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MMUF scholar explores intersection between African, Asian cultures

By: Yvette Lisa Ndlovu,  A&S Communications
Tue, 08/28/2018

When Raven Schwam-Curtis ‘20 first got to Cornell, she never imagined that she would be double majoring in Asian studies and feminist, gender & sexuality studies and have developed an interest in Afro-Asia pop culture.                             

“My journey to this academic path has been molded by influential mentors, faculty members and chance,” Schwam-Curtis said.

Schwam-Curtis, a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship scholar, spent the summer exploring the intersections of African and Asian cultures. The Mellon Mays program is an initiative to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning by boosting the number of students from underrepresented minority groups who pursue doctoral degrees.

Schwam-Curtis’ research focuses on the pop culture facet of Afro-Asia, examining the intersections of African and Asian cultures.

“The research I’m doing is largely inspired by my personal experiences and the knowledge I have gained through these fields of study,” Schwam-Curtis said. “I'm biracial and self-identity as African-American and ethnically Jewish, but culturally as southern Black, so I think the intersections of cultures has always fascinated me because I live at one of those intersections.”

Schwam-Curtis is looking at artists like Nicki Minaj and Asian Doll to better understand why and how artists aestheticize various Asian cultures in their music videos. Her research will look at why Asian cultures are being aestheticized, how this aestheticization is situated historically and what messages are being circulated globally as a result.

“I’m approaching this research endeavor from a multi-media perspective: music videos, books, movies and articles are just a few of the forms of academic content I’m enlisting,” Schwam-Curtis said.

A student of Mandarin for six years, she plans to travel to China and conduct ethnographic research, as well as attend grad school.

“I hope to facilitate a dialogue about globally circulated messages in a manner that is international but with a specific focus on China,” Schwam-Curtis said. “I have always had great appreciation and respect for Chinese culture, as well as other Asian cultures. I’m excited to continue this research and hopefully uncover new and captivating information.”

On campus, Schwam-Curtis is the co-president of the Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service Peer Mentorship Program (B.O.S.S), a student organization that fosters mentorship relationships between upperclass and underclass women of color, She is also a student administrator for the Asian American Resource Center.

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.