Location: Bowdoin / Africana Studies / Activity / 2014 / Spotlight on Honors: Theresa Shirey & Hannah Wurgaft

Africana Studies

Spotlight on Honors: Theresa Shirey & Hannah Wurgaft

Story posted January 28, 2014

Theresa Shirey ‘14

  • Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa
  • Majors: Africana Studies, Biology

Theresa ShireyTracy’s honors project focuses on the persistence of racial inequality in Waterloo, Iowa. The first significant group of African Americans in Iowa arrived in 1910 to work as strikebreakers on the Illinois Central Railroad, and settled in an area called Smokey Row on the east side of town. Due to city ordinances, it was the only area the African Americans could live. Today, Waterloo is a vibrant city with the highest per capita African American population in the state. Her research analyzes federal and community civil rights efforts spanning both the civil rights and post-civil rights eras, in addition to the exterior and interior “persistence factors” that have contributed to the persistence of inequality from both outside the black community, and from within. These factors continue to affect Waterloo’s racial divide today. “I believe we cannot begin to think about changing the current inequalities of American cities until we understand how we came to have those inequalities. Racial inequality is an incredibly complex issue, with multiple factors contributing to its maintenance. An understanding of the origins of the current segregation in Waterloo would be vital not only to current school administrators and policymakers in Waterloo, but city officials and politicians throughout the country.” Tracy’s honors project advisor is Patrick Rael, Associate Professor of History

Hannah Wurgaft ‘14

  • Hometown: Montclair, New Jersey
  • Major: Africana Studies;
  • Minor: Government and Legal Studies 

Hannah WurgaftHannah’s honors project investigates a piece of federal legislation called Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC), which refers to the “disproportionate number of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system”. Her focus is on DMC as federal public policy and examines how states interpret and respond to this policy. Her project also questions the use of standard racial categories to analyze the rates by which young people break the law. 

To pursue her project, Hannah has brought together multiple disciplines under the umbrella of Africana Studies. Hannah’s honors project advisors are Craig McEwen, Professor of Political Economy Emeritus; Brian Purnell, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies; and Christopher Northrop,Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Maine School of Law, whom she met through her work this past summer as a Forest Foundation fellow with the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic in Portland, Maine.  During this fellowship, she worked on juvenile cases and immigration policy projects, connecting her with the immigrant population in Maine, which is largely comprised of individuals from across Africa. 

“Ultimately, I hope this research project informs smarter and more efficient federal spending. I also hope to mitigate stereotypical racial categorization, and provide alternative tools to thinking about the world”.