consensus that what is authentic, one which is learned and passed down through culinary experts within the community. These experts ensure traditions passed to the new generation, the children of my interviewees. There was disagreement about what was pure when it came to cuisine: depending on who I spoke to, there were different notions of what food/ingredients were in a pure state, and which were not. Various tensions, which I refer to as frictions, arose for different interviewees around different parts of life which impact their relationship with food from their country of origin. Finally, all my interviewees commented on the melting pot ideal of New York City, saying that if efforts are taken, it is an easy place to find, eat and make foods from one’s country of origin.

FUTURE PLANS: I will be attending UCLA for the next two years for a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies through the International Institute, where I will endeavor to continue to complete ethnography, this time in Southern California but also with Latinos from Mexicoand/or Central America.


Sarah Ridzy | Sociocultural Anthropology

THESIS: Unplanned: An Ethnographic Memoir of Pregnancy, Self, and Culture

SUMMARY: My thesis is an ethnographic memoir recounting my own experience through an unplanned and unpartnered pregnancy. Each chapter begins with a brief personal narrative, followed by an analytic discussion of the anthropological themes and theories visible in these anecdotes. Chapter to chapter, the story follows the arc of a childbearing experience: from the initial discovery of a pregnancy, through birth, and to the establishment of a breastfeeding relationship. The main social scientific threads of this text are: pregnancy and birth as highly social rites of passage; the influence of authoritative biomedical knowledge on personal experience; the technical and symbolic roles of technology in American reproductive culture; and the negotiation between maternal sensorial input and biomedical control in the process of birth. A goal of this discussion is to illustrate the power of the personal narrative as a point of entry into the inquiry of a complex sociocultural system.

FUTURE PLANS: My plans after graduation are to pursue my master’s degree in social work at the UM School of Social Work, where I will concentrate on integrated health and interpersonal practice. I hope to gain experience as a social worker in a hospital obstetric setting and NICU before continuing to a doctorate program in anthropology.



Katarina Alajbegovic | Sociocultural Anthropology

THESIS: Welcome to the Big Land: Experiences of Land, Power, and Identity through Land Claims in Labrador

SUMMARY: Through surveys and Skype interviews I sought to understand how comprehensive land claims, or CLCs, have shaped both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individual's experiences around issues of land, power, and identity in Labrador.  Through my research I found that the individuals in Labrador grappled with conflicts around understandings of land, the effects of power imbalances, as well as the tension surrounding the birth of a political Indigenous identity, all of which were related to the land claims process. 

FUTURE PLANS: I was recently accepted as an AmeriCorps volunteer to work with the National Health Corps in Chicago at a family planning center where I will create educational materials and programs for high school students about topics such as contraception and safe sex. 


Anna Forringer-Beal | Sociocultural Anthropology

THESIS: (In)Visible Genders: How Central American Migrant Women Navigate Control and Vulnerability

SUMMARY: This thesis is based off of interviews conducted with Central American women from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador mainly in Pakal-Na, Chiapas, who were migrating north through Mexico. As a part of the Undocumented Migration Project, a research group focused on applying a four-field approach to understanding undocumented migration, I was interested in learning from women how gender effects their migration experience. Combining interview analysis with feminist ethnography, I conclude that women employ a variety of survival strategies that tactfully use the perceived vulnerability inherently ascribed to women in order to access goods and services otherwise unavailable to them.


Brianna Mayer | Anthropological Archaeology

THESIS: Status and Identity on a Smallholder Caribbean Plantation: An Archaeological Perspective

SUMMARY: Through my thesis project I analyzed artifacts from two occupations on a small plantation in the British Virgin Islands, to understand the social and economic status differences and negotiation of identity between its inhabitants.

FUTURE PLANS: Following graduation, I will be taking a gap year to work in Ann Arbor and to volunteer in Detroit through the ARSP Growing Together Detroit program. I am also currently applying to graduate programs in historical archaeology.  


Alexandra Newton | Sociocultural Anthropology

Alexandra received the Virginia L. Voss Memorial Award for excellence in writing by senior Honors women.

THESIS: Of Hustlers and Housekeepers: Private Security Work in Bucharest, Romania.

SUMMARY: My thesis explores the private security industry in Bucharest, Romania. Through fieldwork conducted amongst the city's many private security guards, I show how post-socialist transformations and global changes in security apparatuses take on local manifestations in Bucharest. Through the seemingly oppositional figures of the "hustler" and the "housekeeper," I elucidate the dual nature of security work. While, in popular discourse and in their own imaginations, security guards identify as hyper-masculine urban gangsters, the daily realities of security work situate guards as benevolent housekeepers, whose daily practices and obligations come to produce a quotidian social order in the city. This juxtaposition, between the hustler and the housekeeper, also helps to elucidate the complex ways in which masculine subjectivities are reformulated in the face of post-socialist experiences of marginalization, dispossession and discontent. Ultimately, I argue that guards' daily practices come to introduce a new regime of security in the city—one predicated not upon coercion or force, but rather, upon connectedness and care. 


Amber Young | Sociocultural Anthropology

THESIS: Caregiving and Commitment: Stories of Finding Value Through Raising a Child with a Disability

SUMMARY: For my thesis, I focused on parents’ narratives of what it means to be a caregiver while raising a child with a disability. After having a job teaching kids with disabilities how to ride bikes, I interviewed some of these parents to hear their stories. My thesis focused on three of these stories in-depth to share what defined their experiences and how they found meaning.

FUTURE PLANS: Next year while taking a gap year before medical school, I will be a part of Match Corps in Boston, an Americorps program where I will be a tutor in 5th grade classrooms.