Carnegie Mellon University

Gabrielle Rickstrew

May 10, 2017

Global Studies Projects Examine Language, Education Policy

By Emily Stimmel

“She angry.” “He going to the store.” “We staying home.” An English teacher may itch to correct those sentences – but would they be right?

Dropping the copula—or conjugated “be” verb—is a common linguistic feature of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Like all dialects, AAVE has consistent internal logic and grammatical complexity, but many educators still cling to outdated notions of “correct” English. And in some schools, students suffer because of it.

For the past semester, Carnegie Mellon University senior Gabrielle Rickstrew has examined how the use of AAVE impacts the quality of education students receive in the United States. Rickstrew was inspired by her experiences growing up biracial in a primarily white, middle class area.

“I remember distinct moments of trying to help my AAVE-speaking friends edit their school and college application essays. These moments solidified my understanding that my friends who spoke AAVE were not treated the same way that I, a Standard English-speaker, was treated by our school administrators and teachers,” said Rickstrew, a global studies and Hispanic Studies double major.

She has been researching the topic as part of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ global studies capstone seminar. Seniors in the class develop independent projects that draw from their coursework, foreign language training, internships and study abroad experiences.

“I think that by their senior year, most CMU students are ready and eager to follow their intellectual passions and pursue a research project,” said John Soluri, director of global studies and associate professor of history. “It is an important part of their intellectual growth as young thinkers and also has practical advantages for when they seek a job or an advanced degree.”

Other projects this semester focused on indigenous rights in Mexico, the globalization of hip hop and economic self-sufficiency among Nepali Bhutanese refugees in the greater Pittsburgh area.

“These students are deeply invested in issues of political and social justice, and their topics directly reflect that profound political consciousness,” said Emanuela Grama, assistant professor of history and the students’ adviser.

Lindsey Matesic examined foreign language education policy in Italy and how it fits into the larger picture of linguistic diversity in the European Union (EU). The idea for the project originated last year, when she volunteered in an elementary school and high school in Florence and noticed a stronger emphasis on English there than on foreign language education in the U.S.

“This project enabled me to combine past experiences and interests in a way that made it meaningful for me,” said Matesic, a global studies major with a minor in business administration. “It allowed me to pursue a growing interest in international education and use the Italian language skills that I received from classes at CMU and abroad. It really felt like a culmination of my global studies curriculum.”

Soluri noted that the students showed a sophisticated awareness of the complexity of their research questions and the limitations of their findings.

“I hope that they gain self-confidence in their own abilities, but are also somewhat humbled about the challenges of researching complicated social phenomena,” he said.

Global Studies Capstone Seminar Presentations:

Politics of Language, Language as Politics

"Language Policy and Cultural Diversity in France"
Mary Catherine (Casey) Devine, Global Studies and French & Francophone Studies

"From Assimilation to Inclusion: The Indigenismo Movement in 20th Century Mexico"
Melanie Diaz, English and Global Studies

"History Repeats Itself: Foreign Language Policy in Italy"
Lindsey Matesic, Global Studies

"African American Vernacular in Schools: Where Are We Today?"
Gabrielle Rickstrew, Global Studies and Hispanic Studies

Conflict and Compromise

"Economic Self-Sufficiency Among Nepali Bhutanese Refugees"
Kayla Lee, Global Studies and Hispanic Studies

"International Intervention in Rwanda"
Olivia Paul, Global Studies

"Climate Change and Ethiopian Stakeholders"
Matthew Seifu, Global Studies

"Intervention vs. Isolation: The Great Powers’ Role in International Affairs"
Rob Stephens, Global Studies and International Relations & Politics

Entertainment as Politics: Rap, Hip-Hop and Theater on a Global Scene

"Theater as Political Resistance"
Razghiem Golden, Global Studies

"The Globalization and Commodification of Rap Music: 1970-2017"
Matt Hillman, Global Studies

"The Politics and Economics of Entertainment"
Hiromi Holt, Global Studies