A monumental reckoning

Twenty undergraduate students in the arts and humanities examined the complex factors that lead to the creation, interpretation and removal of monuments in an innovative, interdisciplinary research institute.

When you pause and look around you, what monuments do you see as part of your daily life? A plaque commemorating victims of war? A statue of a founding father or of a lesser-known physician whose methods caused harm? Places named in honor of people who did not live their lives honorably?

Now ask: How should the public respond to the legacies of trauma inherent in many statues and monuments? How does removing or altering them revise historical narratives and power dynamics?

Twenty University of Washington undergraduates examined how we can read monuments “against the grain” to open up new lines of thinking and action as part of the 2021 Summer Institute of Arts and Humanities.

The Institute’s theme — Monumental Reckoning: Unsettling Histories, Reimagining Futures — called on students to explore how race, memory and colonialism challenge traditional narratives of the past. Led by an interdisciplinary teaching team, the group first explored the definition of a monument, broadening it from statues and memorials, to include campuses, archives, performance norms and pop culture (yes, even TikTok). From here, they embarked on an intense research journey examining how these structures inform our understanding of the past and can shape future power dynamics.

Professors mentored undergrads through designing their own projects, introducing them to a range of scholars and texts, exemplifying that researchers come from diverse backgrounds. They called on participants to draw from their own lived experience to select topics of personal interest and meaning. Over the next nine weeks, supported by scholarships from the Mary Gates Endowment for Students, Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities (SIAH) members earned course credit while immersed in their projects full-time.

Bringing in key elements from both the Undergraduate Research Program and Simpson Center for the Humanities, students worked in cross-discipline cohorts of peers guided by professors. Classmates experienced firsthand the importance of conversation in research, continually adapting their work as the result of one another’s questions and iterative processes.

For many in the program, their work in SIAH is a launching point; an introduction to work they will continue to research and refine as they continue their academic journeys and bring their learnings into community. In the meantime, they are already animating Haitian scholar Michel Rolph-Trouillot’s powerful observation: “The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.”

From reimaging theater to looking at a film with new gaze; to listening differently to approaching memorial design with the goal of empowering victims; these students are reflecting and reimaging the form, purpose and impact of monumentalization.

Art against the grain

We often think of art as something static. Finalized once the book is bound, once the final brush of paint is applied and the final cut worked into the reel. Past works quickly become canonized in our culture. Problematic ideas are dismissed as a reflection of the time; something to be discussed as an archaic view and learned from. Sophia Carey and Mayumi Alino are challenging these notions in their research.

Stage or monument to exclusion? // Sophia Carey

This illustration was a collaboration between Sophia Carey and UAA’s graphic design intern, Burke Smithers. Following Sophia’s descriptions of her project, Burke developed, refined and finalized the above image to illustrate Sophia’s research project.Illustration by Burke Smithers


“Public Works at Seattle Rep is a values-based theater community that creates ambitious theatrical productions that reverse the process through which Shakespeare has been mobilized as a monument to exclusion, elitism and the supremacy of white culture in theater. The Public Works community in Seattle takes elements of ‘the canon,’ represented by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and uses them to rebuild a new type of theater of, by and for the people grounded in the values of equity, imagination and joy.”

— Sophia Carey, 2021 SIAH project: All the World’s a Stage? Metatheatrical Presence of Indigenous Absence in Public Works’ ‘As You Like It’

Sophia Carey, ’22, English and Comparative History of Ideas (minor: Theatre Studies), Interdisciplinary Honors Program student.Photo by Ian Teodoro

Why is looking so defiant? // Mayumi Sophiya Calderon Alino

We see people looking all around us. In pictures, TV shows and film. Yet we rarely stop and ask, “Who holds the power in what we are seeing?” Mayumi Alino does just that through her research: She examines the power dynamics in the ever-present, often overlooked gaze.

Video by Ian Teodoro, UAA’s undergraduate digital media producer, in collaboration with Mayumi Alino.


