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NewsAug 28, 2023

Applying scholarship to problems and solutions

Sixth-annual Honors Symposium was a showcase of students’ examination of a range of social issues

Ameilia Teta presenting project in front of audience at Alumni Hall
Amelia Teta presenting: “The Impact of a Medically Fragile Child on a Family Unit" during the Honors Research Symposium. (Photo by Ali Trepanier)

By John Sullivan

In the days before 2023 Commencement, some of Lesley’s newest alumni and other students presented their original scholarship before several dozen people in Alumni Hall as part of the sixth annual College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Honors Research Symposium.

“I’m always so uplifted by the students and impressed,” said CLAS Honors Program Director Michael Illuzzi, associate professor of Political Science.

The graduating CLAS honors students included Lindsay Hecker, Lauren Allen, Amelia Teta, Alison Frisella, Bella Bianco, Anqi Ma, Morgan Anderson, Kai Sobral, Callista Masters and Rachel Mahoney.

Group of honors students clowning for hte camera in front of portrait of Edith Lesley
All graduating CLAS Honors students. Back row, from left, are Lindsay Hecker, Lauren Allen, Amelia Teta, Alison Frisella, Bella Bianco and Associate Professor Michael Illuzzi. Front row, from left, are Anqi Ma, Morgan Anderson and Rachel Mahoney. (Photo by Ali Trepanier)

Sobral presented virtually, discussing an original manuscript of a children’s picture book, “Lennie and His Shadow,” using shadow as metaphor for “a tangible way for a small child to voice emotion.”

“The aim of this book is to help children improve their emotional literacy and begin to get comfortable with their feelings,” said Sobral, a digital illustrator and publishing intern.

The book is the tale of a small cat named Lennie captivated by his shadow that changes colors. Sometimes, Lennie reacts positively to the colors, but at other times, the colors can be discomfiting.

“When this happens, Lennie tries to get rid of his shadow, which doesn’t work,” Sobral explained. “Lennie’s journey with his shadow showcases the many emotions that children may feel when trying to understand and come to terms with their own feelings.”

Student Emma Bischoff, an Elementary Education and Psychology major, presented a literature review, “Understanding and Working with Multicultural Education.”

“Multicultural education strives to diversify the teaching curriculum and practices to include as many children as possible in instruction,” Bischoff said. “This means adding culturally appropriate and relevant topics, addressing multiple perspectives in subjects such as social studies, and even talking about points of conflict regarding political and personal values within the classroom.”

Though race is only one factor in multicultural education, Bischoff stressed its importance in the wake of the former presidency of Donald Trump, claiming “there has been an increase of hate and other scare tactics towards people of color and other marginalized groups called the ‘Trump Effect.’”

presenters of Honors Symposium projects
Presenting at the Honors Research Symposium were, from left, Emma Bischoff, Amelia Teta, Alison Frisella and, virtually, Kai Sobral (not shown). With the presenters is Associate Professor Michael Illuzzi. (Photo by Ali Trepanier)

“We see that multicultural education is much needed in school today, given the rise of intolerance and insensitivity towards minority groups, as well as the rise of more students of color in our student populations,” Bischoff said. “However, teachers need to do so much more than just represent multiple cultures in the classroom. They need to engage the students with this content so that learning about cultures is not separate from the standard curriculum.”

The nation’s right-wing ethos was also under scrutiny by alumna Alison Frisella, who majored in Political Science and Math Studies. In “Tucker Carlson and the Trans Moral Panic,” Frisella described anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric displayed on the conservative Fox News Channel and on social media throughout 2022. Frisella recounted the right-wing tropes that “wokeness is an industry” and that “the trans movement is targeting Christians” in their exploration of the conservative commentator’s oeuvre.

“He’s a captivating figure to watch,” Frisella conceded of Carlson, making his discourse all the more dangerous to trans people.

Alumna Amelia Teta, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Children, Youth and Family Studies, focused on a different marginalized population.

In “The Impact of a Medically Fragile Child on a Family Unit,” Teta said, “There is a lot of fear around kids who are medically fragile,” adding that the term describes children who rely on assistive devices, equipment and specialized care to help them survive and thrive.

Teta focused on misperceptions of medically fragile students as being weak and bereft of the personality and individuality of children who require no such intervention. She also found fault with the prevailing research’s inadequacy at describing the impact on families, beyond the children’s mothers.

In contrast, information she gleaned largely from her internship at the Perkins School for the Blind, revealed, as one Perkins teacher put it, that families of medically fragile children “have wonderful perspective about life's challenges and how gains can be meaningful even if they take a while and are slow to come.”

“In order to support medically fragile children and their families,” Teta said, “there needs to be more education and less fear when it comes to working, living, and being around these children.”