This edition of From Our Eyes features Vivianna Juarez (‘24, Art and Philosophy; English minor) and Rhyan Warmerdam (‘24, English; Psychology and Secondary Education minors). The two students were given the opportunity to participate in Chapman’s 2023 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) an on campus eight-week summer program that gives undergrads experience in hands-on research and creative scholarship mentored by expert faculty.

By Vivianna Juarez ’24

Vivianna Juarez ’24 (left) with a Veteran she worked with on her SURF project.

This summer, my participation in SURF set a path in search of knowledge and unknowingly led to self-discovery. My “Home of the Brave” SURF project is very personal. Watching my grandfather suffer from dementia and the reemergence of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) before his death from his service in the Army during Korean War revealed a part of a man I never knew. Before his death, he left me with his personal photo book filled with black and white photos of his time in Korea; he said, “Take care of them…you will know what to do with them.”

My SURF objective was to combine the academic subjects of art with social and political issues regarding the forgotten and sometimes unrecognized sacrifices of our military volunteers, specifically those who return after a tour of duty with physical and mental issues. The project’s goal was to use the Art medium of black-and-white film photography to bring attention, engagement, respect, and perhaps promote conversations about the sacrifices of soldiers and the lifetime disabilities that affect them and their families.

When I began research for the “Home of the Brave” project, I was naively pursuing a subject matter. I had not fully realized the extent of the subject, much less the mental, emotional, and physical journey I would find myself following as I progressed through the research. I came to understand that the responsibility of this project was far beyond myself and SURF here at Chapman. I have a responsibility toward these veterans. I can only hope they know how they have undoubtedly changed my life and perspective. I owe a debt with great respect and gratitude to these volunteer military soldiers who have allowed me into their homes and lives.

If this project could give a louder voice and bring purposeful attention to bring about positive change, then this is where I have found my passion. I firmly believe that if you pursue something that makes you wake up every morning with purpose, keeps you awake at night in thoughts, and yet burns a passion to your very core, you will be motivated to keep following the road to where it leads. I plan to continue this research in my Master’s or Doctorate studies.

With each interview, I repeatedly heard, “Thank You for doing this.” However, each time I heard those words, I felt, for lack of a better word, guilty. Where have we, as a society, failed these men and women? Why have we not raised our voices enough to support their medical care and the neglect of so many soldiers who are homeless and in need of medical care due to PTSD and other disabilities? These soldiers need to be heard, and their families need support, and one interviewee ended with these resonating words:

“We are soldiers, we are expendable… but we are also recyclable.”

Learn more about Home of the Brave

Rhyan Warmerdam ’24

Rhyan Warmerdam ’24

As a participant in SURF, I spent the summer working on an original humanities-based research project centered around an analysis of twelve memoirs by queer and trans writers. My project is titled, “Queer x Trans Memoir: In Sight of an Embodied History.”

My research has its exigency in the complications surrounding queer identity categories. I could never quite wrap my mind around the contradictions between identity categories that claim a kind of essentialism in contrast to those that promote fluidity: through this project, I sought reconciliation. I also hoped that my project would place pressure on existing queer theories. I often found myself frustrated by queer theories that failed to explain lived experiences, yet at the same time, I was curious to see how and under what constraints these theories have merit.

My primary goal this summer was to create a final project that would help others better understand queer identities while simultaneously seeking new ways of conceptualizing identity. I chose to utilize the genre of queer memoir as a means of analyzing lived experiences in order to do so.

The theoretical lens through which I approached this project was assemblage theory; Manuel de Landa’s book Assemblage Theory was fundamental to this project’s findings. Applying theories of assemblage as a lens through which to view these memoirs permitted me to view queer identities as not only essential but also relational. I discovered that essence is only one part of identity—an identity category can also form communities and new kinds of self-understanding. Through these memoirs, I gained insight into not only the thoughts and feelings behind people who identify with a particular identity category, but also how identity categories function in and of themselves: not just what queer identities are, but what they can do, and how that can affect social change.

Interestingly, my project was one of the few humanities-based projects in the SURF program. While many people tend to think of research as being exclusive to STEM subjects, this is simply not the case. The disciplines of the arts and humanities are full of opportunities for research and bring a new kind of depth and critical thinking to research. I found my background in English literature, rhetoric, and cultural studies to be invaluable in the creation of my project.

I am beyond grateful to the SURF program for allowing me to pursue my passion in the form of this research. Many thanks to my amazing faculty mentor as well, Dr. Jan Osborn, for all their wonderful support and creative inspiration. Working with SURF this summer drastically heightened my awareness of how fundamentally important research is to me, and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone interested in applying.

Learn more about Queer x Trans Memoir: In Sight of an Embodied History