“I thought of cinema as an archive of our fantasies: stories of justice and hope, stories of escape and defiance, what we would like to see in the world. But that often does not match reality, and what we see in a lot of movies are the wants and values of people acting within an apparatus of the status quo. My intention with my project on the gaze was to analyze media and how it can subvert cultural-hegemonic domains of power by showing the world from the ‘gaze’ of those falling outside traditional narratives.”

— Mayumi Alino, 2021 SIAH project: Looking as Political Act: The Oppositional Gaze in Cinematic Realism

Mayumi and her SIAH experience

Mayumi Alino, ’23, Political Science and Cinema and Media Studies (minor: Informatics, Human Rights, Data Science).Photo by Ian Teodoro

What was the monument you focused on in your project? In what way is it a monument? How does your project grapple with the history of this monument and create an opportunity for reckoning with that past?

My project began as an argument that cinema is a way of monumentalizing the past. One part of the research that I thought could be a counter-narrative to the monuments in hegemonic culture is the oppositional gaze. But as the project progressed, I realized I didn’t really have a clear answer when people asked what “oppositional gaze” is. So I set out to do that — to “find” the oppositional gaze, but not really define it, as I didn’t want to position myself as an authority.


What does “oppositional gaze” mean?

Briefly, an oppositional gaze is one that derives understanding and recognition rather than pleasure; looking to defy and oppose prevailing ideas than reinforcing political and societal biases and prejudices.


How has your experience in SIAH influenced your approach to research?

The research turned out to be very fluid and intransitive in the sense that I wasn’t really leading myself to any conclusions. By the time I accepted that I probably wouldn’t find any definitive answers to my questions, I found the readings and materials that I selected moved me to a sort of conclusion on their own. All the ways I tried to answer my research questions just led to even more questions, but that might just be the nature of research — it never stops.

On not ending up where you thought you would

Mayumi shares more about the surprises of research and the impact of supportive faculty mentors.

Why did you choose your project? Why is it important to you?

I’m double majoring in political science and cinema and media studies. I just stumbled onto these fields by chance. But I’ve been wanting to unite these two subjects in what I do and learn since I’ve been struggling to justify why I’m studying cinema if I’m studying political science, and vice versa. So I wanted to validate that these two subjects aren’t completely independent of each other and there are politics in cinema and media, and there is a place for cinema and media in politics.

What advice would you give other undergraduates interested in research in the arts and humanities?

You’re not gonna end up where you thought you would, and that’s okay. And if you find that you’re having a terrible time completing your research and that you are overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge you feel you don’t have, that’s because you care about the subject and it matters to you, which is a wonderful thing to know. But you will never come to that point in time where you feel like you have “enough,” so just keep going anyways.

How has this experience changed the way you view monuments? How will this experience impact your next steps — major, research projects, grad school plans, career path, etc.

I want to keep exploring. Before this experience I had this intimidating idea of academia, but now I’ve seen how approachable grad studies can be and how it is just within reach, especially with the help of our mentors. They were so kind and understanding of our goals and gave us so much support in what we wanted to do. This really broke down a lot of the reservations I had about what I was doing as a scholar, and opened my eyes to the possibilities of academia as a whole.

Locations of memory and struggle

Places hold histories. Memories of horrific events permeate the soil, the trees, the water. In his work, Zipei Wang examines the history and memorialization of the unjust imprisonment of people of Japanese heritage living on Bainbridge Island during World War II. What story does the memorial tell of the Japanese American Experience?

Re-examining the past with a desire-based framework // Zipei Wang

Animated GIF of current memorial revealing historical photo of Japanese people walking on dock at Bainbridge Island to board the ferry and go to the internment camps.

This GIF was a collaboration between Zipei Wang and UAA’s undergraduate digital media producer, Ian Teodoro. Historical image credit: MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, PI28055. Memorial photo by Tony Grob.GIF by Ian Teodoro

“This memorial is a reckoning with the historical injustice against Japanese Americans during World War II. My research project critically examines the memorial through a desire-based lens, which accounts for the community’s hope and visions rather than merely loss and despair. This image illustrates how the memorial both carries the profound memory of the past and envisions a restorative future. My SIAH research calls for intentional engagement with diverse identities and desires to promote inclusive urban design for traumatized communities.”

