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Jacqueline Brown-Gaines Receives UNCF Mellon/Mays Undergraduate Fellowship

May 2018

Jacqueline Brown-Gaines is aIMG_3896 sophomore double major in history and women’s studies from Los Angeles, California. Jacqueline first heard about the UNCF/Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship during the first semester of her freshman year. Her professor at the time, who she would later discover was the campus coordinator of the program, mentioned in class one day that if anyone was interested in becoming “a member of the academy,” they should come to meet with her during office hours. Brown-Gaines kept the idea in the back of her head because she really wasn’t sure what she wanted to do career-wise or even what field she wanted to study.            

As the semester progressed, Brown-Gaines became closer and closer to her professors. She looked to them for advice, admired their sense of self and confidence, and began to see herself in them. Towards the end of the semester, she mentioned to her professor, Akiba Harper, Ph.D., that she might be interested in the program, and Dr. Harper recommended she attend the interest meeting even though she wouldn’t be applying until the next year.           

After attending the interest meeting in December, Brown-Gaines knew the UNCF Mellon/Mays Undergraduate Fellowship was the program for her. The program provides access to an extensive network of scholars and professionals, funding and grants for research, and a community who holds each other accountable for those aiming to earn their doctoral degrees and become professors at colleges and universities.

Founded in 1989, the UNCF branch of the Mellon Mays fellowship has awarded 108 doctorate degrees, and over 700 in total. Some Spelman faculty have earned their doctorates through Mellon, including Brown-Gaines' professors, Sakinah Davis, Ph.D., and Nafeesa Muhammad, Ph.D.       
In order to apply for the fellowship, one must develop a research topic and select a trusted mentor that aligns with the research topic. Brown-Gaines found that the hardest part of this process was narrowing in on what she wanted to write. It wasn’t until the end of her first semester sophomore year that she had even decided on what major she wanted to declare. She used the winter break to truly search for what she was passionate about, and what she could see herself staying interested in for the duration of her time at Spelman and beyond. After some soul-searching, she discovered her passion is in the work of young Black women, and the exploration of their experiences in the United States.         
IMG_3863As a fellow, Brown-Gaines will research racial and gender identity construction in Black teen girls. Adolescence is the time when the bulk of one’s defining identities are developed, and as a soon-to-be Black woman, developing two heavily scrutinized identities simultaneously can be extremely challenging. Brown-Gaines plans to explore the contradictions, obstacles, and struggles that young Black women throughout the twentieth century have faced, and how they persevered despite copious attacks on their budding womanhood.

Brown-Gaines is honored to be a recipient of the fellowship, and looks forward to actualizing her dream of becoming a life-long learner and educator. She is and had always been an advocate for the humanities, Black feminist thought, and Black leaders. She says she looks forward to what her future in Mellon will bring and will one day become the professor that young Black women will look up to, just as she has looked up to her professors at Spelman.

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