Undergraduate Academic Affairs

December 4, 2023

Black Studies through time, art and being

Danielle Marie Holland

The Office of Undergraduate Research’s Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities (SIAH) offered the 2023 undergraduate cohort an immersion into interdisciplinary research with A Black Sense: Time, Art and Being.

This year’s theme was developed by accomplished UW faculty members, Habiba Ibrahim, Jasmine Mahmoud, Bianca Dang and Chari Glogovac-Smith. Under their mentorship, the 2023 cohort engaged in a collaborative journey of mutual learning, independent thinking and development of interdisciplinary research projects spanning across English, history, performance and experimental media.

Jai Lasker

Photo of Jai Lasker with her guitar


Participant Jai Lasker, ’25, was intrigued by the opportunity to engage in an academic space “primarily created with Blackness in mind.” Lasker, a guitarist, composer, improviser and visual artist in her fourth year at the UW, said the theme “seemed like a path I could really resonate with. It aligned with the way I wanted to approach research and creative projects, which go hand in hand with that research.” Exploring ideas and questions around reality and existence, as well as the relationship between individual and collective experience, Lasker also highlighted the influential role of Black studies in shaping understanding and perception.

Lasker’s research centered on the resonator guitar as a tool to study the intersection of blues music and hip hop. Inspired by the instrument’s historical significance in Black folk and blues music, she sought to bridge the gap between these genres both lyrically and sonically.

“The feedback of this entire project was embodied knowledge,” shared Lasker. “I can’t know exactly what blues musicians were thinking in the early 1900s, but I can feel something that they felt — the exact way that guitar would rumble in your hands.”

“Just those five weeks of thinking differently about what Blackness is, how performance is related to Blackness, and how sound has been used to protect us or help us find safer spaces,” Lasker said, “ changed the way I thought about every aspect of my performance, my writing and my role as a researcher.”

Bitaniya Giday

Photo of Bitaniya Giday


Bitaniya Giday, ’25, is a political science major who was also drawn to the SIAH program’s focus. “It was the first time I realized there was an institute where you could do research in the home of the arts and humanities and also have an interdisciplinary Black studies focus.” She began the process seeking to “understand what research is, what archives are and to ask what is worthy of being researched.”

The program “opened my mind on how much source material we have just from being human, learning to take from what is happening around us. How we feel, what we taste, how all of that can be an immersive research experience.” Not only is Giday focused on pursuing American ethnic studies, but she recently served as the 2021 Seattle Youth Poet Laureate. Her background as a poet activist exposing issues of racial injustice informed her research project focus.

Giday learned of the Washington Prison History Project Archive, a prisoner-led collection of artifacts and documentation of the history and ongoing reality of mass incarceration in Washington state. She became particularly interested in a collection of Black anarchist/socialist and Black Power movement newspapers that were distributed among prisoners in the ’60s and ’70s.

“I was diving into the history of how those newspapers were being made, what prison facilities were doing to intervene on the fact that prisoners were communicating across different areas, but also connecting to political things happening on the outside and trying to organize on the inside.”

Giday’s research focused on currently incarcerated writers who produce online prison-led publications. Her objective was to analyze the changes between archived publications and the current ones, as well as to investigate the evolution of prison censorship policies, both in terms of internal communication and external political actions. She interviewed three incarcerated writers, engaging in dialogue while mapping how they think about freedom and life. Giday has continued on with her research, working with a SIAH mentor to develop a concrete paper as her research evolves.

Obse Dinsa


Transfer student Obse Dinsa, ’25, learned of the SIAH program in one of her first classes with Dr. Lynn Thomas. A painter pursuing a degree in social welfare with a minor in diversity, Dinsa immediately felt the program aligned with her many interests. Her summer research project focused on depictions of the Black Diaspora through visual art.

“I decided to come up with an analysis of specific paintings from the late 1800s to the late 1900s,” shared Dinsa. “I selected 10 paintings to serve as snapshots, creating a tour timeline of history to indicate what was going on at that period of time and why the artist decided to make the piece.”

Dinsa was able to expand beyond the typical scope of academia, highlighting the importance and value of research and analysis that can be drawn directly from art.

SIAH changed the way Dinsa thought about research. “Coming in, I thought it was going to be just strictly this emphasis on traditional academic research.” While the program was filled with a summer full of readings, the teaching team had placed “great emphasis on the arts and how the arts can be used as a tool for research.”

Dinsa intends to incorporate what she learned through the project and apply it to her role in social work. “It has broadened my horizons as to what kind of social worker I want to be,” said Dinsa. “My biggest takeaway from SIAH is that there’s not just one lane to do something, there’s so many different approaches one can take.”

About the Office of Undergraduate Research

The Office of Undergraduate Research provides resources and opportunities to support students, mentors and staff across all disciplines to support the creation of transformative research experiences. Through diverse forms of inquiry, creative work and practice, undergraduates interrogate existing ideas and ask critical questions to create new knowledge. To learn more about undergraduate research at the University of Washington, visit the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Since 2002, the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Simpson Center for the Humanities have collaborated on the Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities (SIAH). Through providing intensive research opportunities for humanities and arts students, SIAH has increased the number of undergraduates doing research in the humanities, established a community of arts and humanities scholars and engaged faculty, and created an annual forum for presenting scholarly work.