— Zipei Wang, 2021 SIAH project: Multi-generational, Desire-based Design: A Critical Examination of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial

Zipei on intergenerational solidarity

Photo of Zipei Wang wearing a black knit hat with the UW logo and a bright yellow jacket.

Zipei Wang, ’22, Community, Environment and Planning and Education, Communities and Organizations.Photo by Ian Teodoro

How does your project grapple with the history of your selected monument and create an opportunity for reckoning with that past?

The monument I focused on is the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. Dedicated in 2011, the memorial was designed as a place for healing and reflection for 227 Bainbridge Island residents of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly sent to internment camps during World War II. My project provides a desire-based, multi-generational lens to critically examine the memorial’s capability of telling the real history, reckoning with the historical injustice and building long-lasting intergenerational solidarity.


Why did you choose your project? Why is it important to you?

It has been a misery that most of my college life suffers from the accumulation of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian violence and disconnection from family and friends. I was applying for the SIAH program while hearing the tragedy suffered by Asian and Asian American communities in Atlanta and across the country. This society urgently needs reckoning with the history of violence and oppression against Asian communities. I chose my project because I think people need more recognition of the desires and strengths of the Asian people. If we understand the nuances of memory and identity within the Asian community, we can better build solidarity and seek systemic change.


What stood out or surprised you about your SIAH experience? Do you have a favorite moment from the Institute?

Learning about Eve Tuck’s desire-based framework was one of the most impressive moments for me. It dramatically changed my perspective of viewing the traumatized communities, particularly the Japanese American community on Bainbridge Island, whose pain and damage have been repeatedly depicted, whereas their strength and desires are ignored. The desire-based framework constructed my whole research paper as I was trying to interpret different generations’ desires for healing and justice from the dark history they have experienced.


How would you describe Tuck’s desire-based framework for those who are unfamiliar with it?

The desire-based research methodology, first presented by Dr. Eve Tuck, accounts for the hope, the visions, and the wisdom of lived lives and communities. It counters the traditional one-dimensional approach that defines a community with merely loss and despair. For my project, I adopted the desire-based approach to seek an organic integration of the Japanese American community’s differing hopes looking toward recovery and liberation from the historic injustice.

Connecting to community offers relief from pandemic isolation

Zipei talks about the value of connecting with others while doing humanities-based research and what his next steps are.

What advice would you give other undergraduates interested in research in the arts and humanities?

Chief Seattle once mentioned that all things are connected. The connectedness of the SIAH community rescued me from the physical and emotional isolation amid a year of the pandemic. No single research work can be independent of this world of intersectionality. Your connection with like-minded people, their interests, their skills and their commitment to reviving humanity are the most precious resources for you doing research in the arts and humanities, so CONNECT.

How will this experience impact your next steps — major, research projects, grad school plans, career path, etc.

The SIAH experience allowed me to be in touch with not only many leading research methodologies but also my real passion for community-based research. My career interest in urban studies has shifted from practical work to more theoretical research. I recently got interested in urban anthropology, which explores the various political, social and cultural structures and processes within a particular city. Currently, I am working on my senior capstone project, which is a counter-narrative about urbanization, migration and the decline of marginalized culture and symbols.

Reimagining archives, identity and colonialism

What do you think of when you think of an archive? Crackly paper? Scratchy recordings? Dust? How about power? Those who built the archive held the power to select what was and was not included. What do these choices reveal? How do an archives’ holdings impact our knowledge of and interactions with the world around us?

Provocations on listening // Ethan Nowack

Photo of Ethan Nowack outside by water.

Ethan Nowack, ’22, Ethnomusicology and Comparative History of Ideas. Photo provided by Ethan Nowack

“The topic of my research, namely, recorded sound and voices, reckons with the often overlooked yet insidious monumentalization and colonization of the senses, particularly within contexts of listening and aurality. Exemplary of this would be the assumption that music is a purely aesthetic phenomenon, solely experienced through the listening ears, rather than a complex, multi-sensory and embodied phenomenon. How do colonial discourses surrounding sound and music construct certain voices as objectifiable monuments — passive artifacts of universal cultural representation — erasing the plurality of sensory/aural knowledge and experience? How can we move towards an unsettling of such monuments through the cultivation of critical and anti-colonial listening practices?”

— Ethan Nowack, 2021 SIAH project: Voicing Otherwise: Archival Vocality // Unsettling the Listening Body

Genealogies of harm and healing

Pop culture in the ’90s. TV shows showing teenage girls fighting over a crush. Magazines shout what to wear and how to lose ten pounds in a week. For adolescent girls growing up in the 1990s, cultural images shaped perceptions of self and femininity. Katie Ward examines their damaging impact and explores how she broke free of these prevalent ideas.

Stories of Self // Katie Ward

Photo of Katie Ward

Katie Ward, ’22, Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and American Ethnic Studies, UW Bothell.Photo by Marc Studer

What was the monument you focused on in your project? In what way is it a monument? How does your project grapple with the history of this monument and create an opportunity for reckoning with that past?

Immediately I focused on people as living monuments in the United States honoring slices of history in physical permanent forms. I thought about white women who fight so hard to protect monuments that are also symbols of their own oppression, and white women who think that they are liberal, but end up causing public displays of their own internalized racism and misogyny (we have all seen their meltdowns on the internet). I realized I didn’t have enough time to accomplish this research in one summer quarter. My next thought was why not make this about myself? I was, at one point, a self-proclaimed sexist that really did not like women. I was once a monument to the patriarchy and behaved in ways that upheld the patriarchal system. I started my research not to make an excuse for myself, or any other white woman, but in an effort to understand how this happens and seek solutions. I interviewed people who knew me when I was younger and reviewed television shows, magazines and movies from the 1980s–2000s to see how the views of women impacted my own behavior from my late teens through my early 20s.


Why did you choose your project? Why is it important to you?

During my first quarter at UW Bothell a fellow student asked a professor if they would have done anything different with their early graduate research. Their answer contained honesty and directness about being a white woman and how it may not have been their place to be conducting research in the Global South. That stuck with me, and I have continued through my undergrad experience always thinking about that: Should I be the one doing this? I made a list of all the things that I could think of for this project, asked myself what would be good for me to do and what was I the most passionate about. Then I thought: I really need to unpack my own baggage before I go anywhere else with any research in the future, especially as I continue on to graduate school.


How has this experience changed the way you view monuments?

I see monuments for what they aren’t now. They are telling as much of a story with what is being left out as they are with what you see. Instead of just focusing on what they are speaking to, I also am looking at what they are in conversation with, what they are surrounded by. There is always, “What is being silenced” around something that is seeking to be monumental. My questions around the interaction are much different now, almost conversational: Is it a counter monument? Is it doing good? Is it doing harm? What silence is it creating, or is it trying to break silence and be heard? Why does it live in this exact place? Which direction does it face?

We went on a walking tour of UW Seattle and stopped at wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, the longhouse, which is placed between Lewis and Clark Halls. All things that are important, and ways to see how anything could be a monument and in conversation with its surroundings and visitors.

The confidence to question everything

Katie shares the impact fellow SIAH students and the teaching team have had for her future plans.

How has your experience in SIAH influenced your approach to research?

The teaching team and the students that were involved in SIAH were really inspiring and supportive with expanding ideas around academia. I was previously a business major and really saw academia as something that fit into a pretty box and couldn’t be challenged. Now I see it as something that can be decolonized and is more than the process of reading the books and writing a report. As I have taken more classes at UW Bothell in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, this has been something that I have been slowly working on, but it really settled for me in SIAH. Research can be done in many ways, with different outcomes.

What stood out or surprised you about your SIAH experience? Do you have a favorite moment from the Institute?

My cohort was filled with four other brave, inspiring, amazing women, and we all focused on very personal stories of self in some way. It was beautiful to watch us build connections with each other that went beyond identities, age, race, ethnicity… there were times talking about femininity and family specifically where it was like we could all take a class on these topics and get something out of it together. One student even said, “Katie, you could teach a class on this. I’d take it.” The support and engagement was like nothing else I had experienced before in a classroom.

How will this experience impact your next steps — major, research projects, grad school plans, career path, etc.

My experience with SIAH gave me the confidence to question everything. I recently worked on a research project called “Integrating disability studies at UWB.” While working with another student and an adviser, we set out to be critical of the academic institution by addressing the lack of disability content in course work, and how a framework could be created to offer support to both students and faculty to respectfully and appropriately integrate disability content into all course work including business, STEM, history, art, humanities — everywhere. Now I will be taking this experience with me as I will be continuing my education and pursuing a double degree program at Claremont Graduate University in the fall. I plan to continue my passion of where gender studies and cultural studies collide and will be working towards a master of arts in applied gender studies and a master of arts in cultural studies.

Teaching as a team

Coming together to develop a research theme and syllabus leads to an unforgettable summer institute for students and faculty alike.

  • María Elena García, Professor, Comparative History of Ideas

    María Elena García

    Professor, Comparative History of Ideas

  • Adam Warren, Associate Professor, Department of History

    Adam Warren

    Associate Professor, Department of History

  • Tony Lucero, Associate Professor, Comparative History of Ideas, Jackson School of International Studies

    Tony Lucero

    Associate Professor, Comparative History of Ideas, Jackson School of International Studies

  • Lydia Heberling, Assistant Professor, Ethnic Studies Department, Cal Poly

    Lydia Heberling

    Assistant Professor, Ethnic Studies Department, Cal Poly

Four faculty members representing as many departments came together to teach SIAH. United by shared values, the teaching team centered monuments and place as a way of exploring how the arts can be a form of social activism.

Discussions examined the way monuments — in their diverse forms — can serve as expressions of power and shape our common perception of historic events. Using the arts as a launching point, class discussions examined the ways race, Indigeneity, health, memory, governance and decolonization factor into our current understanding of society and can help artists, communities and organizations envision more equitable futures.

This work can be personal and students may feel vulnerable in it. To guide students through this process, the teaching team turned to Cherokee scholar Adrienne Keene’s philosophy of “consenting to learn in public” to build an inclusive space that invites consensus-based learning.

Students’ studies evolved over the summer, from learning about the debates surrounding memory, memorialization and monuments to designing their own research projects in response to these dialogues. The results are a richly creative and optimistic body of work, inviting community involvement and equitable approaches to their own academic examinations.

Reflecting on SIAH, Professor María Elena García shared, “We have been mindful of the impact and stakes of our work, of the power structures inherent in knowledge production, of the silences and erasures and enraging histories of racism, misogyny, and other forms of violence that inevitably haunt academic work. Following many of the Native and Black scholars, whose work and words we engaged with, students looked straight into that rage and grief and despair they felt and insisted on resilience, strength, desire and joy.”

About the Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities

The Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities was created by the Undergraduate Research Program in collaboration with the Simpson Center for the Humanities to provide an intensive research opportunity for humanities and arts students that increases the number of undergraduates doing research in the humanities, engages humanities and arts faculty in research with undergraduates, establishes a community of undergraduate arts and humanities scholars, and to creates a forum for humanities undergraduates to present their scholarly work.

The Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities at the University of Washington is sponsored by Undergraduate Academic Affairs, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, the Office of Research, UW Educational Outreach, the Undergraduate Research Program, and the Mary Gates Endowment for Students.

Thank you for your work on, contributions to and support of this story

Student, faculty and staff contributors and collaborators

Mayumi Sophiya Calderon Alino // Sophia Carey //  Lydia Heberling // María Elena García // Tony Lucero // Ethan Nowack // Zipei Wang // Adam Warren

The Simpson Center for the Humanities // Undergraduate Research Program


UAA Dean’s Office team

Kirsten Atik, producer, editor, creative direction // Jenelle Birnbaum, lead writer, project manager, creative direction // Burke Smithers, illustrator, graphic design // Ian Teodoro, photographer, videographer

Originally published May 2022

What you care about can change the world

The Undergraduate Research Program helps students engage in research with UW faculty mentors in all disciplines. The Undergraduate Research Program offers research scholarships, hosts summer research programs, provides courses and workshops, convenes the Undergraduate Research Symposium and summer symposia, and supports the Undergraduate Research Leaders